SaaS applications integration: Strategies and best practices for success
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The SaaS model seems an ideal choice for global-minded companies. It promotes a common code base spanning many users and connects multiple organizations through selective information sharing. But when companies like Popeyes are juggling multiple SaaS applications and vendors -- IBM-hosted Microsoft Exchange email and a Convergys (CVG) Lawson ERP system -- along with their own software, how can organizations manage the onslaught?
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What is SaaS application management?
At its dawn, SaaS often infiltrated a company through a lone user, like a manager buying into a productivity-oriented app. Nowadays, Forrester Research Inc. projects that the SaaS global market will skyrocket from $25.5 billion in 2011 to $159.3 billion in 2020. Obviously, SaaS has secured a strong foothold in business.
With the rapidly growing SaaS vendor pool, which includes Salesforce.com and SAP's SuccessFactors, and the consequent volume of SaaS products, companies need outside help to manage and maintain their numerous apps. SaaS application management comprises the strategies and tools companies are implementing to deal with their new model.
What problems is the proliferation of SaaS applications causing for business managers?
Business managers are often eager to implement the SaaS model because of its cost efficiency, flexibility and wide reach, yet they are also less cognizant than tech counterparts of how such new programs fit into their existing enterprise landscape. Integrating existing systems and software with new SaaS products proves particularly challenging for users who are forced to puzzle together an assortment of applications in order to meet business objectives without compromising current in-house apps.
Are there security concerns?
If IT is out of the loop about "stealth" SaaS applications, an organization's security and consequently its data integrity could be at risk.
Even if IT is clued in, end users are in the hands of SaaS vendors, as some of the business's information is stored in the service provider's data center. Although this takes the pressure of data management off the organization itself, businesses are often wary of forfeiting control of their information to a third party. This unease is amplified by the fact that businesses don't know how their service providers secure their data and what back-up procedures are in place to protect it. Because of this, it is crucial to hash out a sturdy service-level agreement (SLA) contract.
What is an SLA contract, and how can you find a good one?
The SLA, which typically has a lifespan of a year but can last up to five, details what services a SaaS vendor will provide and the repercussions if it fails to deliver. However, vendors have recently been caught slacking on SLAs, creating lax agreements that lean on generalized vows to do better next time rather than issuing specific promises to end users. But companies need not let vendors dictate all the terms. Instead, users should hunt until they find a SaaS provider that will meet their specific needs, and then go over its SLA with a fine-toothed comb. Finally, make sure to haggle on downtime compensation -- it's the most negotiable part of an SLA, according to experts.
What are the technical considerations?
The good news first: SaaS has strong compatibility and collaboration capabilities. It can provide users with a single software version across the board, ultimately allowing global accessibility. Compared to a traditional ASP/hosting outsourcing model, SaaS's Web-based environment improves economic value by adding flexibility and scalability. And because performance is measured with built-in analytics, vendors are able to make continuous enhancements based on data feedback. The resulting productivity growth has inspired other services as well, including cloud, Integration as a Service and Platform as a Service.
However, SaaS's constant updating also poses some technical issues. SaaS doesn't allow businesses to use old product versions, leaving them susceptible to bugs and "teething" problems before new version kinks can be smoothed out. Other potential technical shortcomings include data models that are inconsistent with enterprise standards and poor or missing integration with existing enterprise applications. Performance issues include slow up-time, data loss and vendor lock in.
Are there tools to help manage SaaS applications?
Luckily, despite the hiccups in the SaaS model, its growing ubiquity has inspired a host of integration tool vendors. New breed systems integrators (SIs) erected specifically for the SaaS world have begun cropping up, including Appirio, which joins powerhouses Amazon, Facebook, Google and Salesforce.com, and ModelMetrics, which enables app use in mobile environments.
SaaS spans both on-premises and on-demand apps. And that has triggered specialized vendor tools for integration. Some tools allow you to download Web-based SaaS applications to an on-premises environment while others are designed as on-premises or cloud solutions.
Data can now be managed and integrated using these third party sources; however, it takes expertise to match the tool to the enterprise. Thankfully, initially skeptical ITs are warming to the idea of realizing end-user needs through SaaS application management.
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