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The SaaS approach to deploying software solutions is emerging and evolving. As customers continue to expand their acceptance of SaaS, as existing software vendors seek to take advantage of this model and as more new SaaS vendors emerge, it is helpful to develop an architectural model that encompasses all of the issues a SaaS offering may need to address.
Faster implementations, automatic upgrades, increased software flexibility, and higher customer responsiveness all are needed to increase your software's value. These change the application software cost/benefit equation and enhances the customer ownership experience for the better. SaaS providers have to design and operate their software using a new approach that results in a higher value, but with a far lower cost structure. While on the surface SaaS offerings will look the same as hosted legacy software, it is not always the same “under the covers”. SaaS offerings have several characteristics that lower costs and increase value significantly for customers, both up-front and over time. Many costs that legacy software providers incur are completely eliminated by a SaaS vendor's product design and business model, so the SaaS vendor can deploy its resources in ways that provide far higher value to customers. SaaS solutions are architected to be extremely configurable to avoid customizations. The terms customization and personalization are sometimes used distinctively and sometimes interchangeably. Personalization is often used to describe presenting content to individual users based on knowledge of who they are and customization is thought of as defining certain preferences that affect how an application behaves. Providing functionality in a SaaS application to allow customers and their users to configure the solution according to their specific needs (as opposed to code changes) is critical to achieving the goal of providing a single application shared by everyone. This requires careful thought, advance planning and design in the overall application.
The key to success is to provide as much configurability in your application as possible. Thus code customization and implementation delays that customers typically incur in an on-premise solution are completely eliminated, both during initial implementation and with each upgrade, removing another significant cost of ownership for customers.
Delivery of the SaaS application via the web lowers the deployment costs associated with the application, and expands the reach to more end-users. The key to remember is to keep it as simple as possible for users to find what they need and understand what to do next. The old standard concepts of top navigation to get to the main areas of an application and sub navigation to get to the different functions within a main area has become so well known that virtually anyone with any experience clicking around the web will feel comfortable following this general paradigm.
Most existing ISVs do not transform their applications overnight, but instead do so as their SaaS business evolves. Many have developed a “playbook” to guide the evolution of their offerings. The playbook does not start or end with the technology, but rather focuses on the new business opportunities that can be built around SaaS-based technology.
Progress Software recently developed a series of Whitepapers that outline the Architectural components to be considered when developing a SaaS application. Go to PSDN Online to access the SaaS Expertise Center to view these SaaS Architectural overview papers. http://www.psdn.com/library/kbcategory.jspa?categoryID=2129 And as always – any questions or comments – let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colleen Smith is Vice President, Customer Advocacy at Progress. In this role, she is responsible for ensuring customer focus and accountability for improving the company’s relationship with its customers and partners, as it relates to the use of Progress core products. Smith joined the company in 2005 with 20 years of enterprise software marketing, sales and product strategy experience, and has helped transform software companies into industry leaders, built strategic partnerships, designed acquisition strategies and moved companies through aggressive growth stages.
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