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Interview: Treb Ryan, OpSource

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27th May 2008
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Web 2.0 is high on the agenda of many firms, but how do you deploy it with minimal risk? OpSource CEO Treb Ryan believes that this is where the software as a service model comes in.

Stuart Lauchlan

By Stuart Lauchlan, news and analysis editor

Deploying Web 2.0 technologies should be near the top of a corporate IT agenda but remains, for most organisations, a bewildering topic. The first obstacle is simply defining Web 2.0 to get an idea on what it can deliver to a business - and then the issues of security, collaboration, ownership, productivity and openness have to be addressed, even before a business can experiment with the concept of the internet as a platform.

At this point, bewilderment turns into fear as directors, CIOs and CEOs are presented with the possibility of IT department created hybrid services, customers being able to collaborate and contribute to organised discussions amongst themselves and employees given global voices over web-blogs.
Key to the success of all this is control: control of the impact of such radical technologies upon ongoing operations; control of new product or service development that may arise; control of stakeholder groups and their impact upon reputation; and of course control of risk. How do you deploy Web 2.0 with minimal risk?

"This generation will use the web in the same way my generation used the PC and SaaS is about how they go enterprise with what they do."

Treb Ryan, CEO, OpSource

It's at this point that the software as a service (SaaS) model comes into play – or at least that's the argument put forward by OpSource which specialises in delivering web applications and SaaS for on-demand companies. They are proponents of the 'platform as a service' approach being advocated by Salesforce.com.

“The reasons for adopting the SaaS model are very basic and elemental,” argues Treb Ryan, CEO of OpSource. “When I started in the industry, you did everything on a DEC VAX machine, PCs were just seen as toys. My first project was to construct a training database and I chose to put it on a PC because I was a PC guy. The PC, of course, eventually evolved into the corporate data infrastructure. The way I looked at those DEC VAX machines is the same way that today's workforce look at client server computing. This generation will use the web in the same way my generation used the PC.

“SaaS is about how they can go enterprise with what they do. OpSource is about how you take web applications and make them ready for the enterprise. We understand that it takes more than just saying to customers: 'Here's our infrastructure!'. It's about how you can produce service level agreements for the final transactions. When someone logs in, how they manage the process? How do they optimise their applications so that they can scale?"

Integration concerns

“One trend that we're seeing is that integration has overtaken security as the number one concern about SaaS among the enterprise customers. How does a SaaS implementation integrate with legacy on-premises applications? SaaS is moving up from the departmental level sales team implementations. It's no longer OK just to have Salesforce.com just being used by the sales team, it has to integrate back into the ERP back office. We have different applications that are run by us and some that are run by partners. Our support comes out of RightNow, for example. But you access everything through one API. We link into third party applications such as Salesforce.com and NetSuite, so you can drop seamlessly into Salesforce.com through a single API, for example.”

"Integration has overtaken security as the number one concern about SaaS among the enterprise customers. How does a SaaS implementation integrate with legacy on-premises applications?"

Treb Ryan, CEO, OpSource

But doesn't this platform-based approach ultimately put OpSource on a collision course with Salesforce.com itself and its Force.com strategy? “Actually Salesforce.com is our second biggest lead generator,” argues Ryan. “What we find with Force.com is that a large percentage of customers want to integrate to Salesforce.com, but not just with Salesforce.com. We see Force,com as being similar to SAP's NetWeaver – a great way to extend Salesforce.com, But it's hard to imagine that an entire company will bet the whole business on Force.com. Most will still want to integrate with the likes of NetSuite and Microsoft. We are the same. We use NetSuite for ERP, Salesforce,com for CRM, RightNow for ticketing and so on.”

Of course, one way to avoid some of the integration challenges would be to adopt the sort of suite approach advocated by the likes of Netsuite. Ryan doesn't think that the SaaS generation should be thinking in 'legacy' terms such as best-of-breed and suite.

“The big question is whether we should see the world in terms of suites or in that sort of traditional enterprise software category terminology,” he suggests. “So many of our customers don't fit into nice boxes. There are lot of non-traditional businesses. I'm not sure that we'll see traditional terminology or that we'll see the traditional consolidation that we've seen in the enterprise suite market. The web has tended to be about best of breed. Even if Google has tried to extend past search, we still go to different sites for reading news and so. So even if we consolidate at the back end, the front end will remain best of breed.”

Ryan also sees a generational shift underway. “A third of our customers are traditional software firms, but two-thirds are start-ups,” he says. “The traditional software guys are really struggling with al this. They're looking for ways to go on-demand, but its less about that and more about how web companies can do business. Salesforce.com is more like Google than it is like SAP. IBM did a great job going from calculators to mainframes to PCs, but most firms have a hard time making the transition to new technology models."

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