Your System – Not Guilty As Charged

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Keeping Cloud SaaS offerings “not guilty”

Posted by Joel Schipper on January 25, 2017

I talked recently with an acquaintance who was working with a software start-up to provide some booking and hospitality software for his own business venture.  Overall, he was pretty happy with the software, and it’s low monthly cost.  But he wanted the software developer to add some features he needed.  And that’s where I want to discuss how to keep a Cloud SaaS (software as a service) application out of the ‘guilty’ zone.

First, let’s all acknowledge that Cloud SaaS offerings are not intended to be the same, end client specific application that a licensed, on-premise application provides.  That is, you can not expect to customize the application for your own needs.  Configure – yes.  Customize – no, because by definition, this is the same base software package that every other subscriber is using, especially so when you are running in a public, multi-tenant processing environment – that is, you’re sharing the ‘computer’ with other clients.  So it’s not practical to let each customer have their own customized version of the underlying code.

So, again by definition, your needs will match the needs of others in terms of what the software offers.  And, by definition, while this may be best of breed capabilities, it is not a unique competitive advantage for you.  It is a potential competitive advantage over those who don’t have software as good as this.  And your challenge is to skillfully utilize the existing features to best support your business model, perhaps exploiting their use in a way that others do not.

Now, if you “need” or want a new feature not already in this SaaS package, you’ll need to “ask” for it via whatever enhancement channels your vendor offers.   In a mature package,  there will be user groups, and other ways to place your request, and lobby others to support it.  At some critical mass of “ask”, the developer will add “your” feature, and everyone else will also get it.

In a start-up company, there will be many, many such requests, all pending at the same time.  And, in competition to the company’s own grand design for the product.  Yes, there are lots of software engineers at work.  But, they’re already busy with features already prioritized to get into the software ahead of your new request.  At this point, the software is “not guilty as charged” because it isn’t doing anything wrong or not doing something it was designed to do.

But you’re going to feel that it’s “guilty as charged” if your feature doesn’t get in there, and that feature is holding back some aspect of your business.  So get ready to make a case to someone higher up the chain than your software sales rep that this feature is important to “everyone” (or a large proportion of the clients) who use this SaaS application.  Make a real business case – what the feature is, why it’s needed not just by you but by most clients or all clients, the pain or penalty from not having it.  Especially focus on how it might be incorporated as a “configuration” offering or switch, so that those who do not want it can be excused from having to deal with it.  And, is there any more “business” that you, the SaaS application customer, could give to the software developer?  Perhaps a contract extension?  Perhaps purchase a related product or service?

My friend had software that handled bookings for an event that took place on the hour, but only when demanded (that is, booked).  And the software had a cut-off feature so that a “late” booking could be refused if made within a certain window of time.  While this was good, my friend had the desire to accept a “blue bird” booking – one that was unplanned and within the cut-off window – when it was profitable to do so, that is, when his facility was already in use before and after this open time slot.

One way to configure this enhancement, a way that would definitely make the system “not guilty”  would be for the software developer to add a configuration switch that allowed a booking to be made within the window, within a provisional status, with a fixed expiration time.  This is similar to booking a ticket to a theater event, where your seat selection or ticket request is valid for a short period, such as ten minutes, and you see a timer clock running on the screen.  So this less than cutoff lead time booking would be provisional while a message was triggered to my friend’s business to accept or reject the booking while the timer was running.  Since the short lead time booking is clearly an impulse purchase, the timer must be short, and my friend’s business must be alert and ready to respond.  Now the SaaS offering as a new feature that does not upset existing customers, yet may be very helpful to those customers who may have had the requirement, and worked around it.

Another, simpler configuration change, might be to trigger a message for each denied booking.  The message goes to the business, and includes a way to contact back the would-be booker. A mostly manual work-around would be to change the error message in the booking denial to include a phone number to call to manually request a less than lead time booking.

I welcome your comments!




2 Responses to “Keeping Cloud SaaS offerings “not guilty””

  1. Dave Loesch said

    Of course, these opinions are mine and not my employer’s, but I agree customization has been the bane of the on prem world. However, true SaaS (not the amorphous ‘cloud’) may offer an alternative. When the publisher is ONLY releasing code to a single environment supported by a platform (PaaS) that partners and customers can use to build customizations/extensions from, it is possible to relieve the “original” publisher of all development responsibility. (Experience has taught us that no vendor can get to every request much less build configurations that address every conceivable requirement.) Although there is no such thing as caveat-free customization, you can see ample proof points of successful customization/extensions in ecosystems like NetSuite and Salesforce. Only time will tell if the model is scalable and sustainable, but the returns are thus far promising.

    • Thanks Dave … excellent commentary. I’ll pass your thoughts along to my friend as well. I had heard of “customizations” within the SalesForce and Netsuite worlds, but no one to date had been able to explain them as well as you do above. Much appreciated! Joel

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