SaaS Platforms – Beyond the Hype

Josh Greenbaum is a pretty smart guy, and I respect his opinions he expresses in the Enterprise Anti-Matter blog. He has taken a pretty skeptical stance on a lot of the technology trends that have surfaced – looking for real value beyond the hype factor coming out of a lot of the companies in the space.

He hits the nail on the head when he talks about SaaS platforms in his most recent post. When talking about the Dell/Evergreen deal, one I admit kind of slipped below my radar, he brings up a strong point about that platform versus Salesforce.com’s Platform Edition:

I believe that Everdream is successful, in a way that Salesforce.com so far is not, because Everdream has eschewed a hype-driven and very expensive partner model, with splashy conferences and high fees, for a more workman-like platform/partnership model that is basically all about finding the best way to get real partner product in front of real customers.

This resonated with me, and not simply because Sugar sees Salesforce in a lot of our deals. As an analyst, I saw a lot of potential problems with SaaS companies building channels in general. The SaaS model allows little room for “value-added” products and services by nature. Vertical options on top of a generic platform do offer hope. But when I saw the early model for AppExchange and then the Platform rumblings and how AppStore and other offerings from Salesforce.com seemed to choke partners, I was immediately leery of the whole thing.

How can a company create ubiquity for a platform, in any way, by trying to hold all the cards and purse strings. The cool factor when it comes to platforms is that they are meant to be open, co-opted by third parties, and the real value opens up organically. Salesforce.com seems to be pushing too fast and too hard on the parties that will make or break the concept.

The platform concept is very new ground for a lot of vendors trying to open up new market opportunities. There is a lot of room for success, and failure, out there. It will be interesting to see which of these SaaS plays gets it right first.