Wyatt Kash | Service on demand
It's easy to dismiss the hype surrounding the growth of software as a service (SaaS) ' and the notion that SaaS will gain a foothold in government workplaces.
To many, SaaS is just a new spin on a familiar delivery model pushed by application service providers. The big difference is that users today typically directly subscribe via the Internet to get their specialized computing work done rather than through controlled, wide-area networks. The logic and appeal remain the same: Get the computing power for payroll or customer relationship management while letting a third-party service provider shoulder the burden of hosting, maintaining and upgrading the software.
Just as familiar are the concerns that prevented ASPs from catching on in government the way they did in commercial markets. For starters, SaaS must traverse a thicket of security controls; there are concerns about customizing SaaS offerings to meet the government's many requirements; and information technology procurement requirements further complicate the picture.
Yet a variety of factors suggest SaaS is likely to gain greater traction in government than many might suspect ' and grow substantially by 2010.
One is the broadening perception of the advantages of using SaaS. That's part of the findings of a new GCN survey of the federal IT market done in collaboration with Government Futures (see Page 23).
The survey results suggest that a significant percentage of federal IT managers see SaaS as a way to shorten delivery time for new functionality, lower costs and offer an easier way to buy incremental services. The survey also suggests that the commonly perceived obstacles to using SaaS ' that it can't scale to government-size systems, is slow or unreliable, or increases privacy risks ' aren't as daunting as once perceived.
One factor helping set the stage for more flexible adoption of SaaS is the government's increasing emphasis on enterprise and service-oriented architecture, where components can be created once and used by many agencies. The question of who actually provides those components is no longer as significant as it once was.
But the cumbersome mechanics of upgrading government IT is also spurring agencies to look for creative solutions. SaaS and other pay-per-use computing models ' such as the deal the Defense Information Systems Agency signed recently (GCN, May 7, Page 31) ' offer an increasingly viable path, even for government agencies.Wyatt Kash, Editorial director