The popular perception of software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing is beautifully simple: sign-up, login and start doing your work. Of course, this isn’t quite accurate; it all depends on the application, business needs and goals. Enterprise SaaS entails business requirements gathering, customisations, integrations, and training. In our business, there is an initial phase of onboarding customer IT assets for monitoring, working with stakeholders and setting up dashboards, which can take a few weeks, not days.
That doesn’t mean that SaaS users need to sit around for weeks twiddling their thumbs. With proper planning, it’s possible to deliver value to the business sooner. By the second week of an implementation, we can give customers the chance to begin using the product; this might be by delivering a high-level dashboard so users can start understanding new data views that they can leverage. That way, the customer can start integrating the technology into their daily workflows while our team finishes the implementation.
Speeding up time to value in SaaS is a collaborative effort between the vendor and the customer. From many years leading implementations of enterprise SaaS for customers, I’ve got a few ideas on how to deliver benefits early without sacrificing the long-term goals of the project.
Simplify phase-one scope
Onboarding a new SaaS solution is an exciting experience for a customer that wants to improve workflows and processes, particularly when the customer has been running outdated, difficult-to-use legacy technology for a long time. Commonly, the customer looks beyond the original use case as they understand all that a product can offer. Then, key stakeholders expand the scope. When the decision-maker finds out how much those new requirements expand the time and cost of the implementation, he or she may pull the plug on the deal altogether.
To prevent this scenario, strive for a small, attainable scope for phase one: something that can be achieved in a few weeks and which can enable the customer to begin using the platform early in the onboarding exercise. This will help gain momentum with rapid, measurable benefits, and clears the way for expanded use cases of the system later.
Complete customer prerequisites prior to project start date
Have you ever visited the local DMV to renew your auto registration and realised that after waiting in line for two hours you don’t have all the paperwork? This hair-pulling situation happens frequently during software implementations. To avoid the hurry-up-and-wait scenario, vendors can work with customers before the project begins to check off all the boxes that will delay implementation.
In our business, these are change control authorisations to install monitoring agents (if needed) and security credentials to gain access to infrastructure components and devices. During the pre-implementation workshops, customers should document all the internal IT policies and procedures which must be handled before the outside consultants can do their work.
Define vendor-customer roles
Vendor implementation teams are not miracle workers. They have all the knowledge about the product and how to deploy it successfully, but they are not experts in the customer’s environment. It’s critical to set expectations for customer work, such as assisting with third-party software integrations. Define processes for working together through the project; vendors and consultants should be clear on roles. For instance, sometimes a customer will want to take over key parts of the project, but this may not be feasible due to a lack of time or experience. And, allowing this to happen can slow down progress. Instead, vendors can suggest side-by-side work. This way, the customer’s technical staff can learn while doing in collaboration with vendor experts.
Business stakeholder coordination
Even when software is servicing technical users, such as IT security teams, there is a business story that needs to be told and incorporated every step of the way. It’s up to the customer to identify and bring business stakeholders into planning meetings with the vendors. This can be vexing, especially when you’re talking about senior-level executives. Often, we only need an hour of their time, yet execs may still push back at a meeting request.
The vendor and client can, however, work hard to communicate benefits to the stakeholders for attending the meeting; in the security example, it’s about ensuring the protection of customer data, understanding where the data lives, and prioritising the most critical applications and workflows for security risk. Over time, the external implementation team will learn more about the business and can make targeted, business-focused recommendations for the product. But these initial conversations are critical foundational exercises to speed time to value and ensure maximum user uptake.
I can draw a direct line between satisfaction and customers who really know how to use the system. Often, those users who aren’t happy with the software lack understanding of how to use it and best practices. Our company places enormous emphasis on training. This can be accomplished in a number of ways and I recommend offering more than one method: creating YouTube videos, inviting users to shadow the implementation, and holding formal classroom training. Customise live training sessions for the business and share recordings so that people can watch at their leisure.
Nothing in the list above is difficult, but following the right steps for faster time to value takes patience, effort to build relationships across organisations, and a culture of empathy. Building a solid foundation for an enterprise SaaS project can lead to more successful, long-term outcomes for both the vendor and the customer—and that’s something we all need more of right now.
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