Why buyers should care about how a SaaS offering does what it does

There is a consulting industry truism that states: “The Money is in the Mystery”. The more complex a problem, the more value exists in the buyer of the product or service simply not having to worry with that complexity. This same line of reasoning is very prominent today when software vendors are presenting their offerings as a service (SaaS) to potential customers. The big pitch for SaaS offerings is that you as the customer can quickly get the business value you seek and not have to worry about installing the software, ongoing care and feeding of any infrastructure or executing future upgrades and patches. In short, you don’t need to worry about how the software does what it does, just that it does it and does it reliably all the time. To borrow a phrase from The Wizard of Oz: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain…”. The problem is, how the software does what it does will have a huge impact on the software vendors ability to deliver on their promise of continued innovation and business value. In the following paragraphs I will point out a few aspects of a SaaS offering that can impact its ability to deliver on its promised value. While certainly not an exhaustive analysis, confronting a potential SaaS vendor with these questions will go a long way in helping you separate the wheat from chaff.

What SaaS is and what it is not

The fact that software gets delivered to you as a service says a lot about how the software is hosted and little (but not nothing) about how the software is architected. How a software gets hosted will determine characteristics like how much you can customize your instance of the software, how easily the vendor will be able to scale performance as your business grows and what sort of costing model the vendor will be abler to offer. How a software is architected will tell you more about how fast a vendor will be able to innovate, leverage new cloud technologies to manage their cost and attract and keep top notch software engineering talent.

Hosting models, what SaaS is about

Various iterations of hosting models exist with some of the most popular being:

Cloud native versus also on cloud

The latest trend in software development is towards a pattern known as a microservice architecture. I am not going to go too deep here on what this pattern is but focus more on why you should care when subscribing to a SaaS service. For more details on Cloud Native technical specifics, a great place to start is the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, https://www.cncf.io/. When software gets written in a microservice pattern, small capabilities of the software are independent of other capabilities and talk to each other using Application. Programming Interfaces (API’s). The services run in a technology known as Containers. Entire books are written on containers and microservices architecture, if you are interested head over to Amazon and search on. this topic. Beyond this pattern being the wave of the future and being really cool, why do you care as businessperson considering a SaaS offering? First, having services operate independently will allow the vendor to release new features and capabilities on one specific service at a time without impacting other services. This allows for safer and more frequent invocation from the vendor. This should allow your organization to more easily absorb the pace of rapid innovation by not having to run extensive end to end testing across all business processes for every feature release. The vendor will be able to leverage modern, automated tools and practices like DevOps to make their software development cycle efficient and cost-effective. Modern infrastructure orchestration platform like Kubernetes that allow for highly cost-effective and rapidly scalable infrastructure are specifically targeting Cloud Native software applications. A SaaS provider leveraging these types of platforms will more easily be able to rapidly scale performance and offer very high uptime at a lower cost point. It should also not be underestimated that talented Software Engineers want to work on modern platforms. A SaaS provider using legacy technology will have a harder time attracting and maintaining top-notch talent to help drive their innovation life cycle. These considerations only scratch the surface on the benefits of Cloud Native software, but simply asking about this with respect to the SaaS providers future planning will give you insight into the vendors forward thinking posture.

Conclusion, you don’t have to care but you really should

Signing up for a SaaS model to operate your business in any capacity is a big decision. This is one of those times when you want to sweat the small stuff. It’s very likely that when you start to press a SaaS provider on some of the points outlined above, his or her first response will be “you don’t need to care about any of that”. Please do worry about it, ask the right questions or get somebody who knows how to ask the questions for you. I am reminded of one of my favorite movie scenes from “Tommy Boy”, don’t fall for a “fancy guarantee”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5dpBpaFiMo

I am an IT Professional with 25+ years of experience in a broad range of areas. I am passionate about technology and its applications in business and life.