SaaS comes with opportunities for change

Adopting an on-demand delivery model for software and platforms offers a now well-publicised array of business benefits.  However a degree of culture change is required to unlock maximum benefit and really capitalise on the opportunities SaaS offers.


Firstly let’s take project delivery as an example.  As the SaaS model takes a huge chunk of the technical implementation effort out of a typical delivery, this provides an opportunity to place extra emphasis on solution fit.  SaaS allows you to concentrate on getting to the heart of business requirements and to quickly reach a solution that’s genuinely closely aligned to them.  Forget the days of changing your business process to meet the application (I’m thinking SAP, Oracle eBusiness Suite), the massive configurability of SaaS applications means that solutions can be tailored to your business processes.  Why not implement true best practice process for your business rather than the “best practice” prescribed by SAP et al?


The main culture change that’s needed in project delivery is a move away from a traditional waterfall analysis-design-build-deploy approach to a much more iterative collaborative development process.  A rapid prototyping approach takes advantage of the technology, encourages buy-in, manages expectations and can ultimately produce a better solution in an accelerated manner.  Failing to approach the development of a SaaS solution in this way will inevitably result in missed opportunities, unnecessary rework, and suboptimal user adoption.


SaaS also provides opportunities to improve on the typical user training rollout approach.  While of course there’s no substitute for classroom-style instructor-led training, the majority of SaaS vendors offer both free online training resources and free product trials.  The latter can provide users with a chance to get hands-on with the (vanilla) product at any stage in the implementation process.  Surely some end-users will welcome a bit more variety, autonomy, and flexibility in their training?


The way that a “complete” business solution is reached is changing too.  More and more we are seeing a marketplace approach, whereby the leading SaaS vendors concentrate on their core offerings but offer an on-demand platform where partners and ISVs can develop and sell applications and technology which complement or extend the solution.  For example, the AppExchange offers literally hundreds of applications, all of which are pre-integrated with; Google has the Solutions Marketplace; NetSuite have just announced SuiteCloud.  This is an exciting shift for many, but enterprises should proceed with caution.  Solutions comprising of several services can mean several contracts, several rounds of negotiations and of course several different subscription fees. In addition, your project teams could consist of consultants from several companies who may not actually have the detailed knowledge you would expect of their partner’s products – so a period of evaluation and due diligence is encouraged when adopting a marketplace solution and in particular establish who you are going to call when you have a problem!


One final point, the SaaS market is expanding at a huge rate and I link it to the car market of the 1920’s or the PC market of the early 1980’s – everyone is developing SaaS solutions but be careful to look behind the fancy website, the provider may be operating out of a shed at the foot of their garden in Weston Super Mare.  Whilst it is unlikely will go bust any time soon, some of the smaller SaaS vendors inevitably will (as we have already seen in 2009).  Time will tell how the marketplace model will evolve; there are going to be some significant benefits and successes but there is also bound to be a painful lesson or two along the road which will shape this.  I’d be very interested to hear your experiences – good and bad – of building a SaaS solution from multiple vendors.


Calum Murray is Head of SaaS Practice at Capgemini UK

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ClearBooks is developing an SaaS solution, specifically online accounting software.

As at April 2009 we're still in beta with no revenue. The solutions that work best for the user will prevail and I believe we have one of the best solutions. We're now gearing up for an official launch.

I don't think it matters whether you are operating out of a shed or not, all that matters is developing a product that your users like to use and can rely on. If you can achieve that from a shed then your costs will be low and there is more chance of being profitable.

Great points, Calum. I see two types of IT folks out there. The type you describe see their role as supporting the business and helping users get the most out of the applications. They help configure the software, train the users, champion the initial implementation and ongoing use of the software.

There are still a lot of Type 2 people out there who focus on managing servers, doing backups, writing custom code, applying patches and so on.

We work with a lot of manufacturers. It is easy to tell which IT type someone is by asking what kind of equipment they run on the shop floor. The business-aligned person will talk about the presses, weld lines and assembly equipment. The other talks about servers and desktops and has never been out on the floor.

SaaS is enabling IT staffs to align much more closely with business users and really add value to the company.

Many thanks for your comment Mark. We are certainly finding ourselves working with far more business-centric individuals.

IT has typically seen itself as the enabler to business but past solutions have often required the business to bend and twist to fit within the structure of the latest technology.

Perhaps with SaaS we have finally reached the point where the business gets to define its requirements, and then have those requirements delivered… and all in a timely fashion! Let's just hope IT departments start adopting SaaS more quickly than they have done to date or I believe there is the real risk of alienating themselves from the business and being seen as inhibitors to progress rather than enablers.

Hopefully we can help them bridge this business / IT divide

in the "link builders bible 2010".