Challenges to flexible service delivery

I viewed a Gartner webinar a couple of days ago on Software as a Service (SaaS). As I followed the seminar I looked to apply some of the thinking to the Flexible Service Delivery (FSD) programme being run by JISC.

The FSD programme has evolved from a number of different strands of activity, one of which is shared services. The webinar suggested that CIOs needed to guard against the assumption that SaaS is automatically cheaper and provided examples where this had not proved to be the case. There were a number of questions regarding future resourcing that needed to be considered as part of the business case for SaaS. However, focusing on SaaS as a replacement technology is not necessarily the right approach – since there is greater emphasis on the customer experience there is perhaps as much justification for looking at SaaS as a way of enhancing and extending a service for less than it would cost in house.

There will be a period during transition from on-site to off-site services when the IT department will be meeting the costs of both; consequently there is a need to ensure that that transition is as short as possible. A related point was that there is a need to develop an integration strategy when considering implementing SaaS solutions. That strategy gets more complicated as the number of off-site solutions increases. It is recognised that the FSD programme needs to define a process model for higher education institutions which would be used to identify areas that could be delivered through SaaS/shared service models. It would ease the implementation strategies for institutions if that template defined business models themselves tightly and was used to produce standard definitions of interfaces and data transitions between the individual processes.

The webinar also talked about the need to establish a governance policy with SaaS providers. Governance is an issue that has been raised in many discussions on shared services and CIOs will need to consider the level of service their institutions need from a service provider, including establishing their disaster recovery capabilities, service uptime, management of releases (particularly an issue if there are interfaces with other applications), etc.

All these areas (and more) need to be considered when building the business case. The projected future resource requirements (essentially a comparison of resource with SaaS and without) need to be considered but perhaps tempered with an estimation of the added value that a new service may deliver. The cost of interfacing applications needs to be considered as well as the standard of the service that an institution requires of its provider. The baseline costs will vary between institutions; where the FSD programme has most potential is to ease the integration costs by defining the business process models and driving standardisation of interfaces. The suppliers will then need to be encouraged to adopt those standards. In my view this will be the biggest challenge to the programme.

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