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 Force.com AppExchange offers literally hundreds of applications, all of which are pre-integrated with Salesforce.com; 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 Salesforce.com 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