Today, empires run using the SaaS model. Enterprises like Salesforce, Microsoft Office and GoToMeeting are SaaS-based. Startups like Spotify, and Basecamp are also SaaS-based. SaaS Products, which stands for "Software as a Service" – are some of the best ways to develop software that can serve millions of customers over web and mobile though a rapid, flexible software framework.

SaaS is a way to create products for customers and businesses alike without needing to transfer code ownership. SaaS providers like Salesforce and Spotify retain their intellectual property, while still supporting a rapidly-growing customer base across mobile and non-mobile devices.

Today, SaaS Products are highly effective for multiple reasons. Why? They're easily updatable. They can serve multiple customers and businesses simultaneously. They create recurring sources of revenue. They make protect businesses by retaining code IP. They can be tiered and modular based on the needs of customers.

SaaS Development Basics

  • Easier Customer Acquisition

    SaaS Products are built around the concept of subscriptions. From project management tools to data storage systems, a good SaaS product lets users try the product en masse for free to whet their appetite for potential customers.

  • Single Sign-on

    SaaS Products live on the cloud, so every user should needs to be logged in through an ID. Because the account creation process is so tedious, SaaS apps can use Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin to let users log-in, without forcing them to create yet another account.

  • Modularized Features

    SaaS products make it easy to add features over time. As customers request more functionality, SaaS allows businesses to add new components to their product offering, and when ready, place them on the market for use for new and existing buyers.

  • Business First

    Businesses and enterprises are continuing to adopt cloud and web-based technologies. Some of the most successful SaaS technology firms like Salesforce know this – and are rapidly engineering software to target corporations for maximum profitability.

  • Upsell-ability

    SaaS Products are about locking in customers through your value. We think through SaaS so that you can specifically take existing customers, and help them organically buy upgrades and feature additions – tying them further into your business, and making them work more.

  • Multi-tenancy

    Today, businesses and consumers are worried enough about security and data-breaches. By structuring your application scalably from the beginning, we ensure that your customers’ data is secure and private, giving them more peace of mind about trusting you.

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Why Successful SaaS Projects Rest with the Human Element

When it comes to software as a service (SaaS) projects a majority of focus for project managers, business analysts, and programmers may be technical, but the human factor should never be ignored. User adoption and end-user training are the final and arguably most important checkpoint for a project.

If users detest the software or suffer from disrupted workflows as a result, the entire project can be deemed a failure. Communicating with customers who will use the platform and observing their workflows in the existing business environment are some steps to take to alleviate the chance of poor user adoption.

By thoroughly understanding the pros and cons of the existing software setup, development teams and business analysts can gear the project towards those ends. Building on the successful existing components while avoiding the weaknesses of the current system are key strategies for creating an enterprises across the board are creating custom apps.

Observe the Existing Business Environment

While choosing a technology stack and assessing the IT infrastructure of an organization are critical, observing end-users in their actual business environment is paramount. The truth is that a SaaS application which meets technical requirements may fail to achieve usability in the eyes of a business user.

This issue has led to a wider trend in SaaS development within the enterprise as well as for consumer products. Front-end designers who build the user interface are collaborating more extensively with the back-end programmers. And both designers and programmers are becoming increasingly knowledgeable of the link between technology and business processes.

Due to this shake up in development, the end SaaS product is more aligned with the technical feature capabilities needed for the application while not ignoring ease-of-use and intuitive design. For most SaaS projects, development teams and business analysts should observe business users in their natural environment to better align the creation of new software.

What is their preferred device type? Are there aspects and functionality within the current system that are highly valued by employees? Or are there blatant weaknesses that already plague a worker’s? With this information in hand, the development team can align the replacement software application to solve or build upon those areas.

This prevents mishaps in terms of disrupting the workflow of employees. Change is always difficult, but learning from the existing setup contributes to a better aligned road-map for moving forward.

Socializing SaaS and Training End-Users

Training and teaching users to operate a new back-end system or SaaS application is critical for user adoption. Without someone there to physically show a user how to accomplish tasks and adapt to a new piece of software, users are much more likely to give up and ignore it. Although clear and precise documentation and training manuals are important, face-to-face interaction between software teams and end-users is highly effective.

Case in point, when it comes to SaaS – a recent research study found that "22% of all reported problems were people-related or linked to user adoption." After countless software implementations at Icreon Tech, we’ve learned that the best method for a seamless technology update requires extensive person-to-person interaction. In addition to the initial training, it is also suggested to have a set system in place for communicating and solving issues from end-users to the software or IT team.

By acknowledging the fact that users will have issues and will resist change, software teams and an organization’s leadership team can better strategize a SaaS implementation. In the end, we cannot force SaaS on a user but we can remove some of the grit and grime from adopting a new system.

Providing Support for SaaS

While some business-users may jump at the chance to adopt a new SaaS system into their workflow, there can be an equal number of individuals who resist new applications for a number of reasons.

In addition to thoroughly understanding the current workflows and day-to-day tasks of end-users, software teams must introduce the new application and provide assistance during the roll-out. The more interaction with the people that will use the software and those that actually build it, the more likely a seamless launch and roll-out.

Why SaaS should take a Cue from the Consumer Space

It is becoming apparent that the average person enjoys using apps more than surfing the web while on a mobile device. And in the enterprise space mobile apps are emitting an undeniable influence on the creation of applications for business users.

With Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, custom enterprise app stores, and the use of smartphones and tablets, consumer mobile apps are setting the standard for software in business.

SaaS companies such as Workday and Salesforce pride themselves on the high performance and intuitive design of their apps (which are up-to-par with top apps in Apple and Google's app stores). Throughout enterprises across the globe, IT and software development teams are taking a cue from consumer apps. Also referred to as 'The Consumerization of IT', enterprise SaaS is beginning to resemble some of the top consumer apps around.

Leaders in Consumerized SaaS: Salesforce, Workday, and Box

One of the most recent successful SaaS IPOs belonged to Workday. Workday specializes in HR software made available through web applications and mobile apps.

The usability, the interface, and the visual design of the app make it feel like something from the Apple App Store. But rather than distribute it through the app store, Workday offers its SaaS directly to enterprises. Tweaks and customization can then be implemented to adapt Workday's app offerings to the specifics of an organization.

Development teams and companies offering SaaS like Workday, are mastering the approach to touch devices, mobile app user interface (UI) trends, and light-weight agile performance.

Salesforce is another leader at the forefront of 'The Consumerization of IT' as it relates to enterprise SaaS. Founder and CEO Marc Benioff, famously stated that he was inspired directly by a conversation with Steve Jobs to build Salesforce as the most user friendly customer relationship management (CRM) software around.

With companies like Salesforce, Workday and Box leading the way, it’s easy to see how consumer friendly type apps are proliferating in the enterprise SaaS.

Distribution of SaaS Has Also Evolved

Traditionally, installing SaaS and maintaining updates across a fleet of workers was incredibly intensive compared to the way software is distributed in the enterprise today.

Now in many of todays leading organizations, IT teams are creating custom SaaS applications. Downloading and accessing the latest iteration of the software is now as easy as logging in from a smartphone, or the web application.

Securing and administering updates has also profoundly changed. There are also full-fledged management solutions for app distribution and mobile device management (MDM). MDM solutions are software applications built to manage a fleet of mobile workers and enterprise apps.

Google is currently pushing their popular Chrome App Store to enterprises. With conferencing SaaS applications like Hangouts, document collaboration via Docs and Sheets, as well as viable productivity apps already available. Currently the company is releasing a set of APIs to help enterprises leverage Chrome as a platform for enterprise applications.

Not only has the consumer space influenced enterprise SaaS development, it has also completely changed the way organizations distribute apps to employees.

The Consumer Friendly Enterprise

With the average American spending more than 60 hours per week using a variety of devices, people have great expectations when it comes to SaaS in business. Compared to Microsoft Excel or old versions of QuickBooks, today’s smartphone and tablet apps are drastic progressions.

Business users expect their company's enterprise software to perform as smoothly as those at the top of the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

How UI Can Make or Break SaaS Products

In today's technology-driven world, designing a friendly user-interface (UI) is one of the most challenging jobs. Even veteran web designers are having issues acclimating to mobile. Unless a UI satisfies the users’ expectations, an app will have little value for on-the-go mobile users. It might include all the necessary functions and features, but users must be comfortable with an intuitive UI.

Every business user has a different approach for a preferred UI for SaaS. The focus should be on meeting their business expectations while attending to their own tastes and preferences. Emulating trendy design styles won’t help. Focusing on the user is the only way to create an interface that sticks.

Strong communication channels between the development team and potential users, end-user documentation, and effective feedback systems are central to optimizing user adoption. So let's take a look at the processes that lead to an effective UI and a great end-user experience in the enterprise.

Business Workflows and UI Design

Consistent iteration of the UI of SaaS products should also be kept into consideration. Location of buttons in UI, color schemes and wordings in message labels should be experimented with throughout the app. The more intuitive the interface is, the easier it is to use.

And the best way to identify if a UI is intuitive or not is to continually receive feedback and apply the insight. This lowers down training and support costs by developing an app that melds with their existing preferences.

A successful SaaS product rests with identifying and incorporating the needs of users. When introducing a new app, there is a serious chance of disrupting processes and taking away from the productivity and efficiency gains. Constant communication with intended users is the only way to ensure the software will meld with their existing workflows.

IT teams must commit to consistent feedback and iteration sessions. They should establish a deep understanding of the preferred software systems used by employees. The more you constantly communicate with them, the more insight a team will have of their needs.

Inquiries related to their preferred device types and favorite apps will provide great insight into their ideal UI. These proactive strategies serve to build a SaaS product that aligns with user requirements. While developers focus on technical aspects of the app, designers need to emphasize usability.

An effective road-map should be created and followed strictly so that both teams work together to achieve business objectives.

End-User Training and Effective Support Systems

Initial training sessions should be organized for end users to attain their maximum comfort level. Without someone dedicated to helping users with UI related issues, they will likely ignore the software.

Well-prepared training materials and end-user documentation should also be delivered. These materials contain technical as well as interface-related information and serves to support users at some later stage. For long term user adoption, these documents are essential for answering potential issues down the road.

Technically-sound support systems also help in gaining the confidence of end-users. Support should be provided during the roll-out phase. Interacting more with the user will result in a seamless launch and higher usability of the app.

Usability is Crucial to Enterprise SaaS ROI

UI plays a significant role in making or breaking SaaS. Although the business functionality is important but the way the software provides it to users is just as important. No matter if your software is technically excellent, if your users don’t like it they won’t use it, and ROI will not be achieved.

To build effective SaaS, don't underestimate the value of UI design and its usability. Focus on them from start and you will deliver a user-friendly app with a user experience that leads to greater productivity.

Create Better SaaS Products with Design Thinking

Enterprise software products have never been known for being photogenic. Run a quick Google Image search, and you’ll find it extremely difficult to find screenshots of a CRM or an ERP platform. Instead, what you get are word clouds about software features, vague flowcharts and brand logos.

Many would blame the nondescript, blocky nature of enterprise software for this problem, but the reality is much different.

Wordclouds and flowcharts are not a solution for ugly enterprise software, but are instead a symptom of one of the biggest issues plaguing enterprise software development today—an issue that we refer to as “Feature Thinking."

In the past, when we've thought about what differentiates SaaS, we would think in terms of features. Features are a great way of quantifying the value of a product, but they can actually harm a SaaS project when used as an end goal. Why? Because people don’t use SaaS for its features. Good enterprise software should be more than the sum of its parts.

To sell a beautiful, rustic brick house, it would not help to post pictures of individual adobe slabs or glass panes or roof shingles—even if the shingles were made of state-of-the-art material. More importantly, a builder would never let materials dictate the way they decided to build the house. Just as homeowners want a home that complements their lifestyle, end users want software that makes their job easier. In the grand scheme of things, the bricks don’t matter, the shingles don’t matter, and the individual features within your SaaS don’t matter. What matters is the way different elements combine to form an experience that best serves the end user.

When we see these vague wordclouds and flowcharts that are supposed to communicate the value of enterprise software, what we’re really seeing are lists of features. That’s why they’re ineffective, and that’s why we need a different approach to SaaS development that doesn’t revolve around feature fulfillment.

The answer here lies in "Design Thinking," a process which jettisons Feature Thinking and seeks first to determine the wants of the end user. By keeping user desires as a guiding light, Design Thinking allows developers to create SaaS products that are both helpful and intuitive.

In 2007, Intuit implemented the ideals of Design Thinking in their "Design for Delight" approach. With a focus on customer empathy, a “broad-to-narrow” approach, and iteration with customers, this user-based methodology has been a part of their development process ever since. In addition to new visual improvements, Intuit has gone so far as to track user eye movements and heat maps in order to improve overall experience.

The most intriguing facet of Design Thinking is that it blurs the line between product design and product functionality. In some ways, it can be more difficult to create a product using this methodology because it requires a deep understanding of what the user wants, and then requires the foresight and execution to fulfill those wants in software form.

Design Thinking offers some of the best solutions to deal with the current realities of SaaS development. Every time we at Icreon have focused first on what the end user wants, we’ve been able to come up with more innovative, more useful ideas that ultimately speak for themselves. What’s best is that this approach is flexible, and works in small and medium-sized business settings just as well as it works in the enterprise setting. By ditching the idea of features and specs as an end goal and implementing Design Thinking, businesses can kill two birds with one stone: They create SaaS that is intuitive, and which also translates smoothly into a visual setting.