THE BLOG
05/08/2013 02:41 pm ET | Updated Jul 08, 2013

SaaS Rolls Into the Third Wave at the Cloud Analytics Summit

Excel, email and paper are beginning to fade as the de facto tools for doing business. They are being replaced by data visualization, automation, and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Those were the core themes that came out of The Cloud Analytics Summit: Capitalizing on BI & Big Data in the Cloud, held at the Apella in New York City, with optimization being the overarching message.

What is optimization?

One only has to look at Google, which for years designed its software to have the fewest click-throughs. Then it revamped Gmail, which added layers in the cosmetic facelift. Gmail added extra clicks for users to add a CC or BCC, need to center the next webmail after hitting the "compose" tab on the left with a pop-up window on the right, and has to call up font styles at the bottom screen menu. No wonder there has been a Gmail backlash on Twitter.

We are living in the mobile age: We want things now. Optimization combined with automation and visualizing data for the small screen are keys to mobile's data-at-your-fingertips power.

During breakfast with Jeff Kaplan, the co-host of the Cloud Analytics Summit, he talked of the short history of SaaS. "There have been three waves of SaaS. The first SaaS wave focused on horizontal tools, such as Salesforce, which a dozen years ago began selling its platform across all industries that sell products and services. The second wave was also horizontal, but in the IT space."

The second SaaS wave refers to horizontal integration of information technology, as IT touches on all industries.

"The third wave of SaaS," Kaplan continued, "is those solutions that target specific verticals and industries."

Like the broader but niched focus software of mobile apps, SaaS tools are being developed into domain-specific solutions. Think of healthcare, insurance and real estate. Their business processes still suffer from drags on productivity and massive inefficiencies, since legacy systems were never designed to be flexible, automated, or easy to use -- because it is neither intuitive nor brought to life through visualizing data.

Jeff Kaplan is the Managing Director of THINKstrategies, a cloud consultancy, and founder of the Cloud Computing Showcase, which was launched as a nexus to help "enterprise decision-makers, IT solution providers and investment firms address and capitalize on the unprecedented business opportunities created by the rapidly evolving cloud computing market."

Mr. Kaplan co-hosted the summit with Marc Sternberg, CEO of Rising Tide Media. With a three-decade career in technology consulting, Kaplan sees both the double edge sword of the new computer era: large opportunities for enterprises to optimize and automate processes that, on the flip side, pose challenges for technology to keep up with the rapid pace of change.

IBM Sees Data Analytics Over the Type of Cloud Platform
In a morning panel, "Redefining BI & Analytics in the Cloud," moderator Michael Hickins, senior editor at the Wall Street Journal, opened the discussion by asking a question to the panelists on the Boston Marathon bombing: "Could the investigators have identified the suspects as quickly as they did 10 years ago?" Before Twitter and smartphone-embedded cameras existed?

IBM's CIO Jeanette Horan replied, "It would have taken two to three weeks to make the identifications then" without the analytics from the social graph and mash ups of all the data that was collected by the spectators.

No longer passive, people are now actively engaged. They are walking sensors collecting data on the go. That kind of data feed into the various social clouds is what the new world of analytics is all about. Not only are today's individuals data collectors, but they are also data analyzers. There were a lot of individuals who began to mine and sift through the digital ocean of data once it became available in social media.

According to Horan: "It's not about shooting for a public or private cloud. It's about the type of work you need to perform on the cloud."

And work the thousands of citizens and investigators did in the wake of the attack. For perhaps the first time in a major event, data analytics moved beyond the inner workings of investigators in the FBI, CIA and state and local police. The public was as actively engaged in connecting the digital dots as the journalists at the major news outlets.

Ms. Horan added, "The real debate should be about what type of application and type of business services you are trying to accomplish with the cloud. In the world of big data, with the cloud, there is real opportunity in marrying public data with internal data to gain a broader perspective. At IBM, our analytics cloud can take the internal customer profile data with external market data to help our marketing organization target customers better."

Bill Krivoshik, SVP and Chief Information Officer at Time Warner Inc., and Irving Wladawsky-Berger, a strategic advisor, joined Ms. Horan in the lively discussion.

But it's IBM, which continues to adapt and evolve ever since its uncertain days of the 1990s when it transitioned from mainframe to broader client services, and which has shifted with the changing paradigm where other legacy tech companies have not.

In the past five years, IBM consolidated 100 business intelligence products down to five standardized tools delivered via a cloud for HR, marketing and finance to make more informed business decisions. Not bad for a 430,000-employee global company that's more than 100 years old.

Visualizing Data and "Best-of-Breed" Practices
During the Q&A on, "Capitalizing on Cloud Analytics to Harness Big Data, Social Media and Mobility," a man didn't so much ask a question, but jumped at the defense of Excel as the ultimate tool for businesses.

With a bemused and surprised look on their collective faces, panelists Mark Cunningham, CEO and founder of Indicee, Chris Harrington, President of Domo, and Roman Stanek, CEO and founder of GoodData, agreed that Excel isn't dead -- yet. But they did imply that Excel is a legacy in the rapidly changing SaaS, mobile and big data models.

Unable to resist the urge to rebut the hero worship of Excel, I asked: "From a data visualization view and small screen of mobile devices, who today wants to read Excel spreadsheets on a smartphone in the field or on the go?"

With glee, moderator Jeff Kaplan steered the question back to the Excel man, before he passed it on to the panel. The consensus reply: Excel isn't going away, but it is no longer the default front-end UI, nor the only way to communicate data.

Harrington and Stanek disagreed on the type of niche-specific problems that mobile apps will solve using data analytics. Harrington sees it as domain-specific, while Stanek countered as user-specific driven.

In an afternoon panel, "Using Cloud Analytics to Create New Customer Value," Guy Nirpaz, CEO and founder of Totango, said, "The third wave of SaaS will not only be domain-specific in solving solutions, but the new trend will see how 'best-of-breed' practices for each industry will be integrated into the SaaS."

Imagine Sigma Six principles or other best practices of an industry making their way into mobile apps, from legal and food to healthcare and the supply chain. Now that would be useful.