While many businesses build their Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings from scratch, leveraging modern cloud services, others have to maintain software products that were developed before the cloud existed. In some cases, companies sell a portfolio of software products collected through acquisitions, each operating within its own silo. For these and similar situations, it is a substantial undertaking to transform these products into a modern Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution that realizes such benefits as scalability, accessibility, global configuration and analytics, to name a few.
In this series of articles, we write from our own experiences at Planorama, architecting and designing the UX of enterprise SaaS applications for our clients. In particular, our focus is on SaaS administration, which largely manages scalability, configuration and analytics. We will review the most prevalent administration capabilities found across nearly all SaaS products.
Let’s begin by examining two key questions.
What is SaaS administration?
Today’s SaaS applications deliver an online solution to customers without the need for software installation, licensing, updates, or concern about hardware or infrastructure. Whether accessed via a mobile app, a web app, or a suite of applications, the users who receive the direct benefits of the advertised service are the regular users of the SaaS.
However, SaaS applications support more than regular users. Normally, there are other types of users who have varying degrees of managerial authority to configure, control, and monitor aspects of the application itself. These administrative users, or admins, are comprised of users from the business, and often select customer users as well. SaaS administration is, at a high level, all about configuration and monitoring of the SaaS application by various admin users.
For those who remember, installed software applications had configuration files which allowed users to tweak certain features without recompiling the entire application. Modern SaaS solutions require even more elaborate configuration, which today is normally accessed via a web interface called an admin panel. Though the rank and file regular users never see the admin panel screens, this area is no less important. In fact, the admin panel often matches or exceeds the feature intricacies available to regular users. After all, it manages the application and even aspects of the cloud infrastructure on which it sits.
What administrative capabilities are necessary in SaaS software?
While SaaS applications vary widely in terms of the services they provide to their customers, the administrative requirements are quite common amongst them all.
There are many ways to organize SaaS admin capabilities. For us, we tend to group capabilities under the following headings:
- Users and Access Management: Who can get into the SaaS application, and what can they do?
- Content Management: What content is available, where does it come from, how is it organized, and how is it operated upon by various users?
- System and Feature Configuration: Configuration of the SaaS, data segmentation (multi-tenancy), connectivity to other systems, infrastructure and security configuration, subscribable product offerings, and more.
- Analytics and Reporting: Collection of performance and related metrics of the system, the users, the content; how metrics compare against business goals.
While one can argue about our particular categorizations, it’s more important to see that all of these capabilities work in concert to provide a flexible and extensible management foundation for a modern SaaS application.
We write this because the impact of SaaS administration upon project scope, schedule, and complexity is often underestimated. You risk significant redesign and rewrite of your application if you aren’t considering the complexity of SaaS administration.
In our experience working with clients to design SaaS solutions, the feature scope for regular users always has an impact on SaaS administration requirements. Only when considered together can we anticipate the complete effort to implement any given feature, with the forethought to design a system flexible enough to serve in the future while avoiding substantial rework.
Look for the next article in our series which will cover Users and Access Management in greater depth.