Dear SaaS vendors

  • Lukas Kahwe Smith

There are a lot of SaaS vendors that offer useful tools but beyond the core functionality I am quite disappointed with how little SaaS vendors seem to care about making integration into company processes easy. So here is a list of the top things SaaS providers need to work at from my point of view:

One of the several holacracy roles I have at Liip is called “Platform Gardener”. The purpose is defined as “provide corporate-wide streamlined digital services and tools”, which boils down to managing most of our SaaS and other software purchases. That being said, in true Liip style my job isn’t telling people what they can or cannot have but more to help them find the right tool, right licensing, finding synergies and help negotiating deals. As such I obviously deal with a lot of SaaS vendors like you and yes there are a lot of useful tools that you provide with awesome functionality. But beyond the core functionality I am quite disappointed with how little you SaaS vendors seem to care about making integration of your tools into company processes easy. So here is a list of the top things I would like you to work on:

  1. Usage based licensing. Slack and Rokka.io are very good examples. If you have a good product people will use it more and more. If you make me choose a number of seats without automatically refunding me for unused seats (Slack does this), then I will artificially limit adoption simply because adding a seat is a deliberate step that takes effort.

  2. Semi-related some of you require yearly licenses. Sure give me the option if you want to give me a discount, but in an agency where the average project lasts between 3 to 6 months it's often not practical to get a yearly license.

  3. Lack of PDF invoices is a pretty obvious and easy to fix issue, which goes hand in hand with automatic sending invoices by email to a configurable email address. That last bit is important since we track our costs via cleanshelf.com.

  4. Speaking of cleanshelf.com what would be even better is if you would provide a way to extract billing data without having to create paid user account. Obviously such accounts should specifically not have access to any data other than billing data. Ideally via an API but well cleanshelf.com can also screen-scrape.

  5. Another mind boggling omission by many of you is, especially those that are part of actual production infrastructure for clients, is the total lack of configuration management. We used to laugh at Microsoft for requiring us to pass around screenshots to configure their server tools. Yet most SaaS tools support no versioning of configuration, let alone export. Meaning its impossible to keep configuration between testing and production in sync. If one of you would ever lose your config you would start from scratch. It also means that if you adds/removes/changes configuration options there is no structured way to communicate this to the user. So right now I have to document with screenshots which can become outdated without my control with the next minor layout update or feature change from one of you.

  6. Which brings to the next topic, most of you do not let me test out new features before you move them to production. I understand maintaining two versions is annoying and I am ok with there only being a specific time window. But every new release can have implications that I rather wish to be able to prepare for. Heck we might have done workarounds for previous bugs or limitations that we need to first remove.

  7. A rather small wish, let me add some notes to each service within your tool. Like which team for which project is using said service until when so that I have a clue when I login what is going on. Sketch also does a weird thing where they just register machine names for license seats. So I now have to know the machine names of everyone when I off board an employee. Maintaining this information outside of the SaaS tool is painful and error prone since it is never in sync. In my dream world billing would also allow me to easily group the costs according to projects.

  8. The last wish is the ability to export all relevant data from the account. Right now its close to impossible to move once we have adopted one of you simply because there is still data in there which is needed for a few active projects or project where the client could come back with another development push. Then again if my usage based licensing wish from above is implemented then this is much less of an issue. If you must, charge me for storage, but this way we can just stop using the tool for a while without having a huge hassle with licensing.

What is maybe overall the most frustrating thing is it feels a bit like the only incentive for any of you to not try to get me to over-license and lock me into your service is if laws would exist that require you comply with the above wish list. This is especially relevant for the last item. Laws would of course stifle innovation and likely end up hurting especially smaller SaaS tools just starting out. But maybe what it needed is a to create some sort of index with the above points and some more to be able to compare these things more easily. This might help to create some economic pressure on you if consumers start ignoring SaaS vendors that like to skim by with lock-in and in-transparency. Here is hoping that enough if you will realize that thinking about the needs the organizations of your users is a competitive advantage.


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