Fundamentals for an Effective SaaS Platform Experience


There are a seemingly unending number of SaaS platform vendors. Do your due diligence before you commit and choose a SaaS platform for your organization.

An increasing number of organizations continue to be lured by the revolutionary new ways a SaaS platform can work to better business outcomes through digital transformation. The buzz phrases abound: a single source of truth for data, unified workflows, ease of use, data insights, meaningful analytics, integrations, APIs to connect to your ecosystem, and a marketplace that offers unlimited possibilities.

This one-stop shopping or one-vendor-fits-all solution is indeed an appealing proposition. If you are responsible for selecting enterprise applications for your company, platform solution vendors will woo you with promises of offering exponential value through additional capabilities and solutions in their portfolios. And as proof that they provide this value, they’ll boast about incredibly high retention rates.

Yet that begs the question: are retention rates high because of high customer satisfaction or because restrictive contractual terms and prohibitive costs make switching unfeasible? The answer to this question matters if you are the customer.

Healthy relationships are based on mutual respect and trust. But which vendors deserve your trust? And what is your role in making the relationships work to avoid disappointment, frustration, and lost value?

Key to a successful relationship with your SaaS platform vendor

Beyond table stakes for today’s top SaaS platform vendors such as an intuitive, modern user experience and an enterprise-grade security program, the forward-looking CIO or CxO will keep the following in mind:

Simplify complexity. If you have process complexity (i.e., non-standard processes), it is critical to choose platform vendors with expertise in helping you to reduce complexity and sharing customer best practices. Find a vendor that does not just automate your current processes, but that will help you improve the way you work. Be amenable to their guidance and expertise. That’s the power of technology—it can allow you to work in ways that bring efficiencies beyond the automation of existing processes.

Favor configuration, not customization. The more customizations you have, the more costly the platform will be to implement, support, and ultimately exit from should you choose to do so. So, you will want to minimize automating and coding of exceptions. Advanced SaaS platforms enable you to configure [not customize] to suit your needs. Ensure your team has time to commit to requirements definition, testing, training, etc. This ensures that the implementation and the configuration are done right the first time.

Focusing on outcomes that make the customer successful: Ensure that your vendor is working with you to meet your outcomes and targets. This requires you to provide your success metrics with targets (quarterly and annually). Good vendors will help you to clearly define them. And the vendor’s Customer Success and Account teams should be tasked with helping customers realize ongoing value from the platform.

Prioritize flexibility and scale. Ensure that the platform you buy today can meet your needs in the future, allowing you to grow and scale your operations. Look at the vendor’s past and present road map to confirm that they invest heavily in their platform and prioritize continuous innovation.

Look for interoperability and openness. Look for vendors that not only make it easy for you to adopt additional capabilities on their platform but that also strive to be interoperable and provide you the ability to integrate easily with and expand your ecosystem. You will also want the peace of mind that you can swap out components for “better of breed” when competitor features/technologies become available or when things are not going well. Usually, vendors that enable this interoperability understand the importance of continuing to earn your trust and your business [instead of trapping you].

Commit to the partnership. Healthy and successful relationships require dedication, commitment, and a system of open communication. Have in place a framework or operating model that ensures uninhibited channels of communication between your IT team, the business, and your vendor. Ensure that your team can accommodate new releases and capabilities to stay current and pass that value along.

We all like to think that relationships will last forever. But things can change, particularly following the initial infatuation period. Have an exit strategy in place in case you need to transition. If a prenup with favorable breakup terms is not on the table, at least you will know your contingency plans and the costs of separating before you make a long-term commitment.

There are a seemingly unending number of SaaS platform vendors, with new ones continuously entering the market. Let your SaaS platform vendors earn your enterprise platform business. You play an important role in making the relationship successful, but you also deserve the best. Do your due diligence before you commit and choose the best SaaS platform for your organization.

Julie Iskow

About Julie Iskow

Julie Iskow is currently the COO at Workiva, where she is responsible for building and delivering a SaaS platform that simplifies complex work for the enterprise. Previously, she was the CTO for Medidata and a CIO for WageWorks, both SaaS platform companies digitally transforming the way work is done for customers to achieve better business outcomes. In each of these roles, Julie has been both a vendor and a buyer, responsible for selecting, implementing, and maintaining SaaS platforms for internal use.

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