One of the most interesting events in our CIO UK calendar was about Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). That debate and the views of the participating CIOs form the basis of this supplement where we explore the issues in detail. One consensus to emerge from the discussion was that SaaS is no silver bullet and as ever, there is a lot of vendor hype emanating from the US West Coast. So, no surprises there. Caveat emptor.

But SaaS is strategic and the debate today has moved on. It is no longer about whether SaaS will be in the enterprise in some shape or form – if it isn’t there already – the existence and evolution of SaaS is shaping CIO discussions with applications software vendors. At the simplest level, SaaS means that CIOs have more options and choice than previously and that has implications in term of budgets, people and supplier management policies. But the ramifications of SaaS gets really interesting when we look at the speed with which it is predicted to move beyond CRM into human resources, ERP and full SAP-like suites. A report from Triple Tree estimates that the SaaS market will grow from $2.3 billion in 2003 to $7.2bn by 2008. Its growth beyond that is expected to be exponential over the next few years as SaaS works its way across and into the business enterprise.

Another consensus from our debate is that CIOs’ focus is clearly on business strategies, business line requirements and customer needs. SaaS, implemented well and for the right reasons, is helping them do that. Any CIO about to sign off a big ticket ERP implementation, with all the attendant people and process change, not to mention the professional services bill it will involve, should be having pause for thought at the speed with which SaaS is evolving.