Cloud SaaS

Software as a Service checklist

Questions to ask any SaaS vendor

After finding the SaaS application that meets functional requirements, an organisation should check that the supplier’s legal, pricing and support arrangements are acceptable before committing to use the system. As the acronym implies, SaaS is a ‘service’ and the supplier is responsible for delivery, ongoing support and maintaining your data.

The checklist below is not a list of functional requirements, but it should provide a useful sanity check after a suitable SaaS solution has been found and before an organisation commits business to that vendor. It is approximately in the sequence of importance. Unsatisfactory answers higher up the list are more serious than those lower down.

Cost

Do you price per named user, live user, system, simultaneous user? 
Do you offer a guarantee that the cost will not be increased, and for how long? 
What is the cancellation notice required? 
How long do I have to commit for? 
Payable by invoice, standing order, direct debit, credit card? 

Data loading

How can I move my existing data to the new system? 
How much will this cost? 
Legal and compliance 
Where is the data physically held? Is it outside the EU? 
Who owns the data? 
How do I get the data back? Can I get it back after my subscription lapses? Is there a cost? 
How often is the data backed up? Are the backups held off site? 
Who has access to my data and what policies do you have for staff access? 
What format is the data in? 

Continuity

What unscheduled downtime have you had in the last 12 months? 
Do you have a standby system if the main data centre fails, and is it located sufficiently away from the main system? 
Do you have a Service Level Agreement, and what happens if you don’t meet it? 

Vendor viability

How many users/seats? How long have you been in business’ 
Can I talk to reference customers? 
Is the company profitable? Well funded? 
How many solicitors’ letters have you received from customers over the last 12 months? 

Technical

Do you support all the main browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Chrome)? 
Do you need any local software installed? 
Is all communication between the client and server encrypted using SSL? 
Can the service be accessed via mobile telephone, PDA, Blackberry? 

Customisation

If I want a feature that is not part of the standard product, can it be added?How do you charge? Data interfaces Text file import/export? 
Web services APIs? Integration with other vendor’s products? Which ones?

Limitations

The number of transactions/records? 
What is the cost of adding additional storage or users etc.? 
Emails sent? 
Document storage? 
Users? 

Support

What are your support hours? Support for all UK business days? 
Is support available through email, telephone and/or a web form? 
What is the average time for a support request to be answered? 
Is the post-sale support team the same as the pre-sale support team

Training and set up

Is set-up included in the subscription cost? If not what should I expect to send? 
Is training needed? If so for how long and how much?   
What online help is provided? 

Evaluation

Free trial? For how long? 
Can the trial system then become the live system, or do I start again? 

Development plan

Do you intend to continually add to and improve the product? 
What new features were released in the last six months? 
What new features are planned for the next six months?

Conclusion

Software as a Service, or SaaS, is an increasingly popular way to deliver software capabilities to organisations. It remotely hosts and manages the software and data associated with particular applications. And it delivers its services across the internet directly to any device that can run a web browser. This means that people can work on applications from any location that has internet access.

Not only this, but it places very little upfront financial demand on its customers. They pay for what they use as they go along. Capital expenditure on hardware and software is replaced with a monthly fee which scales according to usage.

Because SaaS is a service, it would be relatively easy for customers to turn off the tap unless they were satisfied with their provider. This, more than anything else, keeps the SaaS vendors on their toes, always doing their best to support and enhance the product while keeping it easy to use.

SaaS isn’t for everyone and for all circumstances but, where an application need can be satisfied in a fairly standard way, where the customer is content with having their data held by a third party, where they are keen to keep costs under control and where they would like a fairly rapid time to results, then SaaS has to be taken seriously.

Hopefully the checklists linked to this webpage, including legal considerations and questions to ask prospective vendors, will serve as good guides and help you navigate the hype that currently surrounds SaaS and avoid any potential pitfalls.

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