When Salesforce.com was founded in 1999, there were many skeptics who scoffed at the company's business model, which was to sell software that's managed and hosted offsite. It turned out to be the way of the future, and was a harbinger of what's today known as software as a service (SaaS).

One of the executives who helped grow Salesforce into a household name in software for customer relationship management, former president Steve Cakebread talked with Government Technology about what the future might hold for government as the world increasingly adopts SaaS and cloud computing.

Cakebread was Salesforce's president and chief financial officer until January 2009, and had worked in other capacities for the company since 2002. He currently serves on the board of directors of Ehealth.com and SolarWinds, and is a business adviser for Xactly, a maker of sales performance management software. He also consults on SaaS implementations.

This week the Los Angeles City Council approved a plan to move the city's 30,000 employees to Gmail. In your role as a consultant, what's it been like to help move an organization to Web-based mail?

It's been an interesting experience, on the one hand. One of the places, we took a survey of employees and we found 75 of the 100 employees use Gmail at home. So we thought, "Hey, not a problem, let's just go and put this in." And you think they've readily adapted, but then you run into issues of getting Google Apps to BlackBerrys and iPhones, and doing the data transitions. We're through all of that, and it works reasonably well -- except then Google has their infamous seven-hour outage, which doesn't help much. It's kind of weird: People forget their Outlook and e-mails go down on occasion too, but for some reason when it's in the cloud and it goes down, everyone kind of whines about it. My argument is that just means you're using [the cloud] more than you ever thought you did.

Beyond e-mail, how big a future do you think cloud-based software and services have in government?

The municipalities have always been a great opportunity. For example, the city of Los Angeles wants to serve their constituency by [allowing them to use the Internet] to look at property tax records or deeds of trust, and stuff like that. Clearly there are huge opportunities for things like that. I think there's a sophistication with the major SaaS players -- Salesforce, Google, and others -- whereby the security and privacy is reasonably assured, or no less assured than the infamous employee who walks out the door with everybody's Social Security numbers on their laptop, and the laptop gets stolen. The municipalities look like a great opportunity, even down to Google Apps [picked] for the city of Los Angeles. The question is, why not do it? Once you get it in and get people moved over, it's a fairly sophisticated solution. Yeah, there are nuances in Outlook that, after 20 years, people may or may not wish they had. But Google will get those over time.

It's an obvious point, but government officials are concerned about the privacy and security of public data. What's the SaaS industry doing, as a whole, to address those types of concerns?

"In most agreements that you write -- except for some stories about Facebook, where it can get a little cloudy -- it's really clear that typical contracts between a SaaS provider and a customer, like L.A. or General Motors or whoever, is that the content (the data that resides in the solutions) is owned by the customer, not the supplier. That's been pretty much the standard

Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor