How do you customize SaaS applications?

My company wants to invest in SaaS applications, but we don't want to lose the ability to customize. We've been able to tailor our on-premises applications to our needs and have heard that some SaaS applications aren't as customizable. What are our options?

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This used to be an issue, but most Software as a Service (SaaS) vendors have figured out ways to enable complete customization.  There are two approaches to customization, and at least two approaches to SaaS or cloud applications. The approach you use tells a lot about the kind of SaaS you use. Barebones SaaS simply hosts a conventional application in a data center in the sky, and customizing that kind of SaaS is just like doing it on premises.

If you want a more advanced approach to SaaS or cloud computing -- where, for example, you have access to a large family of apps already integrated and offering customization through a common tool set -- then you need to investigate a vendor with those capabilities.  That means a tool set and common "stack" or services including middleware, database, operating system and development languages. Vendors offering either kind of SaaS are abundant, so check out several and ask yourself which is right for you.  My personal preference is a vendor with a platform and technology set over an ecosystem of other applications. In many cases, the customization might already be done to your liking as it frequently involves integration issues.

This was first published in October 2012

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