I argued that what they were really offering was a Solution as a Service. Immediately it became obvious to me that the XaaS term is being deployed far more widely than the original concepts of Platform as a Service, Software as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service. This graphic, from Peter Laird at Oracle offers a good insight in to the growing number of as a Service offerings;
Solution as a Service doesn’t feature in this map and not surprisingly, nor does GaaS! These are however things that spatial professionals are becoming increasingly aware of and there are already examples out there which are being used on a daily basis to deliver spatial capabilities and value to many organisations.
So what is the difference between a GIS Solution as a Service, which I will refer to as SaaS from now on in this post and GIS as a Service, which I use the GaaS term that Thundermaps used? Is there a difference? Is it all just Software as a Service?
I have applied a level of differentiation in my own head which is helping me describe the differences to the people and organisations that I am talking to. I wanted to share this and ask for any comments about these classifications. Do you agree with my differentiation? If not, what are the alternatives?
My take is that is just Software as a Service put in to GIS speak; GIS capabilities are provided in a “cloudy” way. Effectively the software, or components of the software are hosted on a platform somewhere other than within my organisation such as on Amazon EC2 or Windows Azure. In order to make use of GaaS I need to know what I am doing as I will still have to operate the software in order to get my desired outcome. That may mean that I access specific components and integrate them with other components from other technology, but essentially I am just accessing the functionality that I need, hooking it all together and getting what I need from it. I am able to customise any aspect of what I have built, choosing from the capabilities offered. Hopefully I can benefit from the cloud advantages of a scalable infrastructure and flexible licensing.
Solution as a Service is very different. Here the components of the underlying technology have been built in to a solution which can be accessed to gain an immediate business benefit from; assuming that the solution delivers what is needed. There are few or no options to customise what the solution does. You may be able to configure a new form but the overall process or objective of the application is fixed. As long as you are happy with what the solution offers, you can start using it immediately by subscribing to it typically through a low cost monthly subscription or on a pay per use basis. You don’t need to know anything about the underlying technology used and you probably don’t even care – you get what you need from it very quickly indeed. Little or no training is needed and there almost certainly isn’t a user guide! Solutions are single task orientated and they perform that task incredibly well. Integration between my SaaS and my internal infrastructure is likely to be service based.
What does this mean?
GIS Solutions as a Service are having an effect on the spatial landscape. From work that we have been doing for What’s My Spatial.IQ? we are seeing GIS based SaaS cropping up everywhere, even where organisations have Enterprise Software License Agreements which provides different technology for internal use; even when that internal technology is capable of delivering the SaaS in use. Why is that? I imagine it is because deploying solutions takes time, money and expertise. If the total cost of that is greater than the on-going cost of subscribing to a SaaS which gives you everything that you need, why wouldn’t you? This may currently be the realm of the more forward thinking CIO/CFO/CTO who has done a cost/benefit analysis, but I think we can expect to see wider adoption of this approach through 2014.
That would suggest that we will see organisations like Thundermaps continuing to do very well and diversifying their solution offering over time as the organisations they work with ask for more capabilities and as more organisations become aware of what they offer. I also think we will see more Thundermaps-like organisations cropping up as others realise the growing potential for providing focused applications which work very well, are secure to access, simple to use and cost effective.
The large GIS vendors are already on to this shift to the cloud; Esri’s ArcGIS Online capability is rapidly expanding and DMS Intramaps is making huge inroads across New Zealand and Australia, but I do wonder whether they are aware of and responding to the needs of the market from a solution provision point of view quickly enough and making it simple enough for organisations to adopt? One thing is certain, the next 12 months is going to be really interesting!
We would be really interested to hear your views on this, so please comment on this post, or contact us if you would like to continue the discussion.