Collaboration in SaaS environments (part 2)

In the previous post we talked about collaboration capabilities that a SaaS platform offers to its end-users. The objective is to leverage two elementary SaaS facts: The fact that other users in that same platform share a common business model with you and that you share a common work space with others (not necessarily in your line of business).

In this post we shall discuss what are the tools that will enable collaboration among these users; be them of similar business models or not. I believe that these tools and methodologies remain powerful, regardless of the mission of the SaaS application itself. It could be a heavy-duty ERP application or a low-end sales CRM tool. The essence of the user comments, questions and “agonies” is still the same.

  • Chatting. I see a chatting tool very attractive in the sense that the user would be able to communicate with his/her colleagues inside the enterprise but also in the “community” or the “SaaS ecosystem”. Although there is no breakthrough in communicating with the in-house colleagues (if the enterprise believed that it should, it must have already deployed some kind of chatting tool), imagine the power of chatting with people outside your 4 walls and exchanging ideas on a variety of issues. You could be able to exchange ideas on business-specific issues and see how other people are doing it but also get instant help on the ecosystem-related questions, such as “how do I change my profile settings” etc.

  • email capabilities from within the application. In everyday life we send and receive emails, pertinent to our business and sometimes pertinent to a specific business transaction. For example, we ask our supervisor what to do with that pending invoice or how to go about that problem with contract number XYZ. There is a thread of emails that is exchanged between 2 or more people but this thread is never disclosed to a wider range of people. What if you wanted to update your subordinates about the final decision on the issue? You would then need to forward the email and you know how that is… tens of emails exchanged every day and sometimes we forget “this” or “that”. Now imagine, that discussion thread, relevant to invoice number XYZ, to be instantly attached ON that invoice. Every involved user would be notified as soon as they entered that specific transaction that “Action X must be done for problem Y”. So, corporate discussions and decisions are not spread around personal inboxes but are attached to the business transaction they concern.

  • Knowledge base. In a SaaS ecosystem there is a lot of knowledge “flying around” due to the fact that the number of users is far greater than any on-premise application and because users do not belong to the same enterprise. So, there are similar things that are done in a different way from different communities of people. What are the issues that have been discussed either in your specific business area or in the ecosystem? What are the possible solutions? Which solution is better? Your way or the other guy’s way? These are questions a knowledge base can provide answers to. A database of issues that is self-maintained by people with similar questions and examples. Why is Wikipedia so cool? Because people go there and share their knowledge of things. And this is a self-maintained database, so to speak. Now, imagine the same thing, but focused in your specific business area (or ecosystem). I believe that there a lot of applications on that area…

  • FAQ’s. In the same spirit, an FAQ section could prove invaluable. A section which would include ecosystem-related issues. If you are a SaaS provider, just think how many times you have been called on the hot-line support and have been asked the same trivial question over and over again: “how do I…?” An FAQ section would take burden of your hot-line and also assist users to find more quickly the answers they seek in those “trivial” questions.

  • Exchange of actual business transactions between companies. Imagine the possibilities if you and your vendor/customer reside in the same SaaS ecosystem. There is a variety of business transactions that you could do with them, with “zero pain”. Your customers could be given the authorization to post sales orders in your system. You could instantly receive vendors’ invoices as soon as they issue them. And have them posted in your database with zero effort. In an isolated system, we usually talk about interfaces and data exchange and seek to initiate a discussion between software providers, who then need to standardize an interface, test it and finally deploy it. In the SaaS ecosystem, these are possibilities that could be inherent to the application and you could be enjoying them with zero effort. The cost of such a solution could be included in the monthly fee that you already pay.
    In fact, as a SaaS ecosystem is developing I see this as a major advantage of the SaaS offering as a whole. And a real business opportunity for the SaaS vendors, since they could offer such services right “out-of-the-box” and attract more and more users in their platform. Especially in cases where new revenue is generated from hearsay: A happy SaaS customer could suggest the platform to a co-operator with the final objective of gaining something for himself, too: The leverage of collaboration tools that are inherent in the SaaS platform!

    From the above it becomes evident that a SaaS business application ecosystem can evolve to becoming a “social network”. It will surely be focused in users of similar business models as you and also users in the same ecosystem as you. It will never reach the heights of facebook but this is not the intention, anyway. The intention is to enhance collaboration in that micro-world that constitutes you SaaS ecosystem.
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