Coupa Blog

Coupa is a company of talkers, passionate about sharing tips, tricks and advice for improving finance and procurement and saving companies of all sizes time and money. But we’re not the only people with opinions and ideas. We’d love to hear from you so join the conversation!

Let's put the service back in Software as a Service


The whole premise of SaaS, Software as a Service, is that organizations no longer need technical infrastructure or capabilities in order to optimize a business process with software. But, there’s a lot of marketing being done under the SaaS label, with only loose standardization around the definition of SaaS. What I’m seeing and hearing is that with some SaaS solutions, although you don’t have to host the software on your servers anymore, you still need the vendor or a technical IT team to manage and maintain the system. To me, that’s not really Software as a Service, and it gives everyone in the category a bad name.


This is not to dispute the legitimacy of hybrid models; those have their use cases. But if what you have in mind is to have your SaaS vendor manage the whole solution for you, there are a couple of things you should ask to make sure this is really the case so you don’t encounter any unexpected difficulties or expensive surprises down the road.



Every SaaS vendor is going to host the solution
off your premises, so you don’t have to worry about infrastructure. The second thing the SaaS provider should do is maintain the solution for you. You should not have to bring any skills to the table other than those required to actually operate the solution. It should be like driving a Zip Car. You pay your subscription fee, you have unlimited access to a car, you get in it and drive and someone else takes care of all the maintenance issues. This second area is where a lot of solutions fall down.


One thing you should ask in a sales cycle is how configuration changes are made. Do you need to have any special skills or assistance to change your configuration? The answer should be no. Once implementation is complete, business users should be able to make even advanced or complex changes to the configuration themsleves. It should be as easy as drag-and-drop, and with a lot of SaaS vendors it is. They’ve built in the capability for the business to manage the solution 100 percent of the time.


With some SaaS solutions though, you have to go back to the vendor to make certain changes, either because of architecture limitations or because they want to charge service fees for it, or for any number of reasons.


If your business is growing and changing, having to continually go back to the vendor with these requests impacts IT and slows the business down. It’s hard to get full value out of the solution if you can't change it fast enough to keep up with your needs, not to mention the fact that sometimes these vendor services bills can be several times the cost of your monthly subscription fee. It doesn’t make sense.


The second thing to ask about is what happens if your business goes global, or acquires another company? Does your subscription apply to distinct business units or charts of accounts within the same company, or do you have to buy another instance?  My company is expanding globally, and I was pretty shocked to find out from one of our SaaS vendors that we had to buy a completely new subscription, at considerable cost, to meet our needs.


All of this--hidden costs, time delays, lack of control-- dilutes the promise of SaaS. SaaS is not just about off-premise hosting. It’s about being able to change your business process when you need to and to be able to reconfigure the technology to support that. It’s about giving non-technical people full ownership and control over the solution.


Let’s put the service back in Software as a Service, so that once the vendor has done that initial implementation, the business can take over and drive.