What Role Does Your IT Department Play in SAAS Applications?
Jacquelyn Keenan, Director of Information Technology Business Applications, SRP
IT is a Business Partner, the trusted technology professional, and a liaison to the Software as a Service (SAAS) provider, allowing the business stakeholder to focus on their business. At SRP, we are supporting a large number of best-of-breed software applications in the cloud and adopting a new application weekly. We have success in assigning a Project Manager for implementation and Business Systems Analyst who partners with the business for the long haul, implementation, and beyond. As the availability of cloud software applications continues to grow, we are finding that there is an overall cost and productivity benefit to utilizing SAAS platforms.
In a perfect world, the software application delivers the exact functionality required by the business and everything is supported by the software provider, removing the overhead burden from the internal IT department. We have found great benefits and speed of delivery in these unique applications. We are also finding an opportunity to streamline the implementation and support process through lessons learned. Like other software implementation projects, SAAS applications follow a standard project plan. However, there are often assumptions that the software is plug and play or requires little to no intervention from anyone outside of the service provider’s offerings. As a result, we developed a project management template for the repeatable steps of a SAAS application. One that is scalable for the larger applications and used for the simple ones where no formal Project Manager is required, but where the checklist of tasks remains the same.
Outlined below are some of the key elements to be considered when implementing and supporting the connection to the internal network and the liaison function between IT and the business stakeholders using the software.
“In a perfect world, the software application delivers the exact functionality required by the business and everything is supported by the software provider, removing the overhead burden from the internal IT department”
Cybersecurity Risk Assessment – This is known to most of you, but worth mentioning. There are several free evaluation templates out there to identify the risks and mitigations to ensure the security of your data and network. Understand the data retention policy and access if you choose to terminate the agreement.
Infrastructure requirements – Know the requirements for the appropriate sizing of the database and options for growth. Do you need a Development, Test, and/or QA environment before releasing to production, and is that even available? Keep in mind that ‘single sign-on, using network credentials, will require a connection between your network and the SAAS provider network.
Integration and data sharing – Integrating data and/or sending data files to the software service provider requires resources from the internal Information Technology team. Remember post-implementation, the delivery of upgrades and releases require a test and validation of the integrations and data file sharing. Data migration is its own section in a project plan if you plan to migrate data into the software solution!
Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed (RACI) between the service provider, IT, and business unit – This standard project document is important for the implementation and day-to-day operations after going live. Some SAAS providers offer a self-service model with a truckload of flexibility, while others have a pay-per-configuration modification approach. In this RACI, identify the roles for:
● Who is ultimately responsible for configuring the functionality of the tool? What are the steps if dare I say, you do have customizations?
● Who reviews the release notes? Is the functionality automatically available or does the business need to opt-in through application settings?
● Who is responsible for entering in enhancement requests or reporting defects? A common understanding between the business and IT as to who will have access to configure the application is an important piece of the project plan and must be worked out with the software company.
Upgrade, Patching, and Release Strategy, Configuration, and Maintenance – A task included in the preparation of go-live is to understand the maintenance strategy of the software by the provider. The software provider is responsible for sharing release notes, informing the company of outages or disruptions, and providing a method for defects and enhancement requests. Communicating that process to the stakeholders and incorporating the roles into the RACI mentioned above helps clarify those processes. We have had success in assigning the IT Business Systems Analyst the responsibility to coordinate and communicate the SAAS provider’s updates with the business, identifying the impacts.
SAAS providers make a lot of promises on the ‘available anywhere’ solution deployed with unique expertise. There is still a place for IT to maintain visibility and control of the number of applications in the portfolio, ensure the security of the business data and network, and take the position of a business partner. We’ve learned that the stronger the partnership between the business and IT, the greater success in implementation. Good luck on your SAAS journey!
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