One of the major attractions of the Cloud for vendors is that it ties in customers, providing a reasonably consistent revenue stream. It is an effective anti-competitive strategy. There are various technical and other methods that can be used to ensure that it’s difficult or even impossible for customers to jump ship. While that’s all very nice for vendors, it’s not such a wonderful thing for customers.
Let’s say you’re a CAD Manager who persuades your company to use a great new SaaS service and Cloud storage. Let’s assume it performs well, is secure, has 100% uptime and offers functionality that is not available with standalone software. Your company is pleased with all this and uses it increasingly over several years, eventually moving completely into the Cloud. A good news story, right?
Well, maybe. There are a few things that could go wrong. Very wrong. Wrong enough to get you fired. Most of these things have multiple precedents, some of them quite recent. They are realistic concerns and it’s not really plausible for anyone with any knowledge of the past to argue that they won’t happen in the future. I have grouped these concerns into five categories:
- Impermanence. The vendor stops providing the service. There are many possible reasons for this happening. Computing is full of product failures and withdrawals. Autodesk alone has such a long history of dead products and orphaned customers, that it would be a major undertaking just to document them all. If the product’s not making money, it’s unlikely to have a future. The vendor itself could go down the tubes. Computing history is littered with the corpses of once-dominant companies. Because there is a chain of dependencies in a typical Cloud solution, there are several potential points of corporate failure. Maybe Autodesk doesn’t go down, but Amazon does, or Citrix. One day, your software just isn’t there any more. What now?
- Price ramping. Once you and enough of your fellow customers are tied in, there is nothing to prevent the vendor from racking up the prices. Autodesk has already done this kind of thing with upgrade pricing and Subscription, so it’s not as if it’s an unlikely scenario. If the boil-a-frog-slowly approach is used and you’re the frog being boiled, you’re better off not being tied down when you decide it’s time to get out of the water.
- Unwelcome terms and conditions. The terms and conditions under which you operate are often in the Cloud themselves and can be changed by the vendor without you having any say in the matter. What if one day your company lawyer spots a clause has been added that is totally outrageous (even more than normal, I mean) and there is no way your company can possibly continue to operate under those conditions? Good luck trying to negotiate your way out of that one from a position of weakness.
- Unwelcome technical changes. I intend to cover the issue of as-you-go upgrades more fully later, but let’s say the vendor introduces a new feature that seriously impacts your ability to use the software productively. No off switch is provided. Sound familiar? It happens to standalone software. It will happen to your SaaS choice, too.
- Ignoreware. Your once-fashionable product stops being The New Black. The vendor decides to concentrate its resources in other areas to attract new customers rather than the ones it has already tied up. While your SaaS product continues to be provided, it is put into maintenance mode and nothing useful is added to it. As the rest of the computing world moves on, your SaaS product does not. Holes start to appear that make your life difficult or impossible. Again, Autodesk history is replete with examples of this kind of thing.
If you’re using standalone software and any of the above occurs, it’s probably a pretty big deal, but you can work around it in the short term by simply continuing to use the product that works. You can keep doing this into the medium term, perhaps for several years. Sure, if Autodesk goes down you’ll find that you can no longer authorise new installations or transfer software from one computer to another. But you’ll have some breathing space. You’ll still have all your data, bang up to date. You’ll be able to continue working productively while you look around for an alternative.
If you’ve deeply committed your company to a Cloud solution and the SaaS hits the fan, it’s more than a big deal. It’s a disaster. It could kill your company. It could kill your career. As a computer once asked me, “Do you really want to do this?”