November 29, 2006

Service Delivery in a Web 2.0 world

Posted in SaaS, service delivery at 6:06 pm by jayfresh

Wow, this is a big problem for business right now… So let’s say that you have a whole bunch of applications, web services and other consumables that you want to sell to your customers, or re-sell through your channels. Doesn’t it make sense to have a single, consistent interface for the users to manage their accounts and purchase items; for managers to re-package products, set price points, create special offers and go so far as to create entirely new products from existing sub-products?

What about metering, fault reporting, usage metrics, linkage to billing systems (not mention the countless other Enterprise systems you might want to link to)?

This single, consistent interface is what I tend to think of as a “service delivery layer” in a software stack. Sure companies have been creating these things for years, particularly since the days of ASP in ’99, but the landscape has really changed and new solutions are required:

There is a need to consume third-party services, to offer them back as hosted applications, to allow developers to upload their own applications into the marketplace (Salesforce-style).

There is a requirement for simplicity – it’s no good if it is a technical, manual job to onboard new products, to configure, to release new products or offers based on existing products. This is a world where competitors with the right systems will be able to react instantly to changes in the market and their competitors product releases.

There is a need to offer some sort of service-level agreements, but the delivery of this service should come from the service delivery platform, not from the application itself. The same goes for all the commercial wrap around the products. The developers need to focus on their applications and should not have to worry about pre-integrating with billing systems and supporting different levels of service natively. In the world where third-party applications and services are to be “mashed up”, this conformance from the developer cannot be expected.

Companies like JamCracker, HP, Cerillion and Mircosoft are creating platforms to enable all of this, but they are not going about it in the same way by any stretch of the imagination. The companies who will win here are those that build modular, extensible, flexible environments, where the hassle of onboarding a new application into the service layer is as minimal as possible, even nill. The company that wins will be the one with the best understanding of the business problem they are trying to solve and where this market is going.

In many ways, this is a step towards future-proofing product development, as we cannot know where the Internet is going to take us over the next months and years. What we do know is that consumers and businesses are going to expect more flexibility, personalisation and ease-of-use. We have to bring these qualities to the touchpoints with these customers or we will be beaten down by faster-moving competitors who take the best of global innovation and sell it on under their brand.