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Top 10 SaaS implementation considerations

Once you go through this list of the top 10 considerations for implementing Software as a Service (SaaS), you will be ready to tackle SaaS implementation head on. These tasks are meant to ensure that there are no surprises in the implementation process.

10.3 Top 10 things to do and consider when implementing SaaS

When implementing SaaS, there are a number of processes and tasks that a business must complete, in order for them to successfully implement SaaS as a part of their infrastructure. Ten of these considerations and processes are detailed below.

1. Ensure that you understand exactly why you are implementing SaaS

Whenever a business implements a new technology, whether this is a hardware based technology or in this case a software service based technology, there is always a reason (or number of reasons) exactly why a business is implementing this new technology. There are a number of reasons why businesses would want to implement SaaS. Some business might want to improve the efficiency of their business related process by being able to concentrate more on business related processes rather than on software management processes, while other businesses may want to improve the collaboration of a number of different business sites of theirs, which are geographically separated.

About the book:

This chapter excerpt on How to Accomplish SaaS (download PDF) is taken from the book SaaS -- The Complete Cornerstone Guide to Software as a Service Best Practices: Concepts, Terms, and Techniques for Successfully Planning, Implementing and Managing SaaS Solutions. This book delves into the nuts and bolts of SaaS implementation and migration as well as what CEOs, CIOs, IT managers and technologists should keep in mind when transitioning to SaaS.

No matter what reason a business has for wanting to implement SaaS, they should be clear about exactly what this reason is. A business should also have a very good understanding about how their existing processes and infrastructure work. This information is required so that SaaS software services can be integrated into their existing infrastructure at a later stage but with an absolute minimum of problems.

2. Note down exactly what you need in order to help you achieve the reason why you are implementing SaaS in the first place

This directly follows on from the first consideration. Once a business knows why they are implementing SaaS, they can then go about finding exactly what they need in order to accomplish this. There are a number of questions that a business should be able to answer, which will help them find out exactly what they need in order to accomplish what they initially set out to achieve. Firstly a business should be able to answer exactly what their SaaS software services need to be able to do. Secondly, a business should be able to answer exactly what kind of features these software services will need to have, in order to meet the answer to their previous question.

For example if a business wanted to improve data collaboration between various different business sites, then they would want a SaaS software solution that could be accessed by many users. However, if a business wanted a highly efficient software solution, similar in performance to traditional on-premises software solutions, then they would probably want a SaaS software service that could only be accessed by a few users at a time (making it more efficient than software solutions which are offered by many different users at the same time).

No matter what a business requires, by answering the two questions which were detailed in the first paragraph, things should be made a lot clearer for them. This means that a business should now have the knowledge to choose a SaaS service that is suitable for them.

3. Request a Service Level Agreement before signing any contracts

The Service Level Agreement is an important agreement document because it clearly defines what a SaaS service provider is offering and also what consequences they will face if they fail to deliver these services, to the agreed standard. To avoid problems at a later time and to ensure that they are getting exactly what they paid for, a business should request a Service Level Agreement before actually signing any contracts. Only when a business is happy with the terms in their Service Level Agreement, should they continue with the implementation process of SaaS.

4. Make sure that agreement clauses meet your needs and not just the software vendors needs

Because of the fact that SaaS software vendors can be located anywhere in the world, their customs and agreements may be differ from what a business (located elsewhere) actually thinks that these terms mean. For example, if a business was located in the US and their SaaS service provider was located in the UK (or any other part of the world other than the US), then there will be a time difference (among other differences) between the two organizations.

This has a number of consequences when dealing with availability agreements or any other types of agreement clauses for that matter. For example a SaaS service provider may have a clause stating that they guarantee the availability of software services during business hours. However, a business should be clear about what exactly is meant by phrase 'business hours'. For example, does it mean that these software services will be available during the SaaS service provider's business hours or does it mean that these software services will be available during their client's business hours, which will differ from theirs due to geographical differences?

Also, still using the same example above, a SaaS service provider may have a different interpretation of what the term 'business hours' means, when compared to what their client actually needs. For example a SaaS service provider may define the term business hours meaning nine till five. However if a business operated 24/7, then obviously this clause is no good for them.

If a SaaS service provider has any vaguely written agreement clauses, then a business should clarify exactly what these clauses mean and if they are not happy with these clauses, then they should negotiate their own agreement clauses or select another service provider that better matches their needs.

5. Consider IT support requirements

Businesses should consider what level of IT professionals they will need, as well as what the expectations of their SaaS service provider actually are. For example will a business be able to continue operating with their existing workforce, once SaaS has been implemented or will they need to bring in additional IT professionals? Will a businesses SaaS service provider expect a business to have technical geniuses on hand or will anyone with a basic knowledge of IT be able to use their software services?

The level of support that a business will have to provide for SaaS software services themselves, all depends on what level of support their SaaS software vendor can provide them with. If a SaaS software vendor just delivers their software services but with very little support or documentation, then a business will need to employ a solid IT support workforce. However, if a SaaS software vendor provides clear instructions and documentation in clear English (with very little technical jargon) then a business should be able to continue operating without needing to bring in additional IT support professionals.

6. Find out if anything has to be done if your service provider fails to deliver the standard of services that they promised

A business should have already negotiated the consequences that a SaaS service provider will face if they fail to deliver the standard of software services that they promised. However, what a lot of businesses don't realize is that some SaaS service providers do not automate this process. This means that a business will have slightly more work to do in the form of writing a letter, writing an email or putting in a requests, to receive the 'credits' that they should be entitled to.

Businesses should be clear about whether the above process is an automated one or if it is not. If it is not an automated process, then a business should be clear about exactly what action they have to take, in order to receive what they are entitled to, when their SaaS service provider fails to deliver their services up to the standard that was guaranteed by them in their Service Level Agreement contract.

7. Make sure that employees are properly trained

Due to the fact that implementing SaaS is such a relatively straightforward procedure, businesses can easily forget to do other things, which would otherwise be obvious. One of these things is training their staff. To avoid problems once SaaS software services have been implemented, a business should train their staff on how to access these new software services, as well as on how to use these new software services, during their initial setup stage. Once SaaS has been implemented, training on how to use these software services should be given, just as training would be given to employees on how to use any other new software service.

8. Consider what exit strategies you have

One thing that businesses should not overlook once they have implemented SaaS is what back out strategies they have. For example are they able to leave their SaaS service provider at any time. Will they easily be able to migrate to another SaaS service provider or will they easily be able to return back to an on-premises software infrastructure.

About the author:

Ivanka Menken is the chief operating officer, owner and co-founder of The Art of Service and is an expert in Information Technology Infrastructure Library and ISO. Menken created the Cloud Computing Foundation  Certification Kit in 2008.

Also a business should consider what is going to happen to any of their data that was stored on their SaaS service provider's data centers. For example will a business be able to easily restore this data back on to their data centers and will some of their data remain on their SaaS service provider's data centers. Some SaaS service providers may choose to keep certain amounts of a clients data on their own data centers (for a limited period of time), to make things easier for their clients in case they return back to them in the future. If a business is not happy with this policy, then they should request that all of their data is erased from their SaaS service provider's data centers, themselves.

9. Decrease the number of existing machines within your internal infrastructure

The great thing about SaaS is that the hosting of software applications is taken out of the hands of businesses. This means that a business no longer requires as many physical servers as they did before or they no longer require as many software licenses for their on-premises software applications or operating systems, as they did before.

By decreasing the number of physical servers that a business has running within its internal infrastructure and by decreasing the number of licensed software operating systems or licensed software applications that a business has running within its internal infrastructure, a business can save money in the long run. For example not only will they save money on buying new hardware for their servers or paying for additional software licenses but they will also save money on the administration of these machines, they will save money in terms of power consumption and they will save money on cooling requirements, as well as with many other aspects.

10. Know exactly what you will be paying

With traditional software applications, businesses pay a single upfront cost for these software applications and for any licenses that they require, depending on how many instances of that particular software application, they need to run. With SaaS software services, when it comes to payment, things are not as straightforward as they are for traditional software applications.

For example businesses may pay a monthly fee to use their SaaS service provider's software services or they may only pay for what they use, by using a pay-as-you-go payment model. Businesses may also have to deal with licensing related issues if multiple users are going to access a single instance of a software application and they may also have to pay for storage space within their software vendor's data centers, in order to store their business related data.

In order to save money a business should clearly know beforehand, how frequently they will be using these data services, what their data storage requirements are and what payment method would be the best for them (i.e. a monthly fixed rate or a pay-as-you-go payment model). Finally, businesses should not forget about other costs, including costs that relate to staffing requirements, training, backing up requirements and any other process that are not in their software vendors hands.

How to Accomplish SaaS

Migrating to a Software as a Service environment

Top 10 considerations when implementing Software as a Service

Top 10 pitfalls when implementing Software as a Service

Common SaaS problems that occur after implementation

Printed with permission from Emereo Pty Ltd. Copyright 2008. SaaS -- The Complete Cornerstone Guide to Software as a Service Best Practices: Concepts, Terms, and Techniques for Successfully Planning, Implementing and Managing SaaS Solutions For more information about this title and other similar books, please visit Emereo Pty Ltd.

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This was last published in August 2009

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Insightful read. Moving into SaaS should never be a spur-of-the-moment decision. You have to have justified whats, whys and hows of your transition. It also requires planning and researching on your part to know which SaaS provider suits best for your company. Test runs are vital as well -- test the water first before submerging wholly. Lastly, make sure that your company and your chosen SaaS provider work well together.
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