Before moving your business processes to the cloud, evaluate your current applications and find a cloud solution that integrates well with your existing tools.
You have one solution for your billing, a second solution for customer management, a third for inventory management, and a fourth for email marketing.
Coordinating all of these tools means you're spending more time inputting information and switching between solutions than you are running your business.
Integrations between different applications can save you time and reduce errors.
This article looks at software-as-a-service (SaaS) cloud models in particular. It explains what SaaS platforms are, how you can benefit from them, and the steps you should take to avoid decentralizing your data when moving to the cloud.
What is SaaS?
SaaS, or “Software as a Service,” is a type of cloud computing where the software is hosted on an Internet server instead of on a computer at your company.
You can access the software anywhere, as long as you’re connected to the Internet. This is why you may hear people refer to SaaS as on-demand or web-based software.
You may already use SaaS products without realizing it. Some SaaS examples include:
- Salesforce: A customer relationship management (CRM) solution that helps businesses collect and organize information about customers and potential leads.
- Google Apps: A web-based tool that allows you to access email, share documents and calendars, and set up video meetings.
- Dropbox: A cloud storage solution that allows you to store documents and files and access them on multiple devices.
- Slack: A business communication tool that allows you to send and receive messages, share documents, and interact privately.
Benefits of SaaS Cloud Model
SaaS applications offer multiple business benefits, which may explain why the use of SaaS is on the rise.
About, 60% of companies integrated at least one SaaS solution into their business, and 36% plan to increase their investment in the future, according to Computer Economics, an IT management metrics provider.
What’s causing the shift toward greater investment in SaaS (as opposed to on-premise solutions)?
You can access software remotely, as long as you have Internet access, resulting in the flexibility to work anywhere at any time. This is significant for employees who are on the move, like salespeople.
Reduced Server Downtime
Because SaaS applications are hosted on a cloud provider’s professionally managed system, they have high availability. The provider manages updates and patches, reducing downtime and the need for IT personnel to maintain applications.
Less Spending on IT Infrastructure
Your company can drastically reduce its IT infrastructure by eliminating the servers it uses to run software.
SaaS applications usually follow a yearly subscription model and eliminate the traditional up-front money and time costs associated with setting up server hardware and software on-premise.
Downfall of Migrating to SaaS Cloud – Data Decentralization
Before the rise of cloud computing, organizations stored and managed applications and data on-site, under the watchful eyes of IT departments. This made it easy for IT departments to manage, customize, and integrate each solution fluidly.
- All business data was in one place and under the company’s control.
- All systems accessed data in the same way.
- Everyone spoke the same language.
However, as IT budgets shrunk and IT talent became more expensive and difficult to find, organizations began to embrace the cloud. In fact, about 90% of enterprise companies in the US claim that they plan to increase or maintain annual spending on cloud computing.
Mass movement to the cloud resulted in the decentralization of data – limited data integration across applications.
This data decentralization, in turn, caused four IT challenges:
- More time dedicated to ensuring data integrity and consistency across systems
- Manual aggregation of different data sets
- Delays in business decision making
- Human error
For example, if you manage customers in a SaaS application, but your billing system remains on site, you may experience delays while the information is exported from the cloud and imported into your billing system.
If this takes place during a nightly batch process, it could introduce days of delay, significantly increasing invoicing time and reducing cash flow.
So, what’s the key to experiencing the benefits of SaaS applications without compromising the consistency of your data?
Integrate Applications to Avoid Data Decentralization
Experience the full benefits of SaaS (without compromising existing data) by choosing an application with the ability to integrate data from multiple sources seamlessly.
To put this advice in perspective, let’s say you’re a small business that uses Google Applications – Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive.
Google Apps are one example of a SaaS solution and work well for storing data, communicating, and sharing documents.
But, you also need a CRM system. How do you know which option is a good fit for you?
Because you want to avoid decentralizing your data, you look to Google to see if they offer any customer management integrations. The answer? Insightly, customer relationship and project management software, powered by Google for small businesses.
This scenario, while directed at a small business audience, also carries over to large companies and enterprises.
As you prepare to migrate to a SaaS solution, follow three steps.
1. Evaluate Current Applications
Current applications to consider include:
- CRM service
- Billing tool
- Market software
- Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system
- Homegrown systems
- Inventory/order management software
- BI/Analytics tools
2. Identify Features & Functions You Need From SaaS Solution
Necessary features and functions will correspond with your list of current applications.
3. Choose a SaaS Solution With Relevant Integrations
Relevant integrations also correspond to your current applications.
For example, if you use Microsoft products for company-wide communication and scheduling, like Microsoft Outlook, then Microsoft Azure may be your best SaaS solution.
Another option is to have a custom-built SaaS integration.
This option is relevant when you have a lot of data that cannot be transitioned to a new system, but it’s costly.
Integrations Are Key for Efficient Cloud Use
Cloud applications seem like the best answer to many technical and business challenges.
But, in the rush to adopt cloud-based solutions before they were fully developed, organizations introduced inefficiencies by distributing business data across both cloud-based and legacy systems.
To fully realize the benefits of SaaS, organizations should either ensure integrations already exist between their new and existing systems or build the necessary integrations so that decision-makers can get the critical business data they need as quickly and efficiently as possible.
About the Author
Brian Dainis is the founder and CEO of Curotec. He has worked with hundreds of companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 firms. Brian’s passion is using technology to solve high-impact business problems, which is what led him to found Curotec.