SaaS: An opportunity for closer cooperation

There are many advantages in the adoption of a SaaS application for the enterprise. A lot of people have talked about cost benefits, ease of deployment and maintenance, out-of-the-box remote access, mobility etc. In this post I will focus on a new opportunity that SaaS is presenting to its customers. This is the potential ability to invite their cooperators (customers, vendors, business partners etc.) to join a common workspace and complete business transactions or share information and knowledge.
For the purposes of this discussion, we shall assume that the SaaS product under question is a web- and role-based application that can support several business transactions and also reporting or BI capabilities.
Now, in the real world each business transaction has to be completed in at least two different systems (one of the vendor and one of the customer). Obviously, there is a large amount of information that is duplicated between these two systems. And this duplication has always the risk of human error, resulting in the two “instances” of the same transaction not coinciding. This creates the need for double checking, communication between the peers after the normal completion of the transaction, emails, time lost and manual corrections in case of actual error.
Also, leaving aside the problem of checking and reconciliation, there is an amount of duplicate work that is done by the peers, anyway. For example, a sales invoice that is issued by the seller is also manually entered in the Accounts Payable of the buyer. Issues like this were tackled in the past by “traditional” technology enablers such as EDI; with not much success I might add. For example, EDI was a great idea but didn’t work out very well since a global standard failed to be devised and followed in a large scale by software vendors.
SaaS brings a new answer to all these questions. Having the ability for role-based access in one single system, one can “invite” external users to enter this space and send or receive information, produce reports and benefit from Business Intelligence features of the application. They could also go as deep as one specific business transaction (an invoice, an order etc.) and act upon it. Here are a few examples:

  • On-line checking of order status (much like any modern e-shop. But what if the seller doesn’t have or doesn’t need an e-shop?).
  • Receipt of e-invoices. The recipients can print them or they can download them in a computer-readable format, to automate their Accounts Payable feeding.
  • Overall accounting statement of the invitee. Frequently needed in some cases to reconcile customer/vendor statements (typically, this is done through emails or phone calls).
  • Invitee to provide their acknowledgment that the business transaction is ready to be completed and amounts and quantities are OK. This would save time for both parties from manual corrections of errors or disputable items.
  • Receive downloadable material that the customer needs, for example service manuals, marketing material etc. The vendor no longer needs to send them through email, keep “sent/not-sent” lists and in general engage its own staff.
  • Automated email notifications to the customer when Accounts Receivable of the vendor mature.

The above examples show that while peers save time from several activities, the invitees receive a better (and automated) customer service which increases satisfaction and potentially loyalty levels. Also, inviters will get feedback on new services requested by their customers and probably, given time, grow their range of “self-service” functions; and all of that because they decided to choose a SaaS product to build their business platform!


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