Under pressure to reduce IT budgets, many businesses will make their first attempts at implementing Software as a Service (SaaS) in 2009. While there are real savings to be gained by phasing SaaS into the enterprise architecture, careful planning can help steer around some of the common difficulties.
1. Start with a realistic assessment of your application portfolio to determine where your best SaaS conversion options lie. Customizations are a complicating factor when moving to the SaaS model. It can be done, but manage expectations within the business aggressively to let them know that the SaaS solution will be implemented as close to out-of-the-box as possible. Your first attempts at moving to SaaS might be best steered towards the applications with fewer points of integration, as these will complicate the implementation (see point #3, below).
2. When doing your initial scan for SaaS solutions, make sure you have second sources lined up for each application, and thoroughly vet out the differences in their offerings from the application functionality, service offering, and cost perspectives.
3. Model your integration points rigorously. Identify all possible interface failure points and document exactly who is responsible for identifying and fixing these failures. Include the failure scenarios in your SaaS migration test plan.
4. Service level agreements are key to making the relationship work. Even some of the oldest SaaS offerings, such as Salesforce.com, have outages from time to time that leave users high and dry. Every service component needs several service level agreements explicitly defined in the contract. These include:
- Application uptime as well as maximum length of downtime per outage episode
- Time to resolve trouble tickets by email and by phone
- Required advance notification for scheduled maintenance outages
5. Pre-sale due diligence is not enough. The Satyam scandal has taught us that. Use every means available to stay ahead of news on all your SaaS partners, including monitoring twitter, technorati, Google alerts, and traditional media for hints that they might be experiencing customer satisfaction or business issues that could impact the quality and longevity of their service.