IT managers are probably aware that their software environments may dramatically change over the next five years, but they may not be aware that the complexity and management costs associated with the adoption of next-generation software technologies could ultimately reduce a company's ability to innovate. Deployment of varying types and levels of software as a service, multiple flavours of service-oriented architectures and open source-based software can be expected to have a significant negative effect on many companies' abilities to be more broadly innovative. A review of customer, vendor and user announcements shows there is likely to be significant spending on and deployment of SaaS, open source and SOA over the next five years.
This investment and adoption is being driven by expanded choices from more vendors providing viable alternatives at low prices. Examples include:
* SaaS: Low initial costs combined with service level agreement-based upgrades, scalability and ongoing maintenance to convince users to adopt SaaS. Increasingly credible vendor presences boost SaaS adoption as well. Suppliers include tier one providers such as IBM and Microsoft.
* SOA: Growth is being driven through heavy promotion of user benefits by all IT and leading software suppliers, including Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and SAP, and by leading system integrators (for example, Accenture, BearingPoint and EDS).
* Open source: Credibility and choice is improving rapidly via the growing presence of tier one suppliers in this market (for example, IBM and Oracle) and the increasing size and market adoption of emerging brands (such as Red Hat and JBoss).
However, even with all of the benefits that these next-generation technologies will bring, the reality is that this Medusa-like software environment is likely to be a technology management and total cost of ownership nightmare for users. And despite the growing strategic alignment of IT and business in most industries, most user firms are ignoring the increasing presence of these three very disruptive software technologies.
In larger organisations, SaaS deployment could be much deeper than most business and IT executives realise. Due to the highly decentralised sales model (often an SaaS-based product is sold at the departmental level) and the fact that many users do not recognise some applications and utilities as being SaaS-based, penetration rates may be much higher than we would expect. Much of this is due to the "off-books" or non-IT-budget purchasing and use of SaaS. Process-specific SaaS deployments and the continuing integration of business process functions and services as part of SaaS offerings make it difficult to "see" the software and its impact on user and IT environments.
Similar unofficial and departmental-focused deployments of SOA- and open source-based software is also likely - especially in applications. SOA deployments do result in re-usable, standards-based codes, and reduce development efforts and costs for applications needing that code, but many SOA "standards" differ by vendor and require specific skills. Expanded use of SOA can easily yield a similar, yet incompatible, code that requires further development and adaptation in order to deliver value.
Most chief information officers tend to see open source among their operating systems and web servers, but are unaware of its increasing presence in desktop applications and databases.
The road to disorder
The confluence of these innovative, disruptive software technologies is already having an impact on some early-adopter user firms. Management costs have risen, and have begun to offset deployment and operational savings. Most organisations will not see an impact of this until the 2008-10 time frame, based on current and planned vendor offerings, user infrastructures and historical IT adoption trends.
The net result will be a melange of disparate technologies, delivery means, usage models and cost structures that will reduce many user firms' ability to take advantage of these very technologies. In other words, users' desires to innovate will be disrupted by their own deployment of innovative, disruptive software technologies - often in a highly decentralised and unco-ordinated manner.
This suggests that user deployment of IT utility environments to enable greater business innovation and to improve operating economies will be negatively affected. The key way to avoid this is to renew focus on IT management, including the imposition of standards for acquisition, deployment and management of all types of software and services, business or IT.
Chris Morris is an independent IT industry analyst and consultant working in the Asia-Pacific region.
© Fairfax Business Media
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