Last month I sat on a SaaS panel during the Internet Telephony conference in Los Angeles. The panel began with opening statements from the speakers, and much to my surprise the first speaker went into a diatribe on the notion of SaaS as a concept and architecture, how SaaS had no meaning, and how anybody who tried to define what SaaS was was fighting a "religious war." The speaker kept hammering the point that a business shouldn't care about how to deliver products and only care about the product to be delivered. He seemed to be alluding to the the seminal "IT Doesn't Matter" article by Nicholas G. Carr - an article that I've lectured about at the University of Denver and find to be one of the most misunderstood publications (maybe people should read it twice).
In the weeks since, I have given some thought toward the speaker's comments - the speaker is certainly not alone in his beliefs. There are different roles in most corporate environments that allow people to focus on specific aspects of delivering a product and everybody doesn't need to understand how a product will be implemented. That being said, I'm becoming more alarmed at the number of people who are adopting this attitude as the web is becoming the public portal for many businesses, or in the case of many web 2.0 businesses the business itself.
In an article entitled "Why How Matters" in Tuesday's New York Times, Thomas Friedman talks about the financial crisis and how indifference toward how things work helped get us into this mess...he mentions an attitude pervasive within finance companies that "you'll be gone and I'll be gone before the bill comes due." This hit home with me, since this is effectively the attitude that many have about information technology.
That being said, without understanding how technology works people can't assess the total cost of ownership for the lifetime of a software solution, leaving them at a huge financial disadvantage.
That being said, you may be wondering how I reacted to the other speaker. I just gave my presentation and basically ignored the comments. The audience had expectations of the content that was to be presented and even if I was boring them to death about something that (according to the other speaker) they shouldn't care about I committed to give a talk on SaaS architecture and that is what they got. I wouldn't argue with a nihilist about the meaning of life and didn't argue with someone who vehemently questions the need for technical understanding about software architecture.