It is difficult for small businesses to compete with large companies that monopolize the industry. But it seems that, currently, we are coming back to celebrating the niche, the small and the boutique, such as with craft beer or handmade clothing. One tool for the computing side of the small business, which makes it easier to compete with larger ones, is SaaS or Software-as-a-Service. This is where any software system the business needs, can be rented essentially from a provider. There are several advantages to this concept over traditional methods where the software is bought and an annual subscription paid. These include cost-effectiveness, the ability to access information from anywhere as its storage is cloud-based, no lengthy contracts and IT support available from the provider.
This all sounds very promising and perhaps you are chomping at the bit to sign up, however, there are some key points to consider beforehand to ensure adoption of a SaaS system is as simple, accurate and painless as possible.
Streamline your goals and objectives
To ensure you get the SaaS package that will best serve your needs, it is important to brainstorm and whittle down your company goals so that they become very clear and streamlined. Once you have a clear idea of where you are going, it is a lot easier to decide what mode of ‘transport’ to use to get there that will best fit your requirements. Aspects of the software to look out for are its scalability, its cost, ease of use and technical support provided. By doing due diligence at the start, you will save a lot of time in the long run.
Understand what you are being provided
Following along the same lines, it is incredibly important to ensure you know what provisions you are receiving by signing up with one company over another. When it is your business at stake and your ability to provide for your own customers, you need to be sure that you are receiving everything you need and that there will not be any glitches in the provision. Ensure you enquire about what the provider will do if the system goes down and how they will rectify it and support you. The last thing you want is to be left high and dry.
The other aspect of this, is to read the fine print very carefully so that you are privy to all the costs associated with the SaaS implementation. And we say associated costs, as sometimes extra hardware for example is required and not always are they expected to provide this. Make sure you understand your obligations to avoid issues later. A Service Level Agreement or SLA is a great place to start as it denotes what the provider is promising you and what happens if they fail to meet their responsibilities.
Ensure staff are on board
No system is completely smooth to implement and nothing is completely without problems, however what can dramatically improve your success of implementation is to ensure your staff are on board with embracing a new system and giving up the old. Sometimes this can be a very difficult concept for people, particularly if the old system, in their experience, worked fine. One way of making the transition easier is to ensure that sufficient training is available and provided by the hosting company of the SaaS.
One of the issues of SaaS is its heavy reliance on an internet connection. This is not a problem if you are a metropolitan, office-based business in the heart of a CBD. However, if you have site managers that operate in widespread locations that may be out of range of any cell towers, it is imperative that you have a system that can operate offline as well. The other thing to consider is ensuring your internet provider understands the reliance of your company’s operations on them and ask them what they can do to guarantee there will be no faults in the internet service. It might be worth, as with the SLA mentioned above, to ensure you have their obligations to you in writing to avoid any arguments or issues down the line.
Negate customer fears
Customers may not be aware or even be concerned with what system you use for your inventory management, however if they are, you may need to defend your decision so it is a good idea to ensure you have looked at every angle. Something they may be concerned about, and is something you should know and have control over, is your company’s data. Due to the SaaS being owned by another party and simply provided as a service to you, it is possible that they will retain rights to any data stored on their system. This does not necessarily have to be the case, so investigate what the policy of your preferred SaaS company is and ensure there is an agreement in writing detailing which entity owns the data. Once you have this in place, you can operate with peace of mind as well as having a satisfactory answer at the ready for your customers.
Is SaaS for my small business?
SaaS is a very affordable and reliable option for software implementation, however like with any important business decision, a lot of research must be done to ensure you are operating in the best interests of the company, your staff and your customers.
Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.