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Software as a Service market opportunities abound

Microsoft's entrance into the Software as a Service market improves prospects for channel professionals.

Microsoft is clearly escalating its advance into the Software as a Service (SaaS) market. That endorsement of the sector has significant implications for resellers and partners, since its presence changes the dynamics of the marketplace. But the appearance of Microsoft in the SaaS market hasn't discouraged its competitors from upgrading their own SaaS offerings; in fact, it has fanned the competitive flames and helped to hasten the upgrade pace. So there's plenty of opportunity for resellers to gain new business in the SaaS market. But here is the burning question: How can channel professionals capitalize on the opportunities this competition is producing? The following avenues have good potential and are worth considering.

Microsoft products

  • CRM Live CRM Live is a new version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM that runs on a SaaS basis and will be released later in 2007. Microsoft promises it will continue to consider its partners as partners and find ways to keep them in the sales mix. If organizations are interested in CRM Live, resellers will likely be able to earn, at a minimum, a referral fee, and more likely, there will be opportunities and leads to customize and extend the basic CRM Live environment for a specific business's special needs. The message here is don't give up -- there might not even be a battle. Determine where you can add value above Microsoft's initial SaaS products, and sell both to your customers.
  • Office Live Office Live is designed to set up a Web site and functional, if basic, e-commerce operation for smaller businesses. The selling point is not the relative ease with which an online presence can be set up. Rather, the story is in integrating and extending the Office Live platform and customizing it for various businesses. Office Live can be based in part on a Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 site, making for beneficial extensions like workflow, information sharing and linking directly with Office applications on the desktop.

Don't be confused by the terminology -- Office Live isn't an online version of the Office suite. It's more about taking an office online and presenting a robust online presence to the outside world. There are extension opportunities here if you know SharePoint,

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SQL, Web development strategies and so on. For instance, a smaller hotel may want an online reservation system based on its Office Live site -- something that can be simply and efficiently done, but that is beyond the expertise of the proprietor. By considering how your customers might extend their online presence, resellers can offer customizations that expand other businesses.

The competitive set

We know Microsoft didn't invent SaaS. Other companies have been driving the phenomenon long enough to establish a SaaS marketplace, and it's a robust one. In the CRM arena, for instance, NetSuite's partner program offers support, sales assistance and rewards to iNetSuite's channel allies for equipping new businesses with its software solutions. The company (formerly NetLedger) is an entrenched provider of CRM and ERP solutions driven over the Web, and it was Larry Ellison's baby. If the Microsoft solution doesn't suit you or your customer, it might be worthwhile to evaluate alternative solutions like NetSuite's or others' -- if only to avoid the "one-trick pony" complaint future clients may make.

The bottom line is that as the Internet grows as a platform, it's clear that desktop software no longer has a complete stranglehold on the market. Customers are now interested in software delivered over the Internet and its key reliability and availability benefits. You should consider being a part of the wave as the industry transitions to this new revenue model.

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