Getting Closer to Users a Less Acclaimed-But Important-SaaS Benefit

Ann All
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Eight Insights on the True Value of SaaS

Cloud computing and SaaS bring so much more to the table than simple outsourcing.

Nobody's better at ferreting out problems with software than users, a point software developer Mark Bernstein makes in a guest post for The Atlantic. Even the busiest developers should make time for tech support, he writes:

Users are great at finding problems. Users are plentiful; they try surprising things; they sometimes have whimsical ideas about how the software works. Listening closely to tech support gives you a good sense of what needs to be polished and how your software is actually used. It also reminds you how much the software matters to people's work and how hard people's work actually is.

Problem is, as Bernstein explains earlier in his post, developers "have mixed feelings about tech support" because they are so busy.

 

Rick Chapman, managing editor and publisher of Softletter, has another, far more caustic take on developers gathering user feedback, which is supposed to be a key tenet of agile software development. Warning: Readers will probably find Chapman's take-no-prisoners style very funny or very offensive. The main theme of his post, which ends in a lively exchange of opinions between Chapman and several readers who disagree with him, is the ineffectiveness of product managers on agile development teams.

 

Almost at the very end of his post, Chapman makes what I think is an interesting point about gathering user feedback from within the software-as-a-service application environment. Thirty-eight percent of the 140 SaaS vendors responding to a June Softletter poll include a "new features or capabilities" request mechanism for customers directly within their application environments, while 28 percent plan to add such a capability. Thus, writes Chapman, "... smart SaaS companies are learning to use their application platform itself as the mechanism for requirements management."


 

Also, 49 percent of respondents said their product incorporates a customer usage tracking analytics system, while 21 percent plan to add this feature. Chapman writes:

... SaaS companies are rapidly learning that SaaS products offer potentially unparalleled insight into what, when, and how often particular features within the application environment are used. Combined with integrated reporting, a SaaS provider can quickly build a profile on customer feature usage and acceptance of unparalleled accuracy and timeliness (and do it from the desk).

In addition to all of the most frequently cited benefits of SaaS-low upfront cost, reduction in capital spending, reduced reliance on IT staff, quicker deployment times-it seems we can add responsiveness to user feedback.

 

Far fewer folks surveyed by Softletter already had or were planning to add community creation and management systems to their products. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they had no plans for such a system.

 

However, Chapman points out the number of companies with these systems is higher among more mature SaaS companies. Thirty-two percent of companies in business eight or more years had them, vs. 18 percent of all respondents. And, he says, he thinks the numbers in all three categories (capabilities request mechanism, customer usage analytics, and community creation and management) will grow.

 

He wraps his post:

And this is w[h]ere you should be placing your financial resources. Not in useless Agile product management training, but instead in building out, integrating the abilities discussed above, and learning how to leverage your application to take advantage of the unique characteristics of all SaaS products: their ability to aggregate all customer interaction with your product, communicate with all customers, and learn directly by observing and analyzing customers working with your system.


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