Griffiths: A time for software as a service

The Defense Department could make a good business case for on-demand applications

The Defense Department has issued a request for quotations for virtual conferencing services that might be used departmentwide. The RFQ is a litmus test for DOD’s innovative new policy of A-B-C: Adopt available technologies first, buy second, and create last.

The choice will largely be among newer commercial, on-demand applications and traditional bottom-up, on-premise solutions from  integrators. Having proven their versatility in the corporate world, on-demand applications must now demonstrate whether they are indispensable resources for our warfighters.

What gives on-demand providers an edge over traditional on-premise systems developed by large systems integrators?

On-demand and on-premise solutions provide great benefits for organizations that need to connect with global partners, customers and employees. Each approach has associated requirements, benefits and costs. Organizations must weigh the value of a solution by balancing the total cost of ownership against mission criticality and return on investment.

The on-premise approach requires significant upfront investments in time and money, in addition to ongoing support from information technology organizations and training departments.

The hosted, on-demand approach shifts responsibility from the organization to the provider and frees the organization to realize the full potential of online collaboration. Hosted service providers with a multitenant secure architecture, a dedicated global network and highly accessible services designed to scale to the customer can deliver an ROI  faster than traditional integrators can. 

The software-as-a-service model was designed to host on-demand business applications on a dedicated infrastructure outside the enterprise, thereby maximizing resources and eliminating the costly overhead required to develop and maintain on-premise systems. The good news for the federal government is that on-demand providers offer the most cost-effective, scalable means to obtain the latest technology without sinking more money into infrastructure, employees, training and application development.

On-demand providers charge no large upfront licensing fees or annual renewal charges and no additional fees associated with adding or changing capabilities. Flat per-user fees assure government agencies of steady costs.

In addition, increasing the number of users on older, on-premise solutions only raises the base cost of the package as licensing fees increase, and it requires costly hardware deployment, additional servers, time-consuming backup and network provisioning to accommodate user fluctuations.

Because on-demand service providers practice a specific discipline in a focused set of core competencies, they are able to enjoy operational efficiencies unattainable by even the largest enterprises.

One of the primary factors delaying a shift to the software-as-service model has been security, but that is changing. Some of the country’s most successful corporations have entrusted their sensitive business secrets to on-demand service providers. Government agencies such as NASA use on-demand providers for critical missions, and Pennsylvania recently contracted with my company to provide virtual conferencing services to support the state’s disaster preparedness operations.

Griffiths is vice president of products and technical operations at WebEx, an on-demand service provider, and a former Navy officer.

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