from ‘Restless’ © Stephen Cummins photography

“I can understand perfectly how the report of my illness got about, I have even heard on good authority that I was dead.” Mark Twain

Actually there was once a good reason to declare things dead. It made good clickbait. And if there was a smart strategy behind it, it could be very powerful. Marc Benioff demonstrated this effectively with “Email is dead!’ Something he knew to be obviously untrue. He also knew there were countless naive people out there whose buttons he’d push. He was preparing the ground for the release of Social Studio (not Salesforce’s most success product) and underpinning the value of Chatter, a much more successful innovation.
That strategy was always a good indicator of something written only to provoke and bait reactions.

Now the format is just tired. But it does serve one small positive purpose. It’s a time saver. It’s usually an indicator of theatre and disingenuousness. When it comes to filtering seas of articles, little warning signs come in handy. I just read a piece entitled ‘SaaS Is Dead — Time To Call It Software… Once Again’. It’s clickbait. It’s also much ado about nothing, not to mention full of inaccuracies. And I’m going to give it what it doesn’t even deserve. 
A good deconstruction.

from ‘that Fine Line’ © Stephen Cummins photography

The theme of the article is that SaaS, as a term, is an anachronism. It’s based on a false premise that all software is SaaS. Yes. We all know SaaS is becomingall-pervasive, but it actually isn’t yet all-pervasive. Nowhere near it actually — despite the inexorable rapid growth. Apparently the back office still exists. In the enterprise, on-premise ERP is still pretty huge. It’s ultimately doomed and continuously being replaced by SaaS of course. But the last time I looked my existence was reliably associated with 2019, not a probable future. And lest one forget the future of tech is a land of probabilities, not certainties. Apart from the fact that on-premise software still exists (requiring differentiation), how do we reclassify IaaS, PaaS, BPaaS etc? Not to mention cloud management and security services. I guess we should appoint the author to lead a special board to re-educate the world with vocabulary that suits him.

Besides. SaaS is a perfectly acceptable term. It has one syllable. Nobody uses the longer version anymore. Software has two syllables and requires a lot of lip gymnastics. Try saying both terms one after the other … See what I mean?

Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein

The article goes on to say: 
“It’s high time we kill the term Software As A Service (SaaS) and call it what it is — software. Even Salesforce abandoned its silly “No Software” tagline, after the company had to explain in 2015 that it meant, “No legacy software, just cloud software.”

Actually Salesforce wasn’t explaining anything so obvious in 2015. Salesforce’s ‘no software’ tagline was brilliant marketing conceived at the turn of the millennium. Anything that sells licenses is not “silly”. And it did actually help sell an awful lot of licenses. The company didn’t need to explain anything like that 4 years ago. The model was already widely understood. They had largely moved on from that tagline years before. The ‘explanation’ that Greathouse is referencing came from an article written by a bloke called Bridgwater in 2015 — another one filled with inaccuracies. He even links to it.

The term SaaS was not uncommon parlance for anyone in the business at the start of 03 when I joined Salesforce. In fact nobody in Salesforce was using the term ASP. The term ASP and SaaS are fundamentally different things. ASP was generally provided using separate single-tenant instances i.e. it wasn’t very scalable. Unlike properly architected multi-tenant SaaS where there’s a single instance of the software and a single database serving countless customers who share access to the same infrastructure and associated computing power, security, features etc. Crucially true SaaS permits relatively seamless updates. At the time many ASPs inaccurately described themselves as SaaS companies. Some of them did successfully evolve into viable SaaS companies. And back then the term ‘cloud computing’ wasn’t a meme yet — that didn’t happen until after Amazon and Google used it in 2006. Compaqmuttered it to themselves and a few others in 1996, but nobody really took notice.

no idea

He then declares: 
“In the early 2000’s, my software startup was dubbed an Application Service Provider (ASP) …. However, moving companies to the cloud was an exhausting process.”

Of course it was exhausting for GoToAssist. It wasn’t dubbed an ASP. It was an ASP. Rental model yes. True SaaS? No. They even tried to sell their software to Siebel. I wouldn’t envy them negotiating with Siebel in 2004. If Siebel resisted moving to properly architected multi-tenanted SaaS, why would they buy an ASP?

Siebel’s problem was that it needed to use its market advantage and huge war chest to build a proper, scalable, enterprise class CRM. The irony is that ‘enterprise class’ in those days was often an oxymoron. Siebel in 2004 was considered to be enterprise class by most people in the world of software. Cue massive guffaws in the stalls of theatre 2019. In transitioning it would have killed a lot of its huge on-premise contracts, most of it shelf-ware. And it may well have risen from that dip to become a world-beating company. We’ll never know because it chose to stick its head in the sand. No pivot. No innovation. It lost a ton of value and then Oracle, a giant on-premise death star in those days, consumed it with lots of tasty customers. In fairness to Oracle, it also birthed Salesforce and NetSuite.

The author then meanders off into his great theory on the evolution of language (a domain very obviously unfamiliar to him) by trying to explain terminology in another definitely unfamiliar to him, artificial intelligence. 
“According to Tim (Urban) …”
Brings to mind another interpretation of artificial intelligence altogether.

The ‘theory’ (cough) he announces at the end is that language is always evolving, always changing. 
Silence in the stalls of theatre 1919. 
Ludwig Wittgenstein walks out and slams the door behind him.

All virulent memes are what they are for logical reasons. None of them persist indefinitely. SaaS is no exception, but it’s in full bloom at this point in time.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

About the Author

Stephen Cummins is the podcaster behind 14 Minutes of SaaS and is quietly building Worknostic. He’s also the founder of AppSelekt
He blogs in various places including Understanding as a Service and on the AppSelekt blog.
You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn

“Logic is … a mirror image of the world.” 
Ludwig Wittgenstein

“All language is but a poor translation.”
Franz Kafka