April Fool’s Day comes but once a year, but you might think it comes once or twice a week if you’re struggling over the promise and disappointment of SaaS apps and the cloud in general. As far back as the days of Chaucer, we’ve celebrated the day where no news topic is sacred, no personal space is private, and no victim immune to jest. In France, they call it April Fish and attempt to affix a paper fish on the back of unsuspected friends. No one likes to be the butt of the joke, but you can arm yourself and prepare. And if you’re going to participate in the “foolishness” of cloud apps, you must understand the four “knows” when jumping overboard:
- Know the limitations
- Know your need
- Know your threshold (for pain)
- Know when to walk away (or when to run)
SaaS applications are not always capable of meeting the stringent requirements of a mission-critical service. Typically sold in multi-tenant environments, SaaS applications thrive in that price point between community-supported platforms and the overly engineered platforms from larger vendors. Yet we should remember the old acronym TANSTAAFL, or “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”
Inexpensive licenses or a per-user cost make SaaS and PaaSattractive to the small business. It also limits by necessity the feature-set. Few companies could stay in business by offering $5 a month access to an application on par with a professionally-produced alternative. Imagine the customer support costs alone. However, features that justify a higher cost from a bigger company may turn out to be unneeded extras in a SaaS app. If you don’t need the feature, then the cost for a SaaS app becomes a great selling point.
Need To Know
Knowing our limits reminds us to make sure we understand what we actually need. Do we need the ability to store information for analysis later or do we need advanced workflow capability with extensible scripting add-ons? Are prebuilt applications enticing when your application is custom and the data proprietary? The draw of an e-commerce market for additional functionality may not matter if you pay a developer to extend your capabilities.
Not All Pain is Gain
In giving up those extra features, are you locking yourself into a long-term roller coaster filled with exciting drops but commercially crippling turns? You think the ecommerce module is unneeded, but do you foresee a turn in your business model? How often has a fellow small business owner told you “I didn’t start out doing this?” A small business must always balance the needs of the future client with the realities of the current customer base.
Alas, sometimes things fall apart. Perhaps the compromise on features finally bit your business model. The hardware vendor isn’t adding additional storage at the rate you require, or worse, you can’t get them on the phone anymore. I’ve seen companies limp along without needed features or suffer with ones that don’t work as advertised, only to wash their hands of the situation in a fiery loss of business. This isn’t to say you can’t trust a SaaS provider, but the low cost of entry for cloud businesses is like the adjustable rate mortgage. It feels good going down, but might upset your stomach later.
Have an exit strategy if you need to move due to loss of functionality. Keep in mind the following things in case you have to switch to another SaaS provider:
- Export your data (CSV format assures compatibility)
- Exports workflows (if possible or print them out)
- Export custom data (logos or reports generated)
- Export custom logic and code (Java classes or other code)
Watch Your Back
SaaS applications can be the glue that strengthens a small business, provided you’re careful while you work. Just watch your back. In the meantime, I’m going to bed and I won’t get up again till April 2..
What lessons have you learned about working in the cloud successfully? What has worked (and what hasn’t worked) for your business?
We read about it all the time in the business and political press: small business is the engine that drives the economy. But when we look at the innovation that’s occurred over the past decade, the consumer and enterprise segments seem to get all of theattention as early adopters. I believe that perception is about to change with some findings in a recent survey in which we collaborated with Chetan Sharma Consulting.
The evidence shows that small to medium businesses are integrating smartphones and tablets more rapidly and taking advantage of new technologies previously available only to larger companies with broader resources. The adoption of new technology by SMBs is having a positive effect on productivity, competitiveness, and efficiency. They’re more agile and can integrate these technologies much more quickly than larger companies, so it’s almost like a testing lab to see what works and what doesn’t.
New research provides insight
This hypothesis goes against the grain of common business assumptions, so to get a deeper look into how this segment is integrating new technologies we collaborated with Chetan Sharma Consulting. The research included a survey of several dozen SMB companies across the U.S. as well as analysis of data from over 12,000 companies in the SMB segment and more than 20,000 larger enterprises. We held one-on-one discussions with some companies to get deeper perspective.
The results surprised even us. We found that smartphones and tablets are increasingly replacing notebooks and desktops, indicating that a dramatic shift is taking place in computing needs of mobile workers. We also found that the SMB segment is a clear leading indicator of the enterprise market in terms of solution adoption. The next two years are likely to bring tighter integration of mobile data with operations.
A few other interesting findings:
Small and medium businesses are leading indicators of technology adoption. As referenced in this paper, SMB smartphone and tablet penetration is more than 90 and 65 percent respectively; whereas national smartphone and tablet penetration is roughly 55 and 22 percent.
Mobility is providing SMBs quicker access to people and information. Companies value fast access to contacts and information when considering mobile data solutions – more than 65 percent of the surveyed respondents in the study said this was an important factor.
Business software and solutions are being transformed by the use of smartphones and tablets. With this shift, we’ve seen the emergence of a generation of app developers focusing primarily on the mobile app platform. That’s why we’re opening our network with new APIs that can tap powerful tools and resources quickly and efficiently.
Mobile broadband, cloud, and apps are providing real and tangible ROI. The SMBs in the survey saw an average savings of 40 minutes per worker per day, which translates into significant impact on profits over the course of the year.
You can explore these trends and more in “The ABCs of SMB Transformation: Apps, Broadband, and the Cloud.”