Thoughts on what businesses actually need from the Cloud, not what vendors wish they needed.

Chris Bliss

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SaaS needs a shoe store and staff: The problem with proof of concept and a new role for consultants

When you buy a pair of shoes you walk into a store, compare brands and styles, try them on, walk around, and leave with the pair that fits. Generally speaking, it’s an easy transaction that allows consumers the advantage of informed comparison and choice. Similarly, SaaS consumers want to know that the service they’re buying is the service that fits: they don’t want blisters and a product that sucks. In business terminology, they’re looking for “Proof of Concept” (POC), and with good reason: IT is the backbone of business and you want a system that works with, not against, your core business processes.

Most SaaS vendors approach POC by offering freemium accounts or trial periods for new users. It’s a good practice with long tradition (desktop software still has the “Sorry, your trial has expired” warning when you don’t register) and, to a certain degree, it works. As in the shoe store, it lets consumers know if the product fits, allowing them essential decision-making information.

The problem comes with quantity. There are literally thousands of SaaS offerings out there, most of which claim functionality across CRM, expensing, accounting, inventory management, etcetera. It’s a confusing young market with lots of good stuff, bad stuff and stuff in between, and it’s an easy place to get lost in. Unlike shoe stores, SaaS doesn’t have salespeople asking the right questions (what kinds of shoes do you need? what size are your feet?), and it doesn’t have a wall on which to compare products (though Google Marketplace tries). In fact, SaaS is even worse than all that because usually vendors aren’t objective in recommending their own products. It’s like being sold Nike shoes by a shoe salesperson who’s paid for by Nike. It’s a sub-optimal situation for consumers and needs to change.

Enter the modern IT consultant (or IT Vanguard, if we’re to heed previous posts). Today’s IT people need to do the hard work in demoing software, then extend that expertise to companies who need solutions but don’t have the time to demo them. We need objective salespeople who can identify a client’s needs and match them with appropriate products and services, without all the sales bullshit that vendors throw around. SaaS needs a shoe store and staff.

The problem with proof of concept is there are too many concepts for consumers to prove (or disprove). Today’s IT consultants should address that reality and integrate it as a core value in their service. Business is tired of blisters.

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Chris Bliss works at VM Associates, an end-user consultancy for businesses looking to move to the cloud from pre-existing legacy systems.