How to trial SaaS without upending your network, UX, or budget

Organizations can run into trouble when they don’t approach SaaS acquisition with clear processes.
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· 4 min read

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) can offer advantages to many organizations looking to replace legacy systems or build new functionality, including flexibility, scalability, and the potential cost savings of on-demand service.

But choosing between the innumerable SaaS enterprise services and determining which solution works best—from initial evaluation to trialing and planning eventual implementation—can be a complicated process. Experts who spoke with IT Brew had tips on how to navigate those steps without upending users’ experience and with minimal disruption.

Identify the key requirements up front. Frank Scavo, president of Avasant Research, told IT Brew that one critical factor is the strength of an organization’s formal processes for identifying key requirements.

“It’s like going to the grocery store without a shopping list,” Scavo said. “You’re gonna come back with beer and chips.”

For example, Scavo said, a small to midsize company evaluating a CRM system would have to distinguish whether it needs to handle B2B, B2C, or multichannel interactions, and task a core group of users to practice test data against that system—the most important factor being whether it fits those core needs.

“In the old days, you could not easily do a proof of concept with an old on-premises system, because you still had to install it, you still had to configure it, [and] fill and set up the database,” Scavo said. “Those steps have been greatly reduced if not eliminated with modern SaaS solutions.”

Ben Pippenger, co-founder and chief business development and strategy officer at SaaS management platform Zylo, told IT Brew that organizations should conceptualize what’s wrong with a current system before replacing it.

“Do my employees like using it? Are they using it? Are we using the full capabilities that we purchased?” Pippenger suggested asking. “I want to make sure I’m understanding all those elements of the system I’m replacing,” he said.

Determining whether the new system will play nice with legacy ones can become an “enterprise architecture question more than like a contracting or trial question,” Pippenger added.

Check your references, scan those contracts. SaaS sales pitches may make claims about factors like effectiveness, guaranteed uptime, level of support, or cost savings that are hard to independently verify—which is why the experts say it’s important to comb reviews, ask for references, and check with industry colleagues.

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“Outside of getting feedback from your peer set and getting reference calls…you usually do need to take the word of the vendor a lot of times in those scenarios, and then just make sure you’re protected in the contract,” Pippenger said.

Scavo warned that buyers often leave themselves vulnerable to cost overruns by failing to understand pricing models. Failing to adequately anticipate how SaaS providers’ pricing might work in relation to sizing could saddle them with cost overruns.

“Some of them are priced by number of users, some of them are priced by the number of records, [or] a CRM system might be priced by the number of contacts [and] they don’t care how many emails you send out,” Scavo told IT Brew.  “It’s important to understand the basis that you’re being charged at and manage that very carefully.”

Don’t ‘boil the ocean.’ Pippenger told IT Brew that when trialing SaaS, prospective customers should try not to lose focus on the fundamental question: whether it hits those core business requirements.

“I would definitely recommend going through it and carving off a very specific use case that you’re trying to get to as part of that trial,” Pippenger said. “You start to boil the ocean, and it’s no longer a trial, it’s now an implementation.”

Scavo said the most common mistake when moving to operational implementation of a new SaaS system is a lack of contingency plans.

“If something doesn’t work, how do we fall back or recover to the old system? That’s probably the most important part,” Scavo asked.

“It’s easier with two SaaS providers because it is an on-demand system, your old system and your new system,” Scavo added. “So, you can keep the old one running during the period where you’re making that transition…it gives you a little more flexibility.”—TM

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Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to cloud computing, IT Brew covers the latest trends shaping business tech in our 4x weekly newsletter, virtual events with industry experts, and digital guides.