Software as an Experience

Software as an Experience

Around the year 2000, the technology industry began delivering software products by the Application Service Provider model (ASP). This was a brave advancement over the traditional on-premises approach. By 2010, the model had matured into what we now call Software as a Service (SaaS). The old on-premises model is still out there, but software firms of all sizes are busy making the shift to SaaS. All of this makes me want to ask the simple question: is SaaS the final resting place for software delivery, or is it merely a stepping stone on the path to something even better?

Like many Americans, I spent a week this summer sitting on the beach. For this beach getaway, I rented a lovely beach house in a great location suitable for the types of activities my family enjoys. During that week, my mind went through a familiar exercise, comparing the weekly cost of the rental with the cost of buying a beach house and renting it out when we weren’t using it. This is a common exercise; so common in fact, that I even overheard another group of people on the beach having that same discussion. This sun-inspired mental “Excel” exercise always ends the same – sure, I could make it work and maybe save a few dollars, but my life during the rest of the year would change dramatically due to the amount of time and energy that would be required to maintain the house and stay mentally invested in it.

The SaaS movement is much like renting a beach house instead of buying one – you only pay for what you use, and you are free to rent a different house next year without involving a large capital expenditure. But a beach house rental is not about the house, it’s about the beach. It’s not about a service – it’s about an experience.

Starbucks is well aware of the distinction between selling a product versus an experience. In fact, bloggers and industry analysts have correctly identified this business philosophy as one of Starbucks’ primary differentiators and ingredients for success. When we buy a coffee (and pastry, etc.) at Starbucks, we are not purchasing a product at the best possible price. Nope, that’s not it at all. We are not even purchasing the best product. Definitely not. But what we are purchasing is an experience that is familiar, reliable, and at least moderately stylish and hip. If Starbucks loses these attributes of the coffee experience, they will end up selling a basic commodity – equivalent to selling software by shrink-wrapped CD.

The same is true about software. It’s not about buying a product anymore, and it isn’t really about buying a service either. Sure, we need to deliver great service to achieve the basic tenets of SaaS, but that’s only a starting point. We buy software because it can give us the experience that we are looking for. We want to accomplish some specific task and not have it ruin an hour of our lives every time that task needs to be done. In fact, what we really want is something more akin to what Starbucks is offering – we want to accomplish that task and actually look forward to it next time. This is what the UX movement is all about, so it seems high time that software firms change their thinking as well. We need to move beyond selling products and services – we need to sell software as an experience. I hereby coin the new acronym SaaX – Software as an Experience. Let’s do this!

Alan Neveu

Certify, CTO