• October 1, 2008
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

An On-Demand Assessment

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Memo from the desk of Marshall Lager, October’s Chief Hair-Splitting Officer:

I come to you this month to correct a grave injustice in our industry. Something’s getting called something it shouldn’t, and it’s time I took a stand against it. Since I got to this job three and a half years ago, I’ve said that software-as-a-service (SaaS) was a cool delivery model, but just that—a delivery model. The more I think about it, and the more the term SaaS is interchanged with on-demand, the more I realize how backward a concept on-demand software is.

Put simply, there is no such thing as on-demand software. It’s as redundant a concept as organic food. If the food we eat weren’t organic, we wouldn’t be able to digest it. Similarly, if all software weren’t in some way available on demand, we couldn’t use it.

Think about it: On-demand means it’s there for you when you need it. If that’s the case, why do SaaS vendors offer service-level agreements? If on-demand software were ready to go whenever you tried to access it, there’d be no need for SLAs, would there?

You know what’s really available on demand? Installed code. What could be more ready-to-go than something that’s already on your hard drive, populated with the data you need? Of course, this means you’d need to have your own PC with you at all times, but laptops aren’t as heavy as they once were. Besides, they don’t call us road warriors for nothing—hauling a computer from place to place is a sign of manhood. Um, even for women. [Nice save. –Ed.] In fact, in the old days, a woman trying to make a place for herself in the glass-ceiling world of business had to drink and cuss like the overpaid jocks she worked with; now she just needs to be buff enough to carry her office in a shoulder bag while wearing heels. Empowerment!

Portability fueled much of the initial popularity of SaaS: Rather than be tied to one particular computer, workers would have the freedom to be bound to any computer with an Internet connection. But even more important is the issue of continuity. The logic holds that, by storing data off-site, we won’t have to worry about anything happening to our most critical information. Accordingly, most of the data centers are located in California, a land free from the plagues of earthquakes, wildfires, and rolling blackouts.

There are exceptions to the reliability of installed software, of course. Anybody who plays online computer games knows this—gamers store gigabytes upon gigabytes of information locally, but that doesn’t ease the high blood pressure caused by the frustration of server outages, poor Web connections, and the time spent downloading software patches. (The Mountain Dew and the Cheetos don’t help the blood pressure either, but that goes back to my “organic/inorganic food” motif.)

While we’re on the subject, on-premise software is also an abomination of language. A wise person (whose name escapes me at the moment) pointed this out to me more than a year ago, and I quietly agreed. But I never said anything until now. The correct phrase is on-premises software. Premises (plural) refers to a tract of land and the buildings upon it. A premise (singular) is, according to our dictionary, a proposition that serves as a basis of argument or inference (or something assumed or taken for granted).

Hmmm. Come to think of it, maybe on-premise isn’t so incorrect after all.

Don’t contact Senior Editor Marshall Lager at mlager@destinationCRM.com—he’s busy explaining the difference between “can I” and “may I” to kindergartners who need to use the toilet.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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