Adam Bosworth has an interesting post on the evolution of software and why software delivered as a service will be the business model of the future. As you know, I have always been interested in this trend since my first post in October 2003 and since I invested in a number of companies in 1998 and 1999 like LivePerson and Expertcity (GoToMyPC) that subscribed to the ASP business model. What I have learned and what Adam points out is that it comes down to the customer experience, making a product easier to use for a customer and evolving it as quickly as possible to meet the customer's needs. Software delivered as a service enables that and packaged software does not. In the time it takes Microsoft to deliver an application (went from 1 year to 5 years), a company delivering software as a service can deliver 60 iterations of its product. As Adam points out, "things that breed rapidly more quickly adopt through natural selection to a changing environment." I have never thought about software in evolutionary terms, but it certainly makes sense.
From an evolutionary perspective, the ASP business model is quite interesting to examine. While every piece of software should not and will not be delivered as a service, it is also quite clear that customers are tired of buying expensive software products with large upfront licenses, expensive hardware to purchase, manange, and maintain, followed by expensive professional services to get the product up and running. From this backdrop, it is easy to see why reducing complexity and simplifying technology for customers is a big driver to more rapid adoption of products. It is also easy to see why reducing complexity for the customer also helps reduce complexity for the vendor, lowering the friction to sell and deliver its product. This means a more capital efficient business model, one which would hopefully scale much quicker and cost less to build product, sell, and support customers. For the vendor, it makes it:
1. Easier to sell
-shorter sales cycle-do not have to test extensively in a customer's environment
-lends itself to telesales, can demo over phone and web, do not need a huge sales infrastructure to close deals (just need quota bearing reps without a huge staff of sales engineers and professional services guys to get the job done)
-not a capital expense, usually sold as monthly or annual subscription which can many times be taken out of business budget as opposed to IT budget
2. Easier to install
-no messy installation process, long testing process, or even waiting for hardware to be delivered to customer
-can leave a customer and simply point them to a URL, train them over the phone, and get them up and running
-all of this means that the business can scale rapidly
3. Cheaper to support
-browser-based delivery and richer client interfaces like DHTML make it easy to use for the customer=less training=less customer support costs
4. Easier to integrate
-standard APIs make it easier for software delivered as a service to integrate disparate systems
-once again, reduces costs to deliver product to customers and also removes obstacles to getting customers
5. Cheaper to build
-versus a few years ago, you now have much cheaper bandwidth, storage, servers, and software
-think Linux, Intel boxes, cheap bandwidth, commodity software stacks, and smarter entrepreneurs changing the economics of building and delivering software as a service.
-the economics speak for themselves
Given this, it seems to me that the ASP business model will only get more attractive with time. The ASP model makes it easier for vendors to sell and get customers up and running, lending itself to a more scalable and profitable business model. While I am not suggesting that every product will evolve this way, it is clear that simplicity rules. The ASP model is certainly one way of accomplishing simplicity. Appliances are another way. Packaged software with huge installation costs is not.