There is no doubt that SaaS and on demand are here to stay: if five years ago on demand solutions looked like an Internet version of the mainframe days (strong central server, no logic in the terminal, bad user interface… sound familiar?), the SaaS applications of today look appealing and offer a good alternative to the on premise world.
Continuing with the “seven things about Saas” Theme, which started with Seven reasons why SaaS is not main street in SMB and continued with Seven reasons why SaaS will be a great success, I would like to turn to the vendors now and offer some do’s and don’ts for the industry…
Move from ease of use to speed of use—SaaS user interfaces are known to be simple. Flex and Ajax user interface technologies allowed SaaS players to add a second S and to appear “Sexy”. Nevertheless, the third S, speed of use, is still missing. If you are an experienced user of an ERP system, you will care less for simple and sexy and care more for speedy, meaning that you can enter your 200 orders into the system at the same rate you used to. Reminder: this is exactly what happened when the first Windows applications replaced DOS-based systems. The users revolted and asked to go back to DOS although the Windows-based applications were much easier to use.
- Allow access to the customer data at all times—to gain better customer trust, allow each customer to download their key data into a local disk with some basic offline navigation options. It will help customers overcome the fear of losing access to their data if Internet service is down.
- Don’t lock in your customers—many of the SaaS vendors act like Erich Honecker, the leader of East Germany before the Glasnost: they build a big wall and put guards so there is only one way: in. The philosophical beauty of the SaaS model is that it offers better flexibility to the customer (like renting an apartment instead of buying one). No one will ever rent if they can’t get their stuff out when they want to… Offer your customers a “departure guarantee” that will include terms for business separation and a data migration program. Your customers will be happy and your employees will get a constant reminder that they need to earn the customers’ business every day.
- Invest in security and redundancy—this one is simple. For years the SaaS vendor has claimed (and rightfully so) that it is safer to host your data on a secure remote site than on your local unsecured server. Every year that passes adds more businesses to the “believers” camp. All it takes is one or two major glitches to go back 2-3 years in customer acceptance. At this stage of the industry, one rotten apple can reflect on all the rest, so please—don’t let it happen…
- Talk to each other—Theoretically SaaS applications require no IT, since they are managed elsewhere. Practically they need a lot of help since they don’t yet talk to other SaaS applications that well. Solutions like Cast Iron can help, but vendors need to invest much more in the technology needed and in the integration scenarios’ content, so they can start offering IaaS- Integration as a Service.
Balance software and Service—While SaaS changed the way software is consumed and maintained, not much has changed in the service and implementation areas. Projects still take too long and cost an unbalanced amount compared to the lower, upfront software fees. Don’t wait for customers to revolt before you invest in better targeting and implementation technologies and methodologies.
- Bring the web in—in my broken link post I complained about how little the resources available online as part of modern applications are used. I gave a simple example of using online traffic information to add “driving” slots into calendars and change them dynamically if the conditions are changed. There are a million others—this is the SaaS vendors’ opportunity to add value where on-premise applications can’t.