In my very first post to this blog, I made the assertion that software-as-a-service is a commodity business. My intention was to make the essence of the SaaS model easy to understand, but also to make it clear that the reality of doing what you need to do to achieve SaaS success is a little difficult to swallow. I mean, who wants to be in a commodity business anyway, especially in software? It’s all about innovation and differentiation right?
You can achieve very strong differentiation in SaaS. The next post in this series will explore that. But, before you differentiate around the edges of your software-as-a-service offering, you must commoditize it at the core. Otherwise, your cost structure will not support your pricing, and you will not be profitable–at least not for a very very very long time, like many of the of the recent SaaS “success” stories and IPOs. (Disclaimer: having received my economic training from the University of Chicago, I have a strong bias toward the idea that a business should turn a profit, especially public companies.)
I’m not going to go into the technical details of multi-tenant architecture. I believe that this element of SaaS is well understood. What I do want to emphasize here is that the SaaS competitive cost advantage arises from the general principal of aggregating customers to achieve new economies-of-scale, not the specific technology used to accomplish it. Multi-tenant architecture is simply a means to an end for relational database-driven applications, like Salesforce.com.
The concept of aggregating customers onto a single infrastructure to lower costs extends far beyond the database. It impacts the entire application infrastructure. You are aggregating customers onto a common set of servers, a common user interface, and a common set of business processes. And, it extends beyond the application to the entire business. You are aggregating customers into a common communication channel, a common purchase process, common pricing and a common support process. You are Wal-mart. Online. It is in the second half of the cost equation, customer acquisition and support, where most SaaS companies lose their way, or rather find their way to long term unprofitability.
If all your customers are identical: identical business needs, identical communication needs, identical purchase process, identical support needs, etc. then you will have no trouble aggregating them onto a common business infrastructure for an enormous cost advantage. But, to the the extent that they are different, Read more »