Enterprise SaaS and the Coghead Lesson

By Phil Butler
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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.

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  • suzie Q

    Developers who do not believe in data and app backup do not know how to use computers!

    • Right on Suzie ….like the VCR owner who cannot program it. LOL

  • Great read, Phil!

    • Thanks Yang,
      The thing here is, as develoers of any kind, we need to learn to communicate and buy into the whole picture. Every development needs its whole team to understand and voice their opinion about these things. The stories about data security bound on the Web, how can everyone be so deaf to the outcry, especially the people building these things? If we cannot accept criticisms, and see the other side, we are doomed to Coghead’s fate.


  • “No business, however small, can afford even the remote possibility that their data gets stuck in limbo.”

    Scared of that. How embarassing.

  • Wayne Byrne

    Excellent post Phil, I personally don’t think Iceberg is difficult to use I’ve gotten feedback that once people follow the guides on http://www.learniceberg.com it is very easy to use.

    But I do accept that with a solution this powerful there is bound to be time needed to get up to speed on how to make the most of it.

    • @ Saboma, it is scary gal. People spend no telling how many hours, business rely on no telling what depth of data, and POOF! We are very sorry, your data will not be shipped to you in 81/2 x 11 recycleable sheets to do with as you like. Okay, a little cynical there, but the end result is the same. What are some of these people thinking?

      @ Wayne, We have had this discussion many times. It took me 3 days to write the first article anyone wrote about Iceberg. I know it took Sarah Perez a day. The utility and flexibility are fantastic, but there is a learning curve. maybe mine is just too dense and steep :) I tested Coghead before anyone literally, and though it was never as complete as Iceberg, it was a very refined and learnable platform. This is not saying it was better, just that all developers tend to be eccentric in their creations. It seems to me that having two variants is the only way to go, hell, one variant for that matter. Engineers think that their engineering is easy, but they are blinded by the curse of knowledge. This is what I have been trying to say for years, collaborate and come up with superb platforms, rather than go it alone and get tunnel vision.

      Every CEO I know thinks they know everything. They all seek advice from 10,000 people, and end up taking none of it and doing what they wanted in the first place. You have been an exception to this rule. So, build the darned wizard that walks people through Iceberg. As for SAP, use Coghead technology to build a downloadable version, collaborate with Wayne and all these other developers, produce something compelling, and rule the space (share the big pie). I am beginning to think everyone is so greedy or narcissistic that we will never see those Web 3.0 innovations. Open platforms and open source, and tunnel vision. Huh? Is it better to share a billion dollars, or to chance making 20 million?


  • jasapir

    A more detailed analysis of these tools is available here http://www.PowerInTheCloud.com

  • Sueblimely

    Adequate backup and security is an issue whether software is desktop/network or online based. Sensible precautions are often neglected but at least the control is there in your hands. Relying on SaaS applications where no recovery of easily useable data is possible if something goes wrong is not at all wise.

    I suppose price and ease of implementation and use is the drawcard along with too much trust that all will be well. It often takes something to go badly wrong to make us open our eyes. Let us hope the Coghead demise (and the recent Ma.gnolia database disaster) does this.

    • Free is the dogma of the Web Sue. I should think that anything aimed at business (where these developments work best) would not be so concerned with free and easy, as efficiency and safety. These are not just my thought either. Coghead was a fascinating interjection of technology in this area. It is a shame that it is going under actually. Many millions of small businesses could use a tool like this.


  • Steve

    Have you looked at WOLF platform… Looks very interesting. It is offering to read & transform Coghead applications to WOLF platform without rebuilding. Powerinthecloud has some interesting comments about the platform


  • Wayne Byrne

    Unfortunately Wolf only works in IE6 and only has basic scripting instead of the visual workflow designer which coghead had.

    As far as I’ve seen only http://www.geticeberg.com and Coghead really had that kind of easy to use functionality mashed up into a single app.

  • Freddy May

    I strongly suggest people look at PerfectForms (http://www.perfectforms.com). This really goes beyond Coghead (in many repsects, way beyond) and is available On Premise and On Demand. We are running some webinars that are targeted at Coghead users and explain the key differences.
    There are some comments from CH users on this page : http://www.powerinthecloud.com/perfectforms1/

    We are running CH targeted webinars so please fill in the inquiry form on the Power In The Cloud page.
    Freddy May
    Founder, PerfectForms

  • Anonymous

    Check out InQuest Technologies (www.inquesttechnologies.com) for an up and coming platform for Enterprise users. They offer a completely hosted model or if you prefer you can bring the exact same Apps in house and host them on your own server.

    • Hello Everyone, First of all, thanks for commenting and taking an interest. It appears we have any number of suggested alternatives out there. I am sorry there was not more room to list everyone in the space. As it is, the message is clear, Coghead left a big whole when it crashed. This is why I wrote this post in the first place. To help developers get a picture of what to avoid. In the end, you can be the Werner Von Braun of programmers or designers and your work can go down like the Titanic. I just wanted to help people see or learn from a lesson. Ergo, the title.

      Thanks Always,

  • apersechino

    Disclaimer: Self-promotion

    InQuest Technologies (www.inquesttechnologies.com) would like to invite Coghead users and partners to learn about IQ9, the first enterprise Business Application Platform that allows users to configure (not code) 100% web-based applications that include Workflow Automation, Document Management, Project Management, Asset Management and Collaboration capabilities.

    With IQ9 you never have to worry about your SaaS provider pulling the plug – you get an installable license that you can run in your data center or you can have it as a SaaS deployment in ours. You also never have to worry about all those exorbitant hidden storage fees and file transfer fees some providers charge.

    To learn about IQ9, give us a call at 800.254.4050 or check us out online at http://www.inquesttechnologies.com/Company/Contact_Us/ – no gimmicks or short, free trials just a great application that you can seamlessly transition to from Coghead and run your business. There is a reason that organizations like ADT, The US Navy, ConEdison and NBC have deployed hundreds of applications using IQ9.

  • Paula Selvidge

    Disclaimer: Self-promotion

    Please check out the latest offers for Coghead customers that move to PerfectForms:

    Paula Selvidge
    VP Customer Experience, PerfectForms

    • You know, links can be very helpful in these discussions. I have allowed them so that readers or passers by will have access to a variant group of other alternatives. Please respect the nature of this community and be as “subtle” as possible. We do not want to appear as feeding sharks hovering over the remains of a once viable startup now do we?