Currently going through your first review to judge whether a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform is right for your business? Feeling unsure of exactly what qualifies as SaaS or how it integrates with your current setup? You’re experiencing many of the same feelings everyday businesses experience when they try to narrow down their choices.
Over the past five to 10 years, the SaaS industry has exploded. Whereas it was once largely dominated by a handful of big names, there are now an endless list of options available to you. But no two SaaS platforms are exactly the same, and it’s even more important than ever to ensure you make the right choice.
If you’re currently swimming through a sea of SaaS, we want to help you make sense of what you’re seeing. Use this handy list of must-haves to narrow down your options.
Should Your Business Consider Adopting SaaS?
Before you even start to look at your options within the SaaS realm, you need to determine whether or not SaaS is the solution your business really needs. Contrary to popular belief, using SaaS isn’t necessarily a must, but it’s definitely beneficial for business (more on that later in the article).
First, let’s talk about exactly what SaaS is. SaaS is a software delivery method that allows you to subscribe and use your software from anywhere. Instead of needing to install and manage onsite applications or computers, you just log in to an account or app from any compatible computer.
SaaS’s biggest benefit is that it requires very little on-site maintenance. Most platforms update by themselves from the developer or publisher’s end. Businesses using SaaS usually don’t need IT staff in-house because any support issues are referred back to the SaaS provider.
Is SaaS in Continuous Development?
Another important point is to remember that true SaaS platforms undergo constant development and improvement. Some companies toss old legacy software onto servers, provide login access, and call it SaaS – this isn’t the same thing. Often, legacy cloud access introduces the same support and management issues found in standalone programs. Most importantly, it may suffer from compatibility issues and/or eventual obsolescence.
With SaaS, services are continuously developed, expanded, and innovated. As new OS versions of Windows, Linux and other options roll out, the SaaS provider works to update the service for better compatibility. Best of all, most (if not all) of this happens entirely hands-free from the user’s perspective.
If your SaaS provider can’t give you a basic explanation of how the platform is expanded, improved, and developed, consider it a red flag. You could be investing in a “here today, gone tomorrow” platform.
Is SaaS Flexible?
SaaS is inherently flexible and agile in nature – at least, it should be, if it’s developed properly. The entire point of developing SaaS platforms is to improve accessibility and flexibility, so if you find yourself running into roadblocks before you even get started, it’s a bad sign.
Just how flexible your SaaS platform should be depends on your needs. Generally, you should expect your software to be integratable and easy to access from just about anywhere, even if you have multiple users accessing the platform.
Want to access your software from your phone? You should be able to do do that on demand with internet access. Prefer to generate reports within an existing software program? Your SaaS provider should be willing to explore integrations (API-based or otherwise) to help you achieve that goal.
Managing global worker teams from multiple locations? Everyone should be able to access the same platform at the same time. Likewise, you should be able to restrict access to areas of the platform based on each user’s level or relationship to the company and/or platform.
Is SaaS Affordable?
Beware companies who market SaaS programs on a strict, one-fee-for-everyone basis. Strict pricing often indicates cookie cutter platforms with very little room for customization or scalability, so you may find yourself stuck with a sub-par option as your business grows.
Inflexible pricing is also an issue because it frequently results in waste. If you’re paying for features you aren’t using, you are effectively paying for something you need in the first place. That’s neither smart nor good for business.
Ideally, your chosen SaaS provider should offer a flexible, scalable subscription and fee list that lets you orient your choice to your current business needs. If those needs change, you should be able to alter your pricing option to better suit the needs of your business at that time.
Be especially wary of a company who aims to sell you on a SaaS platform with lengthy contracts without any real driving reason. All businesses change over time; just because the platform suits you now doesn’t mean it will suit you six months from now. While some providers will ask you to pay for a year upfront, or may even negotiate SaaS contracts for large-scale projects, you should be able to confirm how and when you have the right to change options or end your service before you say yes.
Is SaaS Scalable?
Scalability is one of the biggest benefits businesses gain from using SaaS platforms over standalone installations. You should be able to upgrade, downgrade, or change your SaaS subscription within no more than 30 days notice. Really client-focused providers may even let you scale your options in real-time, altering the amount you pay with proration to compensate.
But scalability isn’t just about pay; it’s also about how you interact with the platform, which features you use, and how many users are permitted to access it at any given time. It even includes how much storage space and bandwidth you’re given within your subscription plan.
When you evaluate a SaaS platform, ask for a demonstration of scalability. Find out how subscription prices relate to total users allowed, and how easy it is to add or remove users on an as-needed basis. Ask the provider to demonstrate how easy it is to create future integrations or remove them when they’re no longer needed, including any potential custom software integrations. How fast can they make these changes happen, and what’s the process for making it happen?
Additionally, heed this note on SaaS provider hosting: a provider will always be limited by the type of server hosting they use. For example, shared hosting stores potentially hundreds or even thousands of clients on the same shared server. This saves money and allows providers to trim back on costs, but it comes at a very high risk.
The problem with scalability relates to the fact that shared hosting also shares resources. If a client suddenly demands more resources (e.g., adding more users or using more bandwidth), every client on that server may experience bottlenecks, slow processing speeds, and a general lack of responsiveness until the company ameliorates the problem. To limit this, some providers may cap the total number of users or disc space provided – be aware that this may limit your future scalability.
Is SaaS Reliable?
Last on the list is the question of reliability. Like any other hosted service, some SaaS providers may have a better track record for reliability than others. If the platform goes down everyday or the servers continuously lose connection, you won’t be able to rely on the platform for day-to-day operation. There isn’t much point in subscribing to a platform you find yourself unable to use on a regular basis!
Like web hosts, most SaaS providers have a guaranteed uptime rate listed within their Terms of Service (ToS). This number tells you what percentage of time the service is guaranteed to be available and accessible to you. “Downtime,” in most cases, means any time when the platform is partially or fully unavailable to you, including during critical updates, maintenance, and technical issues that cause complete outages.
Ideally, the SaaS provider’s guaranteed uptime rate should sit at around 99.999 percent. Some SaaS providers may deliver more conservative rates (between 98 percent and 99 percent) if the platform must be taken down occasionally for specific and important maintenance and upgrade needs. Be reasonable about your demands for reliability (all providers have occasional downtime), but don’t be afraid to turn down a platform if it seems to be struggling with issues.
Exactly why is a low guaranteed uptime rate such a problem? Anything less than 98 percent is a major cause for concern because of the total downtime it represents. A 98 percent uptime rate sounds great at first glance, but it represents a whopping 14 hours of downtime every single month.