Custom SaaS solutions shouldn’t come at the price of speed

After spending some time with our client teams who were working on several SaaS and cloud initiatives in Japan, I was fascinated to see that adoption among enterprise-level organisations was not only accelerating but also adapting rapidly to...

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After spending some time with our client teams who were working on several SaaS and cloud initiatives in Japan, I was fascinated to see that adoption among enterprise-level organisations was not only accelerating but also adapting rapidly to local market needs.

Japanese businesses, for example, often demand more ‘tailored’ capabilities on a client by client basis. In the past, many were ‘off’ of the cloud, viewing cloud capabilities as ‘generic’ one-to-many offerings when actually, the opposite is true.

Cloud platforms like Force.com and MS Azure are resonating with clients precisely because they are able to meet these very tailored needs whilst also providing clients with the benefits of a highly leveraged infrastructure and common development toolset ‘in the cloud’. For example, one Japanese retail client migrated hundreds of custom Lotus Notes applications on to the Force.com platform, resulting in significant benefits at a fraction of the cost than if they were using on-premise platforms.

Another client in Japan, this time in financial services, was creating tailored applications integrated across marketing and telesales. Again, they were building custom components on the Force.com platform instead of using standard CRM. It was interesting to me how these organisations were not just embracing cloud platforms but were heavily customising them.

There are certainly varying use-cases for how these types of cloud platforms are being implemented. For IT application rationalisation, the themes are around speed and economies of scale: pumping custom apps through standardised low-cost migration processes, getting maximum reuse of common components both within and outside an enterprise.

In fact, Accenture created the ‘Accenture Cloud Application Factory’ for this purpose, which makes sense in this case where a mass ‘production line’ is a big advantage.

However, for more business-driven initiatives outside of IT app rationalisation, the approach is different. Speed is still crucially important, but it’s equally important to focus on quantifiable business value as well. Some companies who lacked this focus are finding that their initial forays into the cloud have stalled, or worse, are starting to unwind. Looking closely at these cases, they all fell under a common trap. They worked off a false premise based on a single question: “How do we do this in the Cloud?”

What they were missing was a key qualifier to the question: “What should we do and then how do we do it in the Cloud?” It sounds simple but it’s an easy trap to fall into, particularly because the custom development capabilities in the Cloud are now so much stronger. It’s often easy to re-create what we have than to solve some underlying business questions, like “What behaviour change are we seeking to create?” or “What change is necessary for the business process?”

One company ran into exactly the issue where they had effectively re-created their custom rules for lead distribution on a cloud platform and then realised that they were not getting the level of adoption they desired across the indirect channel partners that they rolled out to. In this case, they had over-customised instead of reengineering the business process and improving the configuring of standard data objects.

This is a common concern from many clients, but it can work both ways. Some clients fail to achieve the targeted business value because they blindly accept compromises to avoid customisation. The Japanese financial services client I mentioned earlier was very purposeful about how their customisation was going to drive business value. In this way, clients need to consider the trade-off decisions between standardisation and customisation in the cloud as in any environment.

All this talk about ‘business value’ may strike fear into some clients’ minds as they imagine long strategy projects with implementations that could last months or even years. Such a drawn-out approach is certainly a ‘death-nail’ to any SaaS or cloud program.

Implementation speed isn’t a just a ‘nice-to-have’, it’s an essential element to the success of these programs. Part of the value of cloud is the ability to move at speed and iterate in a more agile approach.

Consequently, successful companies are harnessing this ‘value-driven’ approach but doing it within rapid implementations - truly getting the most out of the SaaS and the Cloud. So whether it be in Japan where custom cloud development reigns or elsewhere where minimising cloud customisation is top-of-mind, the focus is the same in terms of staying clear of the traps: ask the right questions up front, consider the trade-offs and move at speed.


Blog post by Saideep Raj, Global SaaS Lead, Accenture

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