Enterprise SaaS and the Coghead Lesson

Phil Butler

saas-boneyardTechCrunch just recently reported the demise of Coghead, one of the Web’s most popular SaaS enterprise solutions. Coghead suggested via this article, that the economic downturn is to blame for its woes. There is however a more basic and realistic flaw for many such developments. The longest running argument against any SaaS platform has been data backup and security, and this is detrimental in any economic situation.

In a recent article by Larry Dignan of ZDNet, both data backup and economic aspects of SaaS are brought into question. Though the economic downturn may be a concern for SaaS, as is data backup, another element has been overlooked. Raw data, no matter how it is “banked” (as Dignan points out) is literally useless without an application to run it. In this one respect alone, developers of Web based business SaaS have made a crucial error. No business, however small, can afford even the remote possibility that their data gets stuck in limbo.

Why some of these developers never made a “stand alone” version, including proper documentation, is a mystery. My expertise in this space consists of testing some of these services early on (Coghead in particular), and working with Iceberg, helping with their new site design and release news. The viability of Iceberg and Process Maker are particularly relevant for this argument in that they do have “on site” services.

The chart below illustrates a comparative of several SaaS services including; Coghead, Zoho, Process Maker, QuickBase, SalesForce and Iceberg.

Updated chart illustrating features

Updated chart illustrating features

Redundancy For Viability

However much we all want SaaS to be successful, viability effects everyone from developers to end users – business or individuals. Time is money, as they say, so losing data or even having it “detained” is not an option for most. Coghead’s ultimate fate as a technology is uncertain, in today’s news that SAP acquired it. Irregardless, redundancy with regard to both application and data would seem prudent for SAP now.

Final Notes

Coghead as a Web 2.0 (or whatever) development is significant. I reached Wayne Byrne, Co-founder of Iceberg, to get his thoughts on this news. Even given his development’s somewhat unfair comparisons early on to Coghead, his statement reveals a lot about Coghead as an innovation:

Coghead simplified and communicated the message of SaaS, webware in a way that none of the other players were able to, and captured peoples imaginations.

I also asked Byrne about backup for SalesForce, given their massive acceptance. Byrne replied: “Salesforce’s customers can request backup, but it is given in the form of Excel spreadsheet, and it would take companies months to sort all this out.” Also, my original contention about “useless raw data”, seems valid too. Every development in this space has its strengths and weaknesses, but at the core of an SaaS company, data security has to be at the top of lists. Suggesting viability without this “guarantee” seems ludicrous.

Author’s Note & Disclosure: As I mentioned in the body of this article, I consulted with Iceberg for website design, PR and SEO early in its development. Any opinion expressed or implied is not intended to be an advocacy of one product over another, and is certainly not the suggestion of SitePoint or its community. I suggest that the Web community as a whole, evaluate these services more completely. In so doing, we can more easily guarantee the art of the development and the end users are not left wondering what happened.

Update: Intuit contacted me via their PR and suggested that workflow, Excel integration and other features are available. I include the work flow (though there still is no visual work flow), and Excel as givens. As for API suggested utility, an open API doesn’t mean you can upload your own code to the app. They also wanted to know what data base integration was. This allows one platform to get data directly from another data base, which seems indispensable given that Coghead’s users need someone to integrate their data now.