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Not All SaaS is Created Equal

May 23, 2019

SaaS is everywhere. From big budget software tools you use at work to apps on your smartphone, software as a service touches our daily lives in so many ways. Many of us, myself included, have the tendency to think that because we are familiar with so many products that use SaaS as a business model, like Salesforce, Google, and Adobe, we also have a good understanding of how SaaS works.

But all SaaS isn’t created equal. If you’re not careful, your new SaaS solution might not be what you thought you were getting.

If your institution is shopping around for a new tool to help you automate or simplify processes on your campus, or even in your department, there are a few things you should know from a functional standpoint before you jump into an agreement, especially when it comes to updates. Not all organizations see eye-to-eye on updates. Think frequency, implementation, associated costs, etc.

So, before you sign or approve a multi-year contract with big bucks attached, here are four questions you should ask:

1. How often do you deliver?

Will you get updates twice each year or twenty times each year? Does the vendor practice continuous delivery so that they can deliver updates to you frequently and easily? Or, do they release updates in bundles on a scheduled cadence like bi-annually, quarterly, monthly, etc.? You should clarify what this will look like for your institution.

At Kuali, we release updates continuously. That means you don’t have to wait until Jan 1 to see the latest and greatest in our tools. If we’ve finished tweaking a feature or moved a button to a better location on your dashboard, you can see it right away. If we’re done, it’s on your screen.

Continuous delivery is especially relevant if your department is often affected by changing government regulations and your software needs to reflect those changes. In Kuali’s Research product, our forms are updated in real time as government changes are implemented so research administration teams can be confident they are working in compliance with the most up-to-date regulations.

Continuous delivery is important on the student services side too; when Kuali’s CM customers requested additional flexibility in permissions functionality, our team got to work identifying the best way to deliver on that request both for future and current use of the product. One key aspect of delivering a new feature successfully is understanding how to make implementation as seamless as possible—hoping to eliminate adoption efforts completely.

In the case of expanding permissions functionality, this meant delivering an easy to use interface with highly granular role-based permissions controls while maintaining all of the expected functionality currently used by customers. Because we took this approach, adoption for our clients was as simple as flipping a switch.

2. What about new feature implementation?

Will you have to have an IT staff member to implement the new code? Will new features cause downtime? How long will it take to implement each new update?

We recognize you can’t afford down time. (Can anyone?) If you work in student services, your enrollment software cannot go down when students are registering for classes. If you work in research administration, the PIs that you’re serving need to hit very specific deadlines to receive funding. If your institution has any kind of reputable sporting program, your streaming service can’t crash in the middle of the most important tournament of the year. Downtime during one of these critical moments can cause unneeded stress.

Implementing updates in Kuali software happens seamlessly. “Sometimes it fixes something you didn’t even know was broken,” said Janet Simons, Director of Research Policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore.

3. Can we say no?

We’ve all heard complaints about software updates that are worse than the previous version, or that simply change things for unknown reasons that were working just fine before. What if you like the way the system works and you don’t particularly need a specific update offering? Can you refuse it? Will that result in forked code, which can be a nightmare to update in the future?

As one of our implementation specialists, Victor Kinzer, said, we don’t want to add “white noise” to your process. If your institution doesn’t need or want a specific design update, that’s okay. You don’t have to implement and it won’t affect your ability to accept other updates in the future. And later on, if you decide that feature is worth it after all, you’re free to implement at any time.

4. Okay, how much?

It’s important to have a clear understanding of how updates—regardless of how often—are priced out. Will your updates be covered in your subscription fee? If not, how much and how often will you need to come up with extra funding?

Kuali does not charge additional update fees outside of the subscription. Once you’ve purchased the software, all future updates are included, so you’ll always have access to the most up-to-date software.

There are so many tech offerings in the cloud today. And there are so many benefits to moving to a SaaS solution. By keeping in mind these tips—how often updates are delivered, the implementation process, whether you can opt out, and the cost of each update—can help you understand what you’re truly getting with your new SaaS solution.

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