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Can You Go From Zero to Hero by using SaaS?

I was reading through some updates on a few social networking sites.  When I came across a link posted by one of my friends, Josh Minton,  who posted an article by Aaron Levie, the CEO and co-founder of Box.net.  The article titled How the IT department co go from zeros to heroes.  The article jumps around a bit but the essence of the article is this.  The cloud represents an opportunity for users to use whatever technology they want because, when given the choice, they will utilize technology that will ultimately make them more productive.  IT just needs to get out of the way. 

I think it’s expected that Aaron Levie would make a claim that the cloud is 100% good and if you’re not moving that way you and your customers are missing out.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think the cloud is great and a real opportunity for companies to leverage great software that would either be too expensive, difficult to manage or don’ have the expertise to create themselves.

However, there are three key problems that I have with the way Levie justifies opening up the purchasing and management of software purchases to business unit owners.  The first is that resources, I’m referring to money here, is a finite resource.  Purchasing and managing software is a process and a skill that takes time to learn and master.  Your IT department should have enough experience in this area to make sure that you are getting the best value for your dollar.  Believe me, in the world of Enterprise software everything is negotiable and you need to have knowledge of all the levers you can pull to negotiate the best deal. 

Secondly, Levie cites some Forrester research that finds this type of purchasing is already prevalent:

"Especially in firms where IT is seen as plodding and cumbersome to work with, the new price points and preprovisioning of SaaS and cloud will foster renegade buying by the business."

If you find yourself in this position I would simply start by addressing why your IT organization is viewed by your business partners in this way.  Something is clearly broken and needs to be addressed.

The last issue that I have with this thinking is that IT is in a unique position to see how the enterprise operates end to end.  Many business units work in isolation.  Sales doesn’t always fully understand or appreciate what information the accounting department needs to do their job effectively.  My experience has been that everyone always looks for a software solution to fix any gaps that a good old communications plan can fix for free.  Allowing each department to independently choose a solution without consideration of the larger enterprise needs will do nothing but perpetuate the inevitable ‘brokenness’ and siloed cultures that you see in some organizations. 

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