Software as a service (SaaS) is a hot topic in the world of small business.
Eager to trim their expenses and secure reliable software applications, small business owners are increasingly turning to hosted software solutions to access the benefits of lower upfront investment and outsourced system maintenance.
When you enter the marketplace for SaaS products, prepare to be inundated with talk about product features. Every vendor you meet will trip over themselves trying to highlight their product's bells and whistles. And to be fair, the features that are available in today's ASP solutions are nothing short of impressive.
But features aren't the only things you should be concerned about. Evaluating an SaaS solution also requires attention to a handful of big picture issues that can have a dramatic impact on the success or failure of your application. By all means, conduct a careful evaluation of product features – but don't forget to also evaluate these critical factors.
- Product roadmap. SaaS providers are quick to talk about the product they offer today. But as a small business owner, you are also concerned about the product they will offer tomorrow. Most SaaS solutions are automatically upgraded by the provider at no extra charge. Ask your vendor to give you a product roadmap so you can see where the solution is headed in the months and years ahead.
- Training. SaaS solutions are known for reducing implementation time requirements. Part of the implementation process involves training your staff. Unless you plan to tackle this critical task yourself (and you shouldn't be), you'll want to make sure your provider offers adequate training for your employees.
- Backup & recovery. It's important to remember that when you use an SaaS application you are entrusting both your software and company data to a third party provider. You wouldn't dream of jeopardizing your data by neglecting to back it up with redundant systems. Don't settle for anything less in your ASP provider. Ask vendors for backup schedules and average recovery times in the event of a disaster.
- Data security. In addition to backups, your provider should employ state-of-the-art data security technology. A single security breach can have a catastrophic effect on your company, even if it was your provider's fault.
- Support & maintenance. One of the benefits of SaaS is that the provider handles system maintenance requirements. Even so, you'll want to evaluate each application according to the average downtime the provider needs to maintain their product.