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How to choose a SaaS provider

Upon purchasing a non-SaaS application such as Microsoft Office quite often this is the last time you will make contact with your software vendor until you require an upgrade or need some form of support.

Purchasing a SaaS application is an entirely different ballgame.  Upon selecting your SaaS partner you’re entering in to a long term mutually beneficial relationship.  Your chosen SaaS vendor owns, hosts and updates the software and hardware you rely upon to use your chosen SaaS application.  This saves you masses of time in maintaining the application leaving you to tend to more important matters; however this arrangement does increase your reliance upon your vendor.

This guide is designed to assist you in selecting your SaaS partner and arm you with questions to direct to any potential SaaS vendor.

Key SaaS vendor questions

Can you import your existing data in to the new application?

Rather than manually entering your data in to your selected SaaS application a good SaaS app will offer you the ability to quickly import your data using a wizard.  So for example if you were to migrate from Sage Line 50 to a SaaS accountancy application the SaaS application should provide the tools you require to move your existing customer and accounts data seamlessly in to the new application.

Does your chosen provider offer a service level agreement (SLA)?

When you rely on a SaaS application downtime will cost you money.  To avoid this scenario ensure that your SaaS vendor offers guarantees as part of their terms and conditions that their service is robust enough to guarantee 100% uptime or as close to this figure as possible.

Is the provider an industry expert?

A SaaS vendor without industry knowledge will be slow to react to changes in their industry preventing them from staying one step ahead of the competition.  Make sure you don’t suffer as a consequence of this by checking the credentials of your SaaS vendor.  Are they members of any industry specific associations or independently accredited?  For example, payroll SaaS vendors  can earn HMRC accreditation.

Who are the providers existing customers?

Don’t be afraid to contact the SaaS vendor and ask to speak with their existing customers to hear their thoughts on the application.  Better still, source feedback on a particular SaaS application by asking an open question in the SaaS vendor’s forums if they offer one.  SaaS vendors are often more transparent than traditional software vendors and encourage open dialogue on their forums to ensure that customer feedback is used to improved the application.

Is the SaaS vendor financially stable?

Imagine spending months adding your personal or business data to your shiny new SaaS application only for the business behind the application to go bust.  Unfortunately SaaS vendors are not immune to the usual business problems such as lack of income.  Make sure that your chosen vendor is well established, check the health of your potential SaaS vendor’s accounts using a Companies House Web Check.  Better still, credit check your SaaS vendor using the inexpensive business credit check service.  A little upfront investigative work could save you weeks of wasted effort later on.

Customisation and integration?

A typical SaaS application of good quality should allow you to customise your experience to meet your specific business or personal needs.  For example a SaaS invoicing application should allow you to modify the design of the invoices it is capable of producing by adding your logo and entering text in the invoice footer.

A sign of a good quality SaaS application is the availability of an Application Programming Interface, or API for short.  This interface can be used to programmatically push and pull information to and from the application.  If an API is available third parties will often create add-ons for your chosen SaaS application providing even more functionality.

How does the vendor charge for their application?

Avoid any vendor that charges on an annual basis or attempts to lock you in to a long term agreement of any sort.  Instead look for a vendor that charges on either a pay as you go (PAYG) or monthly basis ensuring that you can cease using their service without incurring any additional cost.  The SaaS charging model should ensure that you receive better value for money with no costly upfront license payments.