The Age of Disposable Software

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I have a non-green confession to make: I love paper plates.

Paper plates, paper napkins, plastic forks and knives. They’re always fresh and clean. Bring them outdoors on a picnic, no worries of losing or breaking anything. Blithely sully them with cheeseburger and chili dog, potato salad and watermelon — and then simply throw them away. No cleaning, no optimizing the dishwasher. It’s an absolute miracle of modern living.

Now, while I’ve curbed my desire to use paper products for all meals — to protect the environment and my marriage — I still harbor a love for the Zen-like simplicity of disposability.

That carefree power of disposability came to mind as I’ve been preparing a Marketing in the Cloud webinar for MarketingProfs (Tuesday, August 31 at 2PM EDT, click here to register), a fresh take on my marketing in the cloud post from a couple of years ago.

In reviewing the pros and cons of software-as-a-service (SaaS) — contrasting the “on demand” model of SaaS to traditional “on premise” software installations — I believe that one of the biggest advantages of SaaS is the option to throw it away.

Throw it away? That might sound a little strange at first. What I mean is that if you choose a particular SaaS package, say Conductor for SEO monitoring and analysis, and then 6 months later you find a new package that you like better, say BrightEdge, it’s relatively easy to drop one and replace it with the other.

 On Premise vs. On Demand

There are a number of reasons why migrating from one “on demand” SaaS package to another can be easier than changing from one installed “on premise” software package to another:

  • no “system requirements” to use the new SaaS
  • no capital investment in the old SaaS or the new one
  • no duplicate hardware needed for migration
  • less investment in custom software extensions (SaaS generally discourages creating them in the first place)
  • no inertia from your IT department (“if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”) — since they may be minimally involved in the SaaS acquisition or operation, if at all
  • low contractual obligation: most SaaS packages let you cancel with 1-3 months notice

Frankly, the three things that are likely to hold people back from switching SaaS packages are:

  • legacy asset mindset: we’re still used to thinking of software as a semi-permanent asset rather than a disposable on-demand service
  • historical data: we’re reluctant to lose the historical data in one SaaS that may not port fully (or at all) to the new one
  • institutional knowledge: we’ve learned how to incorporate the current solution into our work and worldview

I would contend that the first of these is an anachronistic psychological hang-up that we can choose to overcome. Jason Fried of 37signals wrote a great post a few years ago, Growing in vs. growing out, that advances the idea of temporary software:


It’s ok for software to be “temporary.” Everything else is temporary, why not software? You probably don’t use the same computer you did 5 years ago. You probably don’t live in the same apartment or have the same car either. And you may be in a different relationship too. Why are software companies afraid if people grow out of things after a while?

It’s the age old bias we have for sunk costs that we constantly need to conquer.

As for historical data, while I agree that some has value, I also believe that much of it is wasted. It languishes in data warehouse silos, gathering cobwebs, without really being tapped in the missions of the present day. More often than not, it’s not powering us from the rear, it’s dragging us down.

Avinash Kaushik, web analytics guru extraordinaire, has a great section on “The Goodness of Not Worrying About History” in his Web Analytics 2.0 book:


If you don’t worry about history, then you are not tied to the past. You can think smart and move fast. If your current data will have less value in the future, then you will cherish the now more and try to get something valuable out of it.

Letting go of history also gives you the freedom to sever ties to legacy systems, legacy tools, or legacy data. You can more forward to better systems, tools, and data much faster than our sisters and brothers in the traditional world.

You can have a lot more fun because you get to learn, adapt, get value, and move on. It is damn exciting and damn liberating!

The core data in your CRM is probably well-worth protecting (so choose your CRM wisely, even as a SaaS). But as you move outward to campaigns, analytics, web experiences, social media, and beyond, the data of the past — other than at a very high level of performance metrics — quickly loses value. Data suffers from a high rate of entropy because the context in which that data even has relevance is constantly in flux.

Last year’s social media stats typically don’t tell you much about what you should be doing today. So why let it hold you back in adopting a better software solution that was just released this week?

Avinash’s quote also cuts to the heart of the hurdle of institutional knowledge. Here in an agile world, we probably have less of a problem with losing institutional knowledge than we do in lacking institutional learning and adaptation.

The market is evolving at breakneck pace, with new competitors springing out of bed every morning, with zero legacy hang-ups, eager to snap up your audience. The power of SaaS — and the age of disposable software — is that it makes it easier for you to harness the leading edge of innovation. But SaaS just helps with the plumbing and the economics — you still need to provide the activation energy to break free from the past and embrace the new.

To quote a line from a Kevin Smith movie, “You face forward, or you face the possibility of shock and damage.”

Okay, paper plates and Kevin Smith — those are enough embarrassing revelations for one blog post. But to my main point, it’s good to move on.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Scott Brinker
Scott Brinker is the president & CTO of ion interactive, a leading provider of post-click marketing software and services. He writes the Conversion Science column on Search Engine Land and frequently speaks at industry events such as SMX, Pubcon and Search Insider Summit. He chairs the marketing track at the Semantic Technology Conference. He also writes a blog on marketing technology, Chief Marketing Technologist.

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