Somebody’s snooping my email. Either that, or more than one person out there is able to see the same macro trends in this business that I do. OK, maybe the second hypothesis is more likely.
What rang my chimes was a comment by MIT Sloan School of Management professor Michael Cusumano, speaking at yesterday’s New Software Industry conference in Mountain View, California. Peter Galli at eWEEK quotes Cusumano as saying, "Prices will likely eventually go to zero for any standardized software product." I wondered why that sounded familiar — and then I realized that it was virtually an echo of an email I wrote about two weeks ago, when I said that "The only competitive price for any commodity-type, horizontal application is rapidly approaching ‘free.’" (This isn’t futurist pie in the sky, either: I think we can all agree that $3 is pretty close to $0.)
In that internal email thread, I was talking about the opportunity for salesforce.com’s AppExchange partners to create greater value in an On Demand marketplace. As I noted here yesterday, that opportunity comes from the chance to build on other products that share the same On Demand platform, in the same manner — though not by the same means — as the "object marketplace" that I heard Mitch Kapor propose almost 20 years ago.
An On Demand application developer need not waste time and effort duplicating the 90% or more of an application’s function that’s obvious to everyone: rather, a development team can put all its energy into what it understands better than anyone else, and let users test and buy and integrate on the fly. Developers probably understand this idea better than anyone else, thanks to the existence proof of Eclipse: now, that recognition is spreading into the larger software community, helped along by the availability of salesforce.com’s Platform Edition.
Also attending that same conference yesterday was Ashlee Vance for The Register: his report includes an estimate that "decades of baggage" will make it an order of magnitude more costly to offer On Demand repackaging of a vintage software product line, compared to a solution built from the bottom up for multi-tenant operation. Coincidentally, salesforce.com has just been honored by the Software & Information Industry Association with two CODiE awards: one for its CRM solution, another for the multi-tenant On Demand platform that underlies that CRM product and that’s now available as a foundation for other efforts. The needs of an application team drive the efforts of their platform counterparts.
"SAAS has already happened," according to another conference speaker quoted by eWEEK’s Galli, and the shift of future opportunity is "permanent." The time scale of interest is years, not quarters or months, but this isn’t just a matter of the wind blowing in a new direction: this is a redrawing of the map, a tectonic (or pardon the expression, tech-tonic) shift.