The tasks in Laef Olson’s working hours can be rather varied. Olson, who is the CIO at Software-as-a-Service vendor RightNow Technologies is on the one hand responsible for IT security and the organisation’s information systems, while on the other he spruiks the strategy and vision for the company's on-demand hosting platform. On many occasions Olson gets a direct audience with company CIOs. What makes it easier for Olson to get traction to the upper levels of management is his past. He has been group vice president of global technology operations of Travelport and Orbitz Worldwide. And before that CTO of cars.com. In these roles he was also a consumer of SaaS products. It is that experience that he uses to relate to customers when on the road. Olson briefly stopped over in Australia last month where CIO Magazine asked him about the maturity of SaaS.
Is SaaS for every CIO? Why so and why not?
You know I talk to a lot of CIOs…It is kind of opaque. You can’t really see exactly what it is. And one of the things I do is I try and demystify it for them. And what I usually talk about is that Software-as-a-Service -- they are probably already doing it. They are probably doing in ways they may not realise. A lot of people will use a co-location provider for data centre services. They don’t own the building but someone else takes care of the air conditioning, the power and maybe even the telecommunications. A lot of them do the same thing with their phone systems. And so they are already accustomed to working with organisations at a services level – what we call services management. They probably also do infrastructure management. But at the end of the day, what I try and point out is the first decision you make is ‘what’s the right solution for my business?’. Then well down the list of decisions that you need to make along enterprise architecture and strategy and everything else is you have this new choice around deployment. Do you want to have it deployed on premise, or on-demand?. There are differences in how you do that. So it can be for every CIO. But I think the real solution is ‘what is the right functional decision that I need to deploy for my business to move it forward?
And if you choose RightNow, for example, then you would have to adopt the deployment preference that we bring to the table. Which is on-demand.
What are some of the limitations for SaaS?
There are certainly a lot pf perceived limitations which are being knocked down pretty quickly. One of the ones that I hear about is, ‘well I have all this extensive integration work I need to do. I have got to connect you to my back office ERP system and I have got to connect to the front office system and I have this data warehouse over here’. So a lot of the times there is a bit of misunderstanding of what is possible from working in the cloud and again it comes down to demystifying it a little bit. And saying, ‘you know, you are probably running systems somewhere other than in your office building. Sometimes on the other site of the city, sometimes the other side of the world. So you are already connecting to things via networks.’ And there is really nothing functional about the RightNow solution and other Software-as-a-Service solutions that prevents you from doing that kind of integration.
The real question becomes, ‘do you have the visibility into their operation?’ One of the hats a CIO wears is the risk management hat. They have to do things cost-effectively but they also need to manage risk and some of that risk is operational, you know, ‘are the servers up? Will I actually be able to process during some peak times’ and that sort of thing. Well, when they can see all their servers and all the people who run them report to them, it seems easier to manage the risk that way. And we basically say that is something that a Software-as-a-Service company needs to bring to the table. That kind of transparency about their operations. The certifications and compliance they have and the overall security. So I am kind of answering your question in a round about way. So no I don’t think there are specific limitations that are technical in nature. I think there are limitations you will find with certain companies that have more to do with their maturity as an organisation.