- Traditionally, public cloud collaboration services offer little customization options outside of white label branding.
- Partner- and customer-led PaaS ecosystems are ushering in new opportunities to both integrate and extend collaboration services in the cloud.
Cloud-borne services have proven their value time and again in cutting infrastructure costs and soothing the upgrade, downtime and support aches and pains traditionally suffered by IT on a daily basis. Of course, as with most gift horses of this caliber, it’s best not to look them too closely in the mouth. Upon closer inspection, enterprise customers of full-on multitenant, software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings have found a distinct lack of flexibility. They may be able to apply custom branding, conduct basic back end data queries, and in some cases modify the UI to display select components, but that’s typically where the sidewalk ends in terms of customization.
For the collaboration platform marketplace, such SaaS limitations were initially acceptable for services like e-mail, chat and web conferencing. Such solutions are relatively self contained communications tools and limited in scope, making them perfect for SaaS delivery. For more complex collaboration solutions, however, particularly those employing social networking services, the inherent limitations associated with multitenancy fly directly in the face of what makes this software valuable — the ability to meld with the way business users do their daily jobs. This means integrating with on-premise line-of-business applications and data, drawing in information from other cloud-based sources (Twitter, Facebook, et al.), connecting with other collaboration tools (like e-mail and chat) and physically morphing to reflect business practices and processes.
Companies can of course opt for a non-multitenant solution, such as a single-instance, managed hosted option where each company owns a cloud-based server instance that’s simply managed by the provider. Sadly, this nearly puts them right back where they started in terms of equipment, software and support/management costs. Thankfully, an emerging trend within the collaboration marketplace towards platform-as-a-service (PaaS) ecosystems has the potential to preserve the cost savings of SaaS solutions while improving their ability to match business requirements on a customer-by-customer basis.
Using API communications methods such as RESTful services and standards Oauth, OpenSocial, SAML, Activity Streams and others, vendors IBM, Microsoft, Google, Salesforce.com, Jive Software, and others are literally building web-based application stores, which look a lot like Apple’s iTunes App Store. Working within a given vendor’s SaaS service, customers can purchase software that either runs alongside or integrates that service. For example, Jive’s App Market houses a
number of partner-built applications such as Tungle, which provides rich calendaring and scheduling services, Appirio, which provides integration between Jive and Salesforce.com and Lingotek, which allows users to translate Jive content on the fly.
The genius of such marketplaces is that like iTunes, software built by the vendor, partners and even customers themselves can be consumed almost as easily as purchasing Angry Birds. These add-on products can be purchased, provisioned, used and managed all within the context of the parent collaboration service itself. The result is a SaaS solution that can be turned into whatever a customer needs without the need for internal development or external professional services costs. For more information on ecosystems like Jive Apps Market, Salesforce.com Force.com, Google Apps Marketplace, and many others, we invite you to read our market assessment, The Emergence of DIY Software with Platform-as-a-Service Marketplaces.