Skills gap saps SaaS success rate

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright April 21, 2013
Cloud application vendors argue that their apps are so easy-to-use and rapid to deploy that there's very little call on professional services to implement them. But that attitude may be leading enterprises to under-invest in the skills and effort needed to realize the business results they hope to achieve.

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Cloud software's reputation for rapid deployment and ease-of-use is proving an obstacle to effective implementation in many enterprises. Line-of-business decision makers often make the mistake of assuming that if the software's easy to use on an individual basis, then their organization as a whole will get rapid results with minimal effort. Vendor marketing and sales pitches do nothing to shatter this illusion, preferring to reinforce the carefree image. In reality, the cloud hasn't changed the difficulty of bringing new practices into any organization and bringing team members up-to-speed with new ways of working.

"That expectation chasm is huge," Appirio's chief business innovation officer Jason Averbook told me on a visit to London last week. As one of the new breed of systems integrators that specialize in helping enterprises implement cloud applications such as, Workday, Cornerstone OnDemand and Google Apps, Appirio is often left with the task of telling first-time adopters some home truths about why they're not getting the results they expected. Customers tend to blame the vendors, but, he said, "It's not the cloud vendors' fault."

One of the most significant obstacles is a lack of people with the right blend of skills to deliver results from the implementation. There are several factors here:

  • Many of the vendors are fast-growing startups that haven't yet built up strength in their professional services teams — often, their venture investors will discourage putting resources into this side of the business, while their own marketing rhetoric reinforces the notion that it's not a big area of need.
  • Despite a burgeoning ecosystem of specialist cloud integrators like Appirio, enterprise-class skills are still in short supply here, while the established global SIs lack cloud skills.
  • Many organizations end up relying on their in-house resources. But however skilled their teams may be at handling traditional enterprise systems, they don't have the skills needed to manage cloud applications.

"You have these tech guys who are very skilled at handling the ERP systems, but working at the two-to-three year dinosaur pace of conventional software," said Averbook. "Suddenly they're dealing with cloud applications and they have a feature refresh coming at them every 3 months."

Averbook's background as CEO and co-founder of Knowledge Infusion, which Appirio acquired in February, brings a specific perspective. The company has specialized in providing non-technical professional services to help enterprises develop talent management strategies — planning, education, change management, governance, project management and so on — with a focus on cloud applications. Therefore he's predisposed to talk up these non-technical aspects of cloud deployments. But the point he's highlighting is a valid one: the business decision-makers expect cloud to be easy, while IT teams have ignored it as lightweight. Neither side is primed to put in the effort required to make a success of it.

On-demand deployment and ease-of-use may cut the timescales for getting the application up-and-running, but the cloud hasn't changed the timescales for organizational change. Enterprises are turning to cloud applications not just to save money but also because they pave the way to new ways of working — mobile access, more extensive collaboration, greater agility and faster response times. Putting new tools into the hands of users will only produce those results if people understand how to make best use of them. That requires more sophistication when planning cloud application deployments than many organizations are currently able to muster.

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