How to evaluate SaaS for your business

Software as a service solves problems but requires compromise. It's important to understand the trade-offs for success.

Dave Rosenberg Co-founder, MuleSource
Dave Rosenberg has more than 15 years of technology and marketing experience that spans from Bell Labs to startup IPOs to open-source and cloud software companies. He is CEO and founder of Nodeable, co-founder of MuleSoft, and managing director for Hardy Way. He is an adviser to DataStax, IT Database, and Puppet Labs.
Dave Rosenberg

In the early days of software as a service applications like those of Salesforce.com, you were required to stick with the company's approach to processes. Users realized what the the issues were early on, but many SaaS providers still don't offer much in the way of customization.

But the lack of customization is starting to be addressed with the advent of platforms like Force.com. Through the adoption of platform-as-a-service options, businesses can customize SaaS applications much the same way one can develop software or modify an open-source product.

In outlining "7 Questions to Evaluate SaaS," Alistair Croll at GigaOm writes, "typically, the software with the most features won. Feature-itis ruled."

No more. With software as a service, the focus has become whether the tool is good enough on day 1 and how well it will adapt over time. Take, for example, the Family Service Agency of San Francisco, which replaced its ailing paper-based system with SaaS donated by the Salesforce.com Foundation, improving productivity and accountability along the way.

Speaking (on Wednesday) at the SIIA's eGov event in Washington, D.C., Bob Bennett, the agency's CEO, explained how the agency turned a sales force automation tool into a social-services management tool.

Illustrating the point are a set of seven critical topics to be addressed:

  • Adaptability
  • Reliability
  • Task productivity
  • Price
  • Back-end integration
  • Longevity
  • Ecosystem

All of these elements are important to consider in addressing the SaaS-imposed challenge of modifying business processes to meet software design versus building software to match processes.