There is a reason why many organizations have been able to, with relative ease, achieve the transition to a work from home (WFH) reality in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic: Many of the technologies that enterprises have used traditionally benefit from simpler deployment models. Just a few months ago, providing access to business applications typically would have meant visiting and distributing end-user computing equipment such as laptops, pre-configured desktops, and other devices preloaded with all sorts of software and expensive management utilities.

Today, however, many of our enterprise software packages have become tools that vendors offer as Software as a Service (SaaS). This means that in a relatively small amount of time, IT operation centers are able not only to test but fully deploy these particular office automation toolsets in production for virtually entire enterprises.

This leads one to ask the question: If commercial software has been able to easily assist with the shift to work from home, then what is holding back custom applications from becoming just as easily accessible by end-users who find themselves today in a very different work environment? Why haven’t sufficient software maintenance cycles been invested in enterprise applications to facilitate widespread compatibility with the WFH model?

The answer to this question is that traditional custom software still represents an element of friction. This is because the software that enterprises use has not completely transitioned to a model that is fully web browser compatible and optimized. One might argue that it is true that many business applications are now browser-based, but in reality they still require a sophisticated point configuration effort. Provisioning is not always as simple as activating an attribute inside of a corporate LDAP directory. Oftentimes, additional backend access control and configuration is required to deal with legacy baggage, which is better referred to as stubborn “technical debt”.

However, when we juxtapose this to what has happened in the commercial software space, we can see that a new method of deployment has emerged. Each enterprise application (examples include enterprise email, ERP modules, and CRM) is a self-contained, integrated set of features and functionality where the software publisher handles the inner details of securing, scaling, operating, and evolving the application. With this separation of responsibility, the challenges of deploying and configuring the software to end-user computing endpoints have been inherently addressed. This is the essence of SaaS.

When we look at the industry, we see that SaaS-delivered products have been able to gain a strong foothold. These products have also made a convincing argument for a transition from a promising model to one that totally relies on a cloud-delivered approach. What is the critical element that would drive a successful migration towards an easier to support model? The answer here is quite clear – All software needs to feel like SaaS.

When software feels and operates in a similar way to SaaS, everyone wins. End-users obtain the functionality they expect. The people responsible for operating and deploying the business functions are able to easily meet their goals. From an operational and technological perspective, the new product being deployed helps tremendously to establish a foundation that is easy to maintain and evolve over time. The result is a lower cost of ownership.

We offer here an imperative. Build your software so that it can be easily maintained and deployed in a manner similar to what we have learned from commercial software firms. They have been able to deliver functionality to millions at an unprecedented scale at upwards of billions of end-users. They have done so in a way that is secure and easy to deploy without overburdening the teams that operate and administer IT assets. Pervasive automation has played a critical role in achieving this success.

Bespoke software, software created by enterprises for its own use, needs to have a similar philosophy, goal, development processes, and methodology at its core. Organizations need to adopt agile processes and embrace end-to-end automation. Organizations need to shift to a cloud-delivered model that changes the way software is envisioned. This software, in addition, will need to be secured with layered models, a security approach that is modern, requires fewer infrastructure components, and is now recognized as a mainstream best practice.

In order for organizations to accelerate the shift to cloud and convert assets to ones that are compatible with the work from home imperative, these applications will need to be reconsidered in terms of how they are built and how they are deployed. Organizations will also have to align and follow a “Cloud IT” spirit as mentioned in my related blog posts. They will have to re-evaluate and re-imagine how applications, infrastructure, and processes are built and delivered.

To reiterate, all software needs to feel like SaaS. The benefits are incredible and the outcomes prove it’s worth the effort.



About the Author

Michael “Mick” Bisignani, a professional technologist, has held CTO and IT director positions. In his spare time, Michael aspires to become a burgeoning chef. You can follow him on Instagram @micksterct to tempt your taste buds.