Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Open SaaS and me!

Okay, that was a pretty poor play on words, but after a meeting with Richard Wyles (CEO of Totara LMS) last week I picked up another new term that I kind of like.  Since I guess it could be the key to opening up a world of learning treasures I figured it was a reasonable stretch.

So by now you know what SaaS is?  Software as a Service (for those that didn’t) means that rather than having local copies of software on your individual computer you can have centrally held programmes somewhere in the cloud that you just use.  Once upon a time I used to really hate these (read my old blog ‘Pain in the SaaS’) because the internet was never up to the job.  What that meant was that the tool you were trying to use would just stop working as the connection came and went or if you had a slow connection the tool was too slow (waiting for a few seconds after each click is incredibly frustrating).  The emergence of high quality internet nationally and globally has changed the way we think about SaaS products and more and more we see our major services being provided in this way - not least of which is your learning management system.  If an LMS is SaaS then what about an LMS that utilised Open Source technologies like a Moodle or Totara LMS?

So you can probably see where this is going, open source technologies as a SaaS is going to take us to Open SaaS.  But what does that actually mean?  If you look at what open source software means the most obvious thing is access to the source code - usually to allow you to customised the end solution.  If you host someone’s open source product for them, then although the solution is open source it may not be quite the same as them having access to the code.  In some hosting models that’s exactly what happens and you have the benefits that go with the solution, but sometimes you can’t get access to the code because it’s on shared server services like many SAaS services.  So what’s the deal then, what’s the advantage of open source software if you’re going to give it the SaaS treatment?

I’m glad you asked.  Open SaaS can provide us with a couple of good things.  Firstly there’s the actual possibility of change.  Say you do want to customise your LMS - if it’s Open SaaS the chances are you will at least be able to achieve this through your technical provider.  We often do this for lots of our clients.  Essentially you can ask for modifications to be made and then the provider can give you a cost for making those changes to you - it can be quite cost effective and definitely can improve your LMS in matching to your business needs.  That’s all well and dandy, but sometimes you really can’t change it, then the benefit is less obvious.  One thing you don’t get in this case is access to the code base, but you do get the advantages of open source that have brought it to this point.  For example, if you’re using Totara Cloud as your SaaS LMS you can’t get to the code base to change it but you do get the latest code on an LMS that is constantly evolving and updating due to upstreaming of the latest add-ons and additional functionality.  This is pretty much the best of both worlds - a totally managed solution, but with the collaborative build to get it there.  There’s more.  Open SaaS also spreads the market penetration of great open source solutions.  What that does is increases the community and users on systems that are built around the collective knowledges and experiences.  In other words, organisations that wouldn’t necessarily opt for an open source solution, can access it in its SaaS format and then can increase the experiences and help the product to grow.

Of course, I’ve not even mentioned cost; but try to think beyond that for a second.  An Open SaaS LMS can give you access to really great features and functions that you could only get from a full-on proprietary implementation - that’s worth having even if it wasn’t so affordable.

So, standing in front of the big rock I’ll happily say ‘Open SaaS and me' - but yeah, you may need to change the alphanumeric characters...