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What really matters when switching SaaS vendors

In evaluating SaaS vendors, we have heard them say that our company would be free and could easily switch to other vendors. What's true about this, and what is not? Can they offer interoperability? Are there gotchas we should be aware of?

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The 20th century French philosopher and Nobel Prize winner, Anatole France, once observed that rich and poor alike were free to sleep under bridges, though few rich people exercised that particular freedom. 

So many words like freedom are easy to use but open to interpretation. It’s true that most SaaS vendors will let you grab your data and go, just like the fast food drive-thru. But the fun is only beginning when you grab the bag. Where are you going to take it? And what are you going to do with it? If you’ve been collecting data on a SaaS service for a typical contract period, say three years, you will have decisions to make. Take all of it? Some? How much? Typically you can get a delimited file from a vendor but then you have to install it somewhere else so it’s a good idea to have a plan before you fire your incumbent.

As for interoperability, sure, but check with the specific vendors about their APIs and if you are not the technical authority in your company, involve those people because it will ultimately be their job to implement what you want.

Often, it isn’t so much a clean break that we want from a SaaS vendor; it’s the ability to use the same data in slightly different ways, thus creating an end-to-end business process. For example, a company might want to integrate Marketo marketing, Salesforce SFA and Xactly sales compensation management. All those vendors have open APIs and work together so you can find professional third parties to help with the job. So ask a lot of questions.

This was first published in May 2012

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