14 years ago, I attended a local customer event hosted by Salesforce.com. As part of the event, one of their customers presented a case study. The client started the presentation by detailing how they had chosen Siebel as their prior CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution some years back and that it had been a nightmare. The solution took 18 months to implement, and when it was finally live, the client was using only a quarter of the functionality they had been shown in the original demonstration. The client then remarked to the audience that with Salesforce.com they were using the full functionality of the system before their first payment to the vendor was processed.
That was the most powerful endorsement of a solution I have heard during my entire career in software. It was the promise of the future that SaaS (Software as a Service,) and eventually cloud computing, would eliminate lengthy implementations and present a much more engaging user experience. There were, of course, hurdles to clear, such as the security of taking sensitive data off premise, and selling a common set of features by limiting one-off customizations. But the benefits of faster implementations and more complete feature sets were definitely worth it.
Flash forward to today. Did software ERP vendors live up to that promise? Nope. The average Cloud ERP implementation has now ballooned to over 21 months according to Panorama Consulting Group. And because many of the early pioneers of SaaS continue to do one-off, customized implementations, client sites grow so differently from one another that it becomes impossible to add new features in a universal manner. As a result, most users are not able to benefit from new innovations introduced by the vendor.
So, as a prospect, how can you avoid falling into this trap when buying new software? There are a lot of terms thrown around in cloud applications, multi-tenant, multi-instance, etc. What you really want to make sure of is that you are getting the standard application with enterprise functionality. There are three questions one can ask to get that certainty:
- Does the service get regular updates? SaaS applications are configurable, not customizable. This means functionality could be turned on or off and not coded into the product. Custom coding typically means limited standard updates.
- Can you trial the solution with your own data? It’s not realistic to demand a full test system complete with integrations, single sign-on (SSO), and such. But a solid SaaS application should allow clients to trial using own data to gain a decent perspective.
- Does IT get involved regularly? Putting data into the cloud warrants a security review by the IT department. But if IT is continually being pulled in, for configuration issues or other reasons, then the application is likely turning into one off, whether it is cloud or on premise software.
The right answers to the above questions will let you know if you are truly buying an enterprise Cloud or SaaS application. Thus you should get the same feature set that was demonstrated and not have to endure a lengthy implementation on an application that will likely sunset in usability in the not to distant future.