How cloud and SaaS can enhance I.T. agility

The advantages of the cloud and specifically Software as a Service (SaaS) are very well known. Everybody’s talking about them all over the net, at forums and in the pre-sales calls of the cloud companies. People are talking about financial benefits that SaaS brings in their P&L, several cost saving factors, security, portability and access etc. One more advantage that is less frequently discussed is this of the agility that SaaS brings in the entire I.T. function, structure and governance. In this post I’d like to focus on this exact point, thinking that maybe it is usually understated.
We must admit right from the start that agility is not a critical issue for some buyers, mainly the smaller businesses that adopt SaaS; for them portability, web access, cost savings may be more important; but what about the bigger fish in the tank? SaaS enthusiasts claim that the cloud is suitable for bigger installations, too. For these installations, qualities like agility, the ability to quickly adapt to new business requests, the ability to adopt new software solutions fast etc. can be very important. So, how is SaaS helping them achieve new, higher levels of performance when it comes down to these metrics?
I will not enumerate the metrics one by one, here. There is a large number of those, after all, and the reader could easily argue that this or that is of low importance and therefore not worth the conversation. Instead, I select to present some qualities of SaaS that make I.T.  more agile and adaptable. Let’s have a look:
  • The easiness of on-boarding a web-based SaaS service makes it even more attractive than the pure functionality the service offers, in the sense that when there’s a pressing issue to be resolved, it’s quite easy to register and start working in a matter of minutes or hours (at this point, the discussion opens for the Rogue I.T.). Of course, that is not to say that I.T. issues must be dealt with in such hasty manner. Due diligence must be executed, software selection process is always there etc. But there can be strategies that enforce a quick solution “right then and there”, while the final solution to the problem is still being investigated or planned. Such quick solutions were not possible in the “old days” when even the smaller piece of software had to be purchased, installed, probably customized and – at the end of the day – maintained as a piece of significant investment, that it was. Hence, the agility; the possibility of quickly solving a problem with a hand pistol while looking into the market for a larger “gun”.
  • In the same spirit as above, we can’t help commenting on the migration process. Migrating your old data to the new web-based service is usually a painless (or less painful, if you prefer!) process than it used to be. It is now clear to the SaaS software vendors that good functionality is not the only quality required to keep ahead of the competition. Fast and painless on-boarding is also a requirement and around this requirement, data migration is a central issue to look at. That’s why some services offer “plug and play, do-it-yourself” data upload mechanisms. And that’s also why the data migration issue is being observed even more closely by some specialized companies in the field.
  • When the time comes to abandon the SaaS service, it is usually equally easy to download whatever data you have inputted or calculated in that service. The form of the downloaded data is not in some proprietary format that I.T. Dept. or the next vendor can’t process. Usually, XML, txt or EXCEL file formats are what is being used. How does this enhance agility? Because migrating onto the new software is no longer a long and painful process nor does it require manual file processing, cleansing or conversion to another readable format. Therefore I.T. managers need to budget less for extra time and resources when they’re asked to estimate the effort of transition.
  • The easiness of adopting a new SaaS service is in direct proportion to the costs involved. We have heard time and time again that SaaS pricing models and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) makes it easy to adopt. That is true when a new installation is designed. But it is also true when an existing infrastructure needs to be refreshed or updated or enhanced. The total lifecycle of a piece of software can be significantly smaller with SaaS, instead of waiting years to depreciate the investment that the company has made when it purchased a on-premise piece of software. Software is no longer an investment, rather it is a monthly expense and as such the commitment that the organization makes to it is much smaller.
We’ve been talking about “degrees of freedom” (a.k.a. agility) that SaaS brings into the organization, when it comes to internal scheduling, budgeting and costing. But there are also external factors that assist the continuous effort of the organization for I.T. flexibility and fast response:
  • Exactly because software vendors know that customer retention is a much bigger issue than it was for the on-premise software market, they are pushed to respond and act better and resolve issues and bugs faster than before. Churn rates are significantly higher to the Service business than in the License business. Vendors know that customers can move more freely in the SaaS market and thus they (the vendors) need to increase the level of service they provide.
  • Software updates are released must faster and they bring faster resolution of bugs but also significant new functionality, each month or trimester. The old days when, for example, a banking application had a new release every eighteen months are (almost!) over. Regardless of whether a new component was requested by the community or paid for in a Customer Support ticket as a custom enhancement, users see their issues resolved faster and better than before.
  • Role-based authorizations are surely expected in a SaaS application, while in traditional software this may not be the case. Features like that enhance agility for the daily business as system administrators can now configure larger parts of the data entered and the user interface than before. A typical example is that of a central Customer Database where the Accounts Receivable officer should be able to see and change different information than the CRM user. For traditional on-premise software such functionality may not be a standard feature and when it comes down to role-based distinctions perhaps programmer-driven customization is required, which means program changes, release planning, testing etc.

Software as a Service turns software into a commodity rather than a product and as such it is more easily consumed (but also “recycled”!) when it’s no longer needed. In a fast changing world, I.T. is there to assist those agile business processes and models. Therefore, I.T. should be agile, too, in itself. Software – which is only a part of I.T. – must follow this general rule and SaaS makes it more possible than ever before.


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