Blog May 22, 2018

Who’s in control: You or your software provider?

By Brian Zrimsek

The tenth and final point in our “Ten ways to tell if your enterprise software provider is open” series is on control or, more specifically, who has control? Does it rest with the software provider or the client?

It seems like an odd question to ask as one would typically expect the client to be in control of their business. Unfortunately, unless the enterprise software provider is committed to being open and connected, the client has less control than they may realize. They are quite limited in their ability to effect change on the enterprise software provider.

The trade-offs of multi-tenant architecture

In traditional, on-premise deployments of enterprise software, the client had control over the physical environment, access to the database and, in many cases, they had the ability to tailor the software to their specific needs (sometimes overdoing it).

As software moved to the cloud and became SaaS, many new entrants adopted a multi-tenant architecture while existing providers continued with single-tenant deployments delivered via the cloud.
Unfortunately, the rise of multi-tenant architectures created a significant trade-off for clients that exchanged traditional points of control for the benefits of the cloud, losing the ability to provide differentiation through software. What may not be realized is the impact a multi-tenant architecture has on one’s ability to truly embrace being open and connected.

A multi-tenant environment leverages a single code stream for all clients. As such, the software provider can’t allow clients to personalize the system as one code change could impact many clients. Further, allowing clients unique capabilities, managed by program logic based on client ID, can quickly sprawl out of control and create ongoing maintenance issues.

Let’s put this in the context of physical real estate. When you own a single-family home, you (or whoever you hire) can basically change anything you want as long as it meets code and fits in your budget. Typically, changes made to your home do not impact others.

In multifamily properties, residents are not allowed the freedom to make the same types of changes/renovations to their apartment homes. Imagine the maintenance nightmare if every unit was equipped with different appliances, mechanical systems and each had a unique floor plan. It simply would not scale.

Freedom for clients threatens provider control

To avoid and manage these types of risks, SaaS providers typically limit client tailoring to pre-programmed configuration options, and integrations are limited to APIs controlled by the provider. In a multi-tenant model, variability drives complexity and cost so variability is managed to a minimum, in turn driving client control to a minimum.

The subsequent bi-product of this need for control is a large disincentive for providers to be open and connected. Variability grows exponentially as more partners come into play, bringing more choices and ultimately more freedom for clients to utilize technology on their own terms.

Putting “walls” around products allows the provider to broaden their capabilities while leaving clients no easy way to use another solution. The provider makes their own solution the easy default choice, regardless of how robust it may, or may not, be. We explore the topic of selfishness in the fifth blog in this series: Is your enterprise software provider putting you first?

Truly open vendors don’t assume to know what is best for your business. They don’t assume they have a solution for all your needs. They don’t block your ability to choose, and they don’t believe they can innovate everywhere simultaneously.

Instead, open providers recognize that every client’s business is unique, and that go-to-market strategies and areas of competitive differentiation drive a specific set of needs that will likely require a suite of solutions beyond their own borders. As such, these providers embrace being open and connected to give clients the freedom to take their business where they want to go.

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