Will IDaaS and open APIs tilt the balance between Microsoft and Slack, Dropbox, and other SaaS?

It’s the cloud era, and the math on software decisions is changing.

SaaS unicorns are serious about the enterprise. This isn’t new news, but they want to make sure you got the message. Here’s what came across our screens this week:

Dropbox said it has reached a $1 billion revenue run rate; they also released Smart Sync and Paper, and emphasized other enterprise features like team folders.

Slack introduced Slack Enterprise Grid, a new version which adds unlimited workspaces, along with the controls and hierarchies needed to manage them in large enterprises; Slack Enterprise Grid is FINRA and HIPAA compliant, and supports integrations for eDiscovery, DLP, and offsite backup.

Google (yes, they’re way beyond a unicorn) announced G Suite Enterprise edition, and new features include physical security key authentication policies, DLP for Drive, S/MIME for Gmail, and analytics integrations.

Also, a few weeks prior to these announcements, Okta released its Businesses @ Work report, which is a great look into trends in the enterprise SaaS world.

So, how and what do we think about these announcements?

My initial reaction to all of them is: “Awesome, these new features will help more customers say yes to these products. Look at how serious these SaaS companies are about the enterprise. Great!”

Invariably, though, the conversation always comes around to the role of Microsoft in these markets—I’ve had this very conversation four times in the last two weeks, and it goes something like this: After talking about the new product by a competitor, you get to the traditional knowledge: “Microsoft is working on this, too, and eventually they’re likely to take a significant swath of customers and leave the early movers as specialty solutions.” And then you think about it, and you come around to: “Hmmm.... well, yeah, that’s probably the case here, too, so yeah, that’s right.”

But is this really the case? Today in 2017, we have to think of some additional trends:

First, modern identity management standards, implemented as a service (IDaaS), make it far easier to adopt different enterprise SaaS solutions. Most of these SaaS products support federation, so you have the security and usability of SSO, and many of them support automated user provisioning, making them easier to deploy.

Second, as we’ve seen from the examples this week, many of these SaaS vendors are very serious about enterprise security and management features. Aside from identity, they’re working on DLP, auditing, analytics, compliance, extensibility, and more.

Another important trend is that it’s also easier to integrate the business logic now. The prime example, interestingly enough, comes from Microsoft in the form the Microsoft Graph API. Partners—even ones that at times could be considered competitors—can easily integrate their products.

The effects of these trends? All of these newer SaaS products can be more modular, easier to deploy and integrate, and meet security and management needs. Overall, there’s less friction, since we’re talking pay-as-you-go and scale-as-you-go cloud services, not on-premises software or boxes.

Of course there are a lot of variables that go into making software decisions, but nevertheless, the trends and effects of these SaaS offerings mean that the values of some of the variables have changed, possibly flipping the outcome of a decision.

In other words, customers can be more fluid. They can pull together best of breed instead of waiting for a full stack, and they don’t have to be as conservative. They don’t have to wait for Microsoft to come into a particular market. This is good news for SaaS unicorns, and good news for competition and the market. We could even write about how this spurs Microsoft on, so it’s good news for them, too.

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