In this series of articles, Haran Sold provides his thoughts on the state of large-enterprise software, the move toward business cloud delivery models, the role of automation and the impact of legacy thinking.

One of the hallmarks of software-as-a-service (SaaS) is its ability to deliver functionality to customers in much shorter timelines than traditional on-premises installations. However, these SaaS successes have been mostly delivered by small- to medium-sized system integrators that have a few hundred employees at most and an agile approach to system delivery. Pushing SaaS delivery into the large-enterprise space is proving difficult for vendors of on-premises platforms, since most vendor plans have a gap where SaaS automation migration assistance should be.

Customized systems are holding enterprises back

Large organizations have a history of working with on-premises installations, and they have usually committed significant resources to past customizations. As such, they are not prepared to accept generic SaaS offerings, even if it means quicker delivery. They are also no longer willing to treat enterprise resource system migrations as "science projects" because there are significant risks and costs to committing to an unknown path.

At the same time, businesses must make choices that will move themselves forward. The option of doing nothing is not without risks — custom code degrades at a rate of 8 percent per year without continuous cleaning and maintenance. This is a compounding factor with exponential decay, and inattention by the business can quickly lead to enterprise software that no longer responds to business needs. When this happens, the business will be unable to address its changing market, and after a short time, migrations or upgrades are no longer an option, leaving a wholesale custom replacement as the only viable avenue.

Bridging the gap with automation technologies

Code can be updated manually, but using this technique to prepare legacy systems for migration is not an easy path. Addressing millions of code lines by hand can take years, even for experienced teams. Plus, during this time, the business must freeze all system changes and carefully assess the risk of introducing code changes beyond break/fix when work is in progress.

Alternatively, automation in the migration process allows enterprises that rely on customized on-premises installations to successfully move to SaaS. Automation has proven its value in reducing the project risks associated with technology migrations. Further, automation isn't a singular process. It plays a valuable role in identifying high-risk customizations, rationalizing legacy code, repeatedly testing changes and aligning code and data with new standards. Change freeze windows are also much smaller when automation is applied to the process — if changes are introduced, repeatable automated testing immediately assesses the impact.

Enterprises need a partner that supports an agile approach and advanced automation

Software vendors are in business to develop platforms that bring value to their customers, and this now includes SaaS delivery, once the platform is stable. However, getting from on-premises to SaaS is a slow and painful process. The first reason is that platform vendors are slow to provide the tools and migration paths necessary to move large companies toward cloud delivery models. The second is that the business models of the large system integrators are based on time and materials, so fast, agile projects are not aligned to their business models.

Experts in automation can deliver tremendous value with much lower project risk, guaranteed results, shorter timelines and reduced costs, thereby filling in the gaps left by vendors in their sprint to develop the platform product. Automation provides lowered risks and retained functionality, allowing enterprises to avoid the trap of indecision from unproven or lengthy science experiments versus low-risk, fast time-to-value technology-enabled services company delivery through automation and agile project methodology.

Haran Sold is a self-professed tech fan and geek at heart who is passionate about new and different solutions. This has made him a strong advocate for innovation and a change agent in the world of SaaS ERP. With a broad background from agile startups to executive management in global operations, Haran brings a valuable perspective to this rapidly changing landscape.