As more and more organizations move toward using cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) solutions, a question emerges: How can companies make sure they’re getting the most out of their software?
A lot has been written about the total cost of ownership for these solutions. Forrester Research and Demandware recently released a worthwhile report on just that, but it focused largely on technical maintenance and support. But it’s very easy to oversimplify discussions about true cost of ownership if you don’t look at all aspects, from training and staffing to using the technology on a regular basis. In fact, it’s not just about maintenance and technical support.
Many of these technologies offer new and incremental capabilities compared to the legacy systems that came before them. Often, organizations supported those legacy systems with teams. But those teams don’t automatically translate into the new technological ecosystem SaaS might offer.
This points to a common issue: while most solutions might alleviate infrastructure and technical support costs, that doesn’t take into account the skills needed to manage these emerging technologies, both technically and just as importantly, strategically. And the last thing you want is for your company to invest in software that becomes shelfware because the organization didn’t know exactly what was needed to get the most out of the tool.
So how can companies make sure they’re selecting the right tools for their organization, and that they know exactly which investments are required to get the most out of the technology? Let’s look at two keys:
1. Build resource questions into your RFI/RFP process. While most companies know the right technical questions to ask during the request for information/proposal process (RFP), organizations tend to overlook the more in-depth questions about the required strategic and execution resources, and who will ultimately be responsible for that. For instance, you might have a technical checklist in an RFP (does the SaaS do XYZ? Can it do XYZ for our organization?), but do you have any questions around who is going to use the software? Asking what the provider will be responsible for providing is a key starting point.
This is a really big issue, because often these emerging technologies require someone to manage them who has a different skillset from current employees, and even executives.
Without clear and agreed upon definitions of responsibilities and capabilities at the contract stage, your company could end up buying a solution that requires the organization to need new employees just to manage or run the technology, adding additional costs to your bottom line.
2. Choose the right service option. To truly do due diligence before committing, it’s incredibly important to make sure you understand the support you’ll get from the software vendor and whether it will meet your company’s needs. The fact is, you need to find the optimal process for: on-boarding, ongoing program management, and strategic alignment to ensure you get the most bang for your buck. Often, there are three options:
- Full long-term support. This is a lean approach that requires companies to rely on the vendor or outside personnel to manage and drive the new technology. So basically, if you want the technology and the services, it makes the vendor an external part of your team that supports the SaaS.
- Hybrid support. In the early stages, the SaaS vendor will come to your company to run and manage the technology. However, there can be a plan built into the process that includes coaching, mentoring, training, and/or providing insight to properly staff up and get the most out of the software. This is, for my money, one of the best choices because it allows organizations to get up and running as soon as the software is purchased while adding to the intellectual capital of the company.
- Self-service. Mature organizations may have the resources to run the program entirely in-house, without support from the vendor. But that’s a choice the organization has to make with full realization of the resource investments necessary, from both a people perspective and a time perspective.
The bottom line is that when it comes to investing in new software, you should look at both the vendor and the technology as if they are new hires for your organization in order to make the right choice. Are both the technology and the vendor good cultural fits for your company? Do they fit within your organization in terms of your goals? Do they make your team members better? Do they come in and work well with others? Do they bring additional insights and perspectives to the table that will advance the growth of the organization?
Again, being software as a service doesn’t mean you should miss the opportunity to really validate the service as a service, outside of just the technology. Obviously, agility at the technical level is a goal for most organizations, but it’s important to know which support, experience, and skills you’ll need from the first day you bring in this new technology.
Otherwise, it could just end up being shelfware.
Saas Cloud image on home page via Shutterstock.