An enterprise's first move into SaaS is usually more of a toe-dipping than a headlong dive. SaaS marks a departure from previous ways of doing things and adoption often occurs in steps.
Fermilab, a US Department of Energy laboratory that focuses on particle physics, is following that pattern. In a recent interview, Vicky White, Fermilab's chief information officer, discussed the organization's approach to SaaS. The lab's initial foray into SaaS, under somewhat trying circumstances, has since evolved into broader adoption.
The lab reports a number of benefits from SaaS. Overall, SaaS lets Fermilab more rapidly deploy IT, provides greater agility, and offers a more modern code base, White noted. And while some industry observers might say that SaaS is altering the IT shop, White said she believes it's more the case that SaaS reinforces changes already underway.
"The IT organization is constantly changing," she said. "I don't think SaaS, per se, changes the organization as much as the organization needed to change anyway. SaaS is a more effective way to support that change."
A difficult time and labor project sparked Fermilab's initial adoption of SaaS. The organization tried to build a time-tracking system on top of Oracle.
White inherited the software initiative when she was appointed Fermilab's acting CIO three years ago (she was formally named CIO in 2010). She realized the in-house project wasn't going to meet the nine-month completion deadline.
"We were stuck trying to modify the Oracle system and we... just weren't going to get there," she explained. "To have done it in-house would have taken too long."
Instead, Fermilab looked for a product in the cloud, and decided upon Kronos Inc.'s SaaS-based time and labor system. The Kronos system, according to the company, enforces pay and work rules across an organization and simplifies timecard tracking, data entry, and approval processing.
The rapid adoption of Kronos helped Fermilab stick to its deadline and opened the way to additional SaaS services. The lab next deployed ServiceNow's SaaS-based service management tool. ServiceNow went into production in October, replacing Fermilab's in-house BMC/Remedy service desk automation software.
White said the SaaS platform offers greater visibility, noting it is now much easier to generate reports. The SaaS service desk also boosts Fermilab's agility, she added. Creating a new form in the system can be done quickly, White noted, citing the example of a Summer Student Request form that had been on paper for decades.
White said she has looked into other SaaS offerings including cloud-based email. That move has been deferred for the time being. She said email-as-a-service changes frequently and is too unstable, from her perspective. She added that she may revisit the email question in a year or so. In addition, White said she would like to take Fermilab's HR system to the cloud.
Fermilab's SaaS experience thus far seems likely to lead to additional adoption. Speed and flexibility are among the main drivers. White mentioned another plus: the ability to field more up-to-date software. While some software vendors deal with 15-year old code bases, SaaS providers don't have that particular burden.
"SaaS vendors tend to have built code in an agile, modern way, constantly adding features and moving forward," White said.
That responsiveness to change has helped sell Fermilab on SaaS. It also drives adoption in applications such as regulatory compliance, and industries such as life sciences. Cost and time-to-market benefits may be the first items that spring to mind in a list of SaaS advantages, but dealing with change ranks as a key consideration as well.