The Benefits of Software as a Service: Updates Come Easy and Often
One of the benefits of SaaS software, due to the fact that it is based on a multi-tenant architecture, is that upgrades can be released frequently across the customer base. With one code base shared by all customers, but configurable to each customer's needs and look-and-feel, SaaS upgrades aren't the costly, complicated, and lengthy implementations required of on-premise software upgrades. In the on-premise world, the installation being upgraded might be so customized for each specific customer that it may hardly be recognizable to the software provider.
The upgrade could take more than a year of planning, development, testing, and implementation, and would likely cost a fortune and require one or more consulting services. With cloud-based software updates, the changes come often and are still very feature-rich. Access to statistical data across customer groups as well as open communication with users gives the vendor a great deal of information about which application functions are most used and what processes require the most attention. These are all great benefits, but they do provide businesses with some new challenges.
The Challenges - Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement
The first challenge is that your organization must have the ability to adopt these new changes on the fly. Many companies using SaaS software are too busy and let these new features just go by. Several quarters later, they realize there's a lot of new functionality in the software that they don't know how to use. In order to overcome this challenge, businesses have to have a culture of continuous improvement. The pace of innovation with SaaS is an important benefit and can provide a major leg up over competitors stuck in the on-premise world who would rather avoid upgrades because of the time and cost. Businesses must take advantage. They should have a point person who owns continuous process improvement across the company. That person's job is to constantly monitor the business processes and evolution of the SaaS technology deployed, identifying new features and opportunities for improvement.
SaaS vendors provide detailed release notes for each update, generally well in advance. The process improvement point person must read and digest this information. He or she should do an analysis of which of the updated functions are relevant and which are not. Which can be implemented with limited impact to current business processes, and which will take some effort, either in training or realigning current staff and processes? What initial costs might be associated with implementing the changes, and what will the future return be?
How to Implement the SaaS Updates
Once these new opportunities have been identified, the next challenge is to figure out the best way to implement the improvements. Do companies identify quick wins to implement gradually and frequently, so as not to disrupt the process too much? Or do they accumulate a list of features to deploy periodically in "mini projects", where the organization can put an acute focus on making changes happen, getting it done, and getting back to normal? This is another benefit of Saas: the updates are often sandboxed and can be viewed and tested by the customer, who then has the option of implementing all, some, or none of the changes depending on the impact to their business processes. The customer can take advantage on their own schedule based on their own need. The changes should be prioritized, and a project schedule and plan should be created.
Don't Get Us Wrong - It's Not Easy
We understand that from the end-user's perspective, this can seem like a real headache. Users want to know how to use a tool, and then use it to do their job effectively and efficiently. A seemingly constant flood of changes, some of which require some simple training and others that might require some more dramatic process adjustment, could be overwhelming. That's why, as in most things, communication is key. The person tasked with staying on top of, analyzing, and implementing the updates in the pipeline, must also be tasked with communicating with the end-users. And that communication is a two-way street. End-users often know the application best, and can provide invaluable information about how and when updates should be rolled out. Getting by-in from end-users and keeping them abreast of future changes makes for a more positive and collaborative effort, where everyone is working towards the same goal - improvement.
Don't Get Caught Watching the Paint Dry
The key here is that the decision to implement updated functionality or not should be based on the business needs and on the impact of the changes to business processes. Companies need to avoid getting behind on these changes, putting off implementing updates because they're unprepared or don't have the resources dedicated to staying in the loop and analyzing the benefits of the updates. Don't let these innovations pass you by or, at best, you're not capitalizing on an advantage over your competitors stuck in the on-premise world. Or worse yet, you're being left behind by the competition.
AcctTwo is a leading consulting firm and reseller of cloud-based accounting and financial management software. AcctTwo’s sophisticated systems solve the issues growing middle market companies face today. AcctTwo also outsources back office processes, allowing clients to focus on the core competencies of their business. AcctTwo provides the people, processes, technology and office facilities to perform these functions, while allowing clients to collaborate interactively through an on-line portal.
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