Preface: I use Software as Service, Hosted Application, and Web Application inter-changeably here.
For a good decade now, smaller to mid-size organizations have been building their IT infrastructure around the client/server network paradigm. Five to ten years ago, this made total sense; client/server networks allowed for much greater fluidity of information and collaboration than our previous stand alone systems and clunky peer-to-peer networks. As we all know, along with the aspiration to meet these standards came a hefty price tag: Hardware, Software, Peripherals (Firewalls, UPSs, Network Hubs, etc), not to mention the ongoing maintenance and support necessary to keep the buggy crap working.
I recently started doing some tech-consulting for a small consulting firm here in
No doubt timed with this year's Web 2.0
conference (check out Marnie's tiredless
tiredness (more my tiredness) conference blogging), this past week's
announced partnership between Google and Sun Microsystems may well be the long
overdue turning point in the technological shift away from this costly and inefficient
client/server paradigm to fully leveraging the web as a platform.
What chew talkin' about Sonny? Software as Service: That's what I'm talking about...
-For most of us, broadband is prevalent (even in the hinterlands of Vermont). Accessing a file on our local network is sometimes more difficult and slow then accessing information via the web. SPEED, CHECK.
-Did you buy a PC in the last year? Was it difficult to find a PC that came with under 40 GB of hard drive space? Why? Because hard drive space is cheap. That's why Gmail gives me over 2.5 GB of space on their servers. CHEAP ABUNDANT DATA STORAGE, CHECK.
-There's this wacky buzz word out there called AJAX.The technology has existed for sometime, but its becoming more and more the standard in web based user interfaces. It creates a fast, seemless and intuitive (most of the time) user experience that is equal if not better than most desktop applications. And if you don't like it, more often than not you can either customize it or extend the web-app through an API. ENHANCED and CUSTOMIZED USER EXPERIENCE, CHECK.
-While blogging may be driving the democratization of information, Software as Service is about old fashion free-market capitalism; something that has really never existed in the office productivity software market. Competition between hosted services will drive innovation, keep costs down and strive higher to meet customer needs (including us small potato nonprofits). Even though Google may buy up the cream of the crop, the price point to enter the hosted app market is so low (comparatively to traditional software) and there will be always be ample long tail niche markets that visionary creative developers will continue to innovate and put pressure on the larger corps. COMPETITION, INNOVATION, LOWER COSTS, CHECK.
How does this impact nonprofits? Leveraging Software as Service significantly cuts the total cost of ownership for technology; no doubt this will be the force driving us lemmings to the sea. Yet, this evolution not only means we have to start thinking beyond the limited infrastructures and tools we've been hamstrung to, but think differently about how we perceive, engage, utilize, access and share information. Software as service provides us opportunities to connect the dots beyond our firewalls; strategic partnerships, telecommuting (finding the right person for the job), real-time long distance collaboration, integrated data systems....on and on. And the thing is...its almost entirely plug and play...no coding, no developers...just some savvy geeks to set it all up and get out of the way.
As I've said before, some will get it, and many will not (or rather, will get it and be too scared)...and I believe those that do, will thrive and prosper in this new ecosystem...as will those they serve.