Telstra's forthcoming launch of a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform to provide local and global software products to the SME market is raising questions about the role integrators will play in an increasingly on-demand world.
The telco's new T-Suite platform will include a range of business applications specifically targeted at SMEs. In a statement, Telstra Business Group managing director, Deena Shiff, said the products were aimed at giving smaller businesses a level playing field to access to on-demand business applications previously only available to larger organisations.
A Telstra spokesperson was unable to confirm which vendors had signed up to take part, but said the telco was actively pursuing relationships with local and global software providers. It is understood security vendor, MessageLabs, is one of the vendors taking part.
"At launch we hope to start with everyday business applications suited to a range of business," the spokesperson said. "We'll gradually add on more over time. I think people recognise the national reach Telstra has and our contact with Australian businesses."
Telstra will kick off its pilot with a select group of business customers at the end of this month and is hoping to have T-Suite up and running early next year. While it will offer the SaaS platform directly to customers, the spokesperson said there should also be opportunities for partners to resell the services.
According to several industry analysts, SaaS is one of the most disruptive trends to hit the software market. In its top 10 predictions for 2008 unveiled earlier this year, Gartner claimed SaaS would account for at least one-third of business application spending by 2012.
Several of the world's largest software makers including Symantec, Trend Micro and Microsoft already offer hosted versions of products to customers overseas and could look to extend these to Australia.
But what role will channel partners play in selling on-demand products and services?
IDC analyst for IT spending, Jean-Marc Annonier, applauded Telstra's decision to offer applications on-demand but said the success of the model would depend on the types of products and services it offered. He noted several European telcos, including France Telecom, already provide SMEs with IT infrastructure services including desktop, software, security and storage.
"At the right price and with the right product, there's no question it will work," he said.
However, he admitted Telstra could face on uphill battle overcoming its poor services reputation in the market. Annonier also agreed Telstra's push into the on-demand market could challenge traditional IT resellers selling similar services in the SME market.
Director of Sydney-based IT integrator Total Network Support, Oliver Lindsaar, saw the hosted services push as a threat to smaller infrastructure support organisations such as his own. He pointed out that with customers sourcing software or other IT applications increasingly via Web-based platforms, there was less demand for localised network and software support.
"It will help the end user in lowering costs but it will cut out the middleman," he said. "We're not thrilled about it...it makes life difficult for smaller support organisations like ourselves."
But WA branch manager for Evolve IT, Clayton Moulynox, said the reality was that integrators were moving away from straight product support and into advisory roles.
"More and more of our role is as a technology consultant, rather than ongoing network support. Even with SaaS, customers want to discuss with us what's best for them and we charge for that," he said.
However, in an attempt to safeguard its position with customers wanting on-demand solutions, Moulynox said the Melbourne-based integrator recently signed on as a Microsoft SPLA reseller to offer the vendor's hosted software product licensing. Evolve IT is also beta testing its own managed services offering.