SaaS and ASCAP make beautiful music together

American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers saves money, gains business agility with Salesforce.com

Photo by Ken Reid

Over the years, our main mode of music consumption went from vinyl to 8-track tapes to CDs to iPods to services like Pandora and Spotify that can stream music to just about any device.

Similarly, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) started with ledger cards, moved to a mainframe, migrated to SQL Server, upgraded to Lotus Notes and landed in the cloud with Salesforce.com.

John Johnson, vice president of licensing operations and systems for ASCAP, says the decision seven years ago to push his organization's business into the cloud was merely a natural progression.

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ASCAP, founded in 1914 by a charter membership that included John Philip Sousa and Irving Berlin, is a performing rights organization (one of only three in the country) that maintains licensing agreements between its 435,000 members and the individuals, media outlets and businesses that consume the music.

The outfit is headquartered in New York, but runs all of its licensing operations out of Nashville. The company's 300 employees -- working mostly from home offices across the country -- negotiate music usage licenses under federal copyright laws, collect royalties, and pursue legal means as a last resort to ensure that artists are properly compensated for their work used in public ways.

That's certainly a lot of notes to keep track of. ASCAP's Lotus Notes deployment in 1993 was cutting-edge at the time, Johnson says. And it greatly helped the company reduce the complexity of what is a very paper-intensive process that was once handled across 26 brick-and-mortar regional offices spread around the county, most of which did not follow any centralized business processes. The Notes consolidation pulled all the company's data to a centralized office in Nashville. This solved the company's data management issue for more than 10 years.

But by 2005 the implementation had ballooned into 21 Notes databases stored across four different servers that weren't all speaking to each other, Johnson explains. In order to get a snapshot of its dataset to make strategic business decisions, Johnson's IT team had to put it all into a SQL database and do the analysis from there. "By the time we'd do that, it's a week later and we'd lost any strategic positioning the snapshot should have given us," Johnson says.

"So it was getting that centralized way to strategically view the data we needed to drive our business in real time from all our different locations that pushed us into the cloud," he says.

So that year, ASCAP bought into the Salesforce.com SaaS CRM scheme, purchasing almost 200 licenses of various flavors to tap into both Sales Cloud -- which provides ASCAP representatives with tools for managing accounts, contacts and business opportunities, and for instant collaboration -- and Service Cloud, which is a social networking-like customer service platform.

ASCAP has also bought into the Salesforce.com AppExchange, a network of applications that Salesforce partners have built with native ties to Salesforce's applications. Specifically, the company uses Drawloop, an iPad app the lets a user generate documents in the cloud, and SalesFusion, an application that integrates marketing and demand generation processes with sales and CRM data to improve marketing-to-sales integration.

Some of the monetary savings ASCAP realized immediately included not having to dedicate multiple IT staffers to develop for and administer the Notes systems. "If you take the cost of those salaries alone, the Salesforce SaaS paid for itself in the first year," Johnson says. There was also the hard savings of being able to decommission the physical servers.

"But I think the biggest cost savings that you have to factor into this overall picture is what it would have cost us to do business with the agility that we have now without having SaaS in the picture," says Johnson, admitting that he really has no way to accurately measure that parameter because Salesforce has totally changed the way ASCAP does business on a day-to-day level.

ASCAP ventured into the cloud with Amazon and Google as well. Johnson explains that his team was able to consolidate a 2,000-square-foot warehouse full of filing cabinets staffed by two full-time employees onto 130GB of scanned documents stored in Amazon's Simple Storage Service cloud for only $20 per month, and that price includes access to all of the archiving and search software that helps ASCAP employees find what they are looking for more quickly. Johnson says this part of ASCAP's move to the cloud resulted in a $100,000 savings.

And the company two years ago moved to Gmail for its cloud-based email service, he says.

Johnson says his team has built more than a dozen customized applications that tap into the Salesforce.com cloud that do everything from accounting for employee vacation and sick time, to equipment assignments and copyright infringement litigation tracking.

In terms of mobile applications -- another major market driver for SaaS deployment -- Johnson's users can use their iPads to access almost anything they need to do within the Salesforce cloud. "Mobility is not something that we've needed to develop internally, because we've inherited all the native mobility that Salesforce has built into its platform," he says.

In terms of future use of the cloud, Johnson says that every business process the company employs today is a cloud candidate.

"Anything we can do in the cloud to maximize our return while minimizing the number of resources we have to dedicate to it, is fair game," Johnson says.

Lessons learned

Johnson has a long-term vantage point on two of the SaaS hot-button issues: security and performance.

"Being a longtime customer, we've watched carefully as SaaS security has improved over time," says Johnson, who added that ASCAP's requirement for role-based security has always been meet. There were early issues with tokenization, but those have all since been addressed by Salesforce.com and its partners.

Johnson was concerned about performance when there were issues in that regard with the Salesforce.com platform just after ASCAP migrated to the cloud. "But we lived through some major system changes on the Salesforce platform in 2006, and performance has been incredible since then," he says.

Johnson does have one complaint about his company's playing in the cloud: that this model enables serious application data sprawl. "Storage is just so cheap that you really have to be disciplined about setting up your purge criteria, otherwise you'll end up holding onto data that you just don't need for a very long time," he says. Salesforce.com does supply all the reporting tools that let you aggregate the types of data you've got stored in the application and how old that data is, "but you still need a business analyst to routinely examine those reports to make those kinds of purging decisions," he says.

By Johnson's own admission, ASCAP is entrenched in -- and completely satisfied with -- the Salesforce.com cloud. But if something catastrophic happened to the Salesforce.com platform, or a competitor came along with an offer he couldn't refuse, does he have an exit strategy?

"Yeah, I'd be irresponsible if I hadn't thought about it. We'd have to time it with a contract negotiation," Johnson says. "But it's not a project I would embrace with open arms." In spite of all the promises of SaaS application agility in the cloud, moving all of your business processes to another cloud platform "is quite a bit more than just flipping a switch,'' he says.

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