In my last post, I provided a minimum definition of true SaaS and described the potential benefits for both vendors and customers who adhere to this now well-established concept in enterprise software. But the potential benefits are only realized as vendors move from delivering the basics of true SaaS to what I call SaaS InFullBloom, so perhaps I should trademark that phrase. Unlike the minimalist definition of true SaaS, knowing what else goes into achieving SaaS InFullBloom depends on the nature of the applications, the target market, the scope of functionality to be delivered, the geography and industry-specific readiness to take advantage/access specific capabilities, and many more factors. That said, there really are a core of preferred architectural behaviors which, taken together, separate garden variety true SaaS from great SaaS, aka SaaS InFullBloom.
SaaS done well is all about great software architecture and development practices — as well as about great capabilities that are consumed easily by customers. True SaaS, with just multi-tenancy, became mere table stakes in 2011; SaaS done well is an important indicator of durable success for the vendor and their customers. SaaS done well is about delivering on all of the potential business benefits of true SaaS.
So what’s SaaS InFullBloom? Here’s my list, in no particular order, of those preferred architectural behaviors:
- Elegant, extensive, and fully effective-dated configuration capabilities, to include pre-release snadboxes, regression testing tools, plenty of configuration and feature guidance delivered through the software (see the next bullet for more on this point), and a heavy dose of user (i.e. manager, employee, non-employee worker, applicant, beneficiary — everybody!) insight about the many places where not only the customer’s administrators but also those many users will want to and/or need to adapth the software to how they choose to work. SaaS done well can meet your special needs and retain configurations through each upgrade. SaaS done well can be embedded with the configurations needed to support specific types of work and workers, the regulatory requirements of specific industries and geographies, and the unique business rules and practices of individual organizations, with those configurations done by properly trained business analysts rather than by developers.
- Interrogatory configuration, which takes prospects from their earliest interactions with the vendor right through their repeated implementation cycles as their selected vendor releases several major functional releases each year along with the more frequent releases of regulatory and similar updates, has the potential for changing fundamentally the cost of sales, the elapsed time to revenue, and the underlying dynamics of the whole ecosystem of systems consultants for those HRM SaaS vendors whose underlying architectures lend themselves to dynamic configuration and whose business model sees the promise and are willing to invest in these capabilities. What TurboTax has done for US tax filing — making it possible for normal people to navigate arguably the most arcane concoction of business rules ever created — is what interrogatory configuration is intended to do for unleashing the capabilities of enterprise software.
- Extensive and easily set up cross-tenant and cross-geography inheritance of every type of embedded intelligence, from the obvious regulatory rules to those proprietary materials like competency models and dictionaries, salary surveys and compensation planning guidance, which result from the partnering of HRM consultancies which have built those proprietary materials with HRM SaaS vendors who can delivery that material as embedded intelligence throughout the relevant processes at minimal additional cost whether client-specific or vendor-provided, improves service quality and business outcomes.
- Models-based/definitional applications development, which is the state of the art in building business applications software, means there’s no procedural code written to create individual applications or configurations. Instead, there’s a ton of metadata that’s shared cross-tenant and then configured further by tenant. This approach to development is quite difficult to achieve because it requires considerable upfront investment in the necessary foundation tools (which, to my knowledge and specifically for the HRM domain, cannot simply be bought to support the complexity of some of these other preferred behaviors). But it offers such an enormous potential for improvement in the cost/time/quality metrics of bringing new funcionality to market that this now bleeding edge approach to HRM SaaS may create just the edge needed for newer arrivals to blow past their more established competitors.
- Extensive and easily set up cross-tenant data aggregation — with the permission of all the relevant parties, for crowdsourcing, benchmarking, and many other forms of cross-tenant collaboration.
- Systemic effective-dating – of business data, business rules, embedded intelligence, applications and application foundations. This is extremely difficult to do when applications are written via traditional procedural languages and much easier when it can be built into the fabric of a models-based/definitional development platform. But the payoff to customers in such a date-laden domain as HRM is in the huge reduction in errors, work-arounds, manual/shadow/logging side systems, sticky notes, mass changes (which are really about correcting what should have been correct in the first place), and the ever popular but oh so cumbersome audit database.
- Fully automated retrospective, retroactive and prospective processing — critical but also very hard to do unless you’ve got effective-dating handled systemically and have used a calculation engine rather than procedural logic to deliver everything from payroll to leave accruals.
- Mobile service delivery – not just reformatting but rethinking HRM, especially talent management (TM), workforce management (WFM), and strategic HRM analytics/decision-making, for a mobile world.
- Social/Collaboration — not just about socializing existing transactions or processes but about rethinking HRM from a workforce collaboration and collaboration use case perspective.
- Global — what platform capabilities for what target markets and in what countries backed up by what go-to-market plans and feet on the street, to include VARs and other types of distribution relationships?
- Analytics including what types of actionable, embedded, and/or predictive analytics with what types of visualizations at point of sale.
- Gamification — remember the suggestion box and the contests for great business improvement ideas with prizes for the best of them? Remember when, under the general heading of recognition programs, the employee of the month was given a primo parking space and you got a plaque for great attendance? Well, gamification is all of that and more. Using the same collaboration infrastructure noted above, gamification capabilities let us record publicly kudos to co-workers, earn badges for everything from good attendance to delivering great customer service, run sales contests to push older merchandise, and recognize every type of desireable behavior — and by exception call attention to those who aren’t behaving/producing/attending/etc. Although many of us still care about the ka-ching of compensation, there’s a lot of potential motivation, learning, teamwork, and even fun when HRM processes are rethought in these terms, so it’s important to have the right platforms in place to make this easy and pervasive when turned on by use case.
- Embedded intelligence of all kinds including content, guidance, exogenous data, best practice processes and business rules.
- Integrated HCM — core ERP/HRMS and core TM are inextricably intertwined, both as to end-to-end HRM processes as well as in terms of shared object foundations, consistent user experiences and workflow protocols, and the deepest of architectural enablers, and most customers aren’t able/don’t want to be systems integrators in perpetuity.
- Integrated talent management – with deep process-based and event-triggered integration so that all the good work of talent management isn’t undone by poorly handled ripple effects.
- Integration tools — true SaaS, cloud-based capabilities for the inevitable, needed integrations beyond HRM and based on the same principles as all other configurations so that business analysts can develop and manage these integrations without programmer intervention.
- Complete and correct object model for the scope of delivered functionality — if I see one more talent management or broad HRM application without properly distinct concepts of job and position, I’m really going to name names.
There’s a lot more to it, but this at least gives you a feel for my thinking. My preferred architectural behaviors “starter kit” is going on 250 pages of very dense slides, and the object model “starter kit” is more than 2,000 pages, so it’s not a trivial task to come up with the right behaviors and object model for even a modest HRM SaaS InFullBloom application. So it’s no wonder that vendors who start by building a modest HRM application run into some serious head winds when they decide to broaden their functional footprint and extend their customer focus.
Other closely related posts include: