Community Clouds – Putting the “Service” Back into SaaS


Today's SaaS offerings are served up buffet-style, with everyone paying for access to the same functionality as everyone else. Got a peanut or shellfish allergy? Avoid that section of the buffet bar and eat what you can. It works. You still get lunch, the same as everyone else, but you've paid for access to food you couldn't eat. Now … translate that to SaaS. While it gets the job done (hopefully), the access you paid for may not fit your exact needs because it was built with a larger, more encompassing group in mind. That food you couldn't eat translates into functionality you paid for, but didn't need.

There's been a surge in chatter about vertical community clouds that span industries, allowing for related organizations to share access to cloud services that solve issues they have in common. It sounds like a step in the right direction when compared to the traditional buffet – after all, this new restaurant is serving up food that meets the specific concerns of those with the peanut and shellfish allergies. Pretty convenient, right?  Companies spanning an industry tend to have the same concerns, the same pain points that need to be addressed, and community clouds allow for an overarching solution that can be tailored to an industry at large. The healthcare industry, for instance, has its own specific regulations that must be met, such as those concerning patient data security and billing obligations to government and insurance entities…all issues that are of no consequence to the guy in Milwaukee who is just trying to enhance operations for his furniture manufacturing business. Typically, these two completely disparate organizations might try to make a square peg fit into a round hole by subscribing to the same SaaS solutions. The newer approach to vertical community clouds means enhanced, tailored services can be provided to hospitals and healthcare facilities or any other industry across the country. The idea is that participants will have access to a group buffet that feels like it was cooked specifically for them, but with low costs and conveniences that stay intact.

Using the cloud as a sort of community-based resource, while genius in some respects, does present some issues, including shouldering the costs of cloud infrastructure when fewer are available to share the expense. Some industries are more suited to a community cloud than others, as cloud-based services are frequently used as a competitive edge over rival companies – sharing that competitive edge may not make the best strategic sense for some organizations. Most of the community cloud movement has been seen within the federal government and the healthcare industry, where the focus is typically less about gaining a competitive foothold and more about providing their services with the smallest impact on the budget.

Cloud is made for convenience. It should be able to provide pinpointed solutions like expense management, asset management and inventory management for specific industries and resist the laziness of the one-size-fits-all mentality. Its very nature lends to mobility, innovation and rapid adaptability, not being shoehorned into place and left to gather dust like its older and more distinguished brother, the traditional ERP installation. The company should run the software, the software shouldn't run the company, right? We certainly think so.