Today, most organizations introduce software in an agile or “crawl-walk-run” capacity; delivering software capabilities in bite-size chunks to ensure that the constituents are not overwhelmed. Often called “Phases” or “Stages”, we have found value in referring to these chunks as “Business Releases” because there are discreet business capabilities enabled.
The introduction of the new software impacts your organization in three key capacities. First, it requires partial or fully dedicated resources to ensure that the business needs are being met and that your team is readily able to support it. Second, the successful projects are deserving of and demand an effective change management strategy to achieve a real business success. Third, and often, not necessarily anticipated, “Internal” innovation takes place.
How do we define Internal innovation? Before we share our thinking, imagine if you will, the stage has been set for the introduction of a new software product. Careful planning has gone into the deployment of the new software. The project team is excited (and nervous and sleepless!), users are excited (and scared), the change management strategy has been well-received and you finally reach the “launch” date. As soon as users immerse themselves into the system, something happens… Internal innovation.
Internal Innovation or ideas in this context may come in the form of refinements to existing software processes/configurations, expanded usage with slightly different requirements and the leveraging of the software in different ways to solve the same or related issues with the new product.
Now “SaaS Product” Innovation enters the equation. These innovations come from numerous sources; general feature planning, customer recommendations/complaints, market research and new advances in underlying technology. SaaS Product innovations may come as part of an annual subscription and in other cases they may represent new modules that can be added to the base platform (Salesforce or Dynamics integration module). From a deployment perspective, there are those features that “auto-magically” appear and in other cases some require analysis and/or training followed by configuration. Vendor support for those features will typically come in the form of on-line help/training materials and consulting services for more complex features.
It is here where this article provides a framework for proactively planning for Internal and SaaS product innovation. Too frequently, organizations investing in SaaS products, think of a one-time investment or a recurring subscription fee without proactively planning for both benefits and necessary investments for Internal and SaaS product innovation.
Prior to diving into the framework, it is important to explain why we call out SaaS products in comparison to non-SaaS products. And this is coming from a company that was once a non-SaaS organization! In short, SaaS providers are typically laying it on the line with every release cycle for all of its customers at once; often occurring on a bi-weekly or monthly basis and as a result, these new SaaS product innovations are released in mass and readily available for use.
In comparison, non-SaaS vendors require that new versions are installed/configured based upon a customer’s internal IT governance process and not the SaaS vendor’s regular release cycle. It is also one of the many reasons that SaaS products have become so popular; automatically pushed updates for new features and bug fixes, no need to worry about infrastructure costs and the initial investment is often far less than the non-SaaS vendors.
With an introduction now established, let us jump into the framework.
Steady State Vs. Innovation State-
State Definitions And The Natural Propensity To Innovate
When software is implemented and your organization eventually launches the system; there are typically two states in which you may find yourself. The first is a “steady” state; one in which the software is working as required (or close to it) and you are deriving value for the business and for the users. In this state, there is not a screaming need to leverage other product features and the status quo instills confidence and predictability. If you achieved this state, pat yourself on the back as it is a fantastic accomplishment!
The alternative state is that of Innovation. This state is often represented under two different circumstances; “Planned” and “Responsive”. In a Planned Innovation State, you may have implemented certain portions of the software successfully and the broader vision is to now go forward and implement additional functionality. Using contract management as an example, our customers may start by using the software as a trusted contract repository and as they become more comfortable with it, they plan for the introduction of the automated document assembly or obligation management feature. In this case, the planned costs may be payment for some product training to start to leverage software that is already part of the subscription service.
In comparison, a Responsive Innovation state, has the project team responding to unexpected ideas obtained from learning about unused features, new or better ways to use existing features and creative ways in which to leverage the software for different purposes. Returning to the contract management example, Legal Entities may need to be more formally managed and the contract management platform may be well-suited for this requirement. Now vector in SaaS Product innovation where new capabilities are regularly introduced as part of (or not part of) your SaaS subscription service. These new capabilities will frequently drive organizations towards an Innovation state as they can introduce more value into the business.
One may ask if an organization may be in both a Steady state and Innovation state and the answer is a resounding yes. The successful (partial or full) achievement of steady state will not suppress creative ideas and new ways in which to make the use of the software easier and more productive. However, the basis of this article and takeaway on this first part of the framework is that organizations should proactively budget for the on-going investment of training, configuration work (internal or via a 3rd party) and change management efforts (how to communicate and successfully deploy new changes). As a result, the full and continually improving benefits of Internal and SaaS Product innovation can then be fully realized.
Avoiding Innovation Insanity-
How To Avoid Innovation That Does Not Translate Into Higher Value And Efficiencies
In the world of software, there are fundamental questions that leaders must ask to determine if and how much investment is to be made when assessing which innovation pursuits are worthy and which are not. The impact of software innovation is much broader than one person as it impacts the business and users that rely upon the software. To this end, there are several practical questions that can be established to determine what investment worthy innovations; be it Internal, SaaS Product or a combination of both.
Design For The Rule & Not The Exception | The importance of quantifying the benefit of Internal or SaaS Product investments is an important starting point. If the practical use of an innovation is limited to a small group of people and/or on a very infrequent basis, the innovation may not make sense. Instead, pursue innovations that have broader and more consistent appeal and avoid implementing innovations for one-off, exceptions.
Size Up The Investment | Investments in innovation will come in all shapes and sizes and should be factored into your go/no go decisions. For example, a simple configuration adjustment on a form to auto-populate data from your Microsoft Azure Active Directory may have a significant impact on productivity and increased user satisfaction. Alternatively, reengineering a workflow process may be much more demanding and if it only applies to a few people, it may not be worthy. You may also find that SaaS vendors regularly release new capabilities and with a bit of education you are able to take advantage of the new feature. The key takeaway here is to understand how big the investment will be and to then understand the impact it will have on the business and the user community.
Understand Dependencies | Dependencies, known and especially unknown, must be identified. The dependency may be one of additional licensing costs, supplemental configuration work or other 3rd party dependencies that may need to be considered. For example, let us assume that you are happily using a Business Intelligence tool such as Microsoft Power BI or Tableau. There is now a need to use the tool to access data in a newly established data warehouse. However, there is a sophisticated effort that your IT team must undergo to provide a data connection before your analysts can begin using the software. In this case, the dependency on your IT team (and the possible internal cost or bill-back needs to be factored into the equation).
Practical Innovation Planning-
Factors To Consider When Planning For Internal And SaaS Product Innovation
The question for most of us is to determine how to find the time and budget to effectively support both forms of innovation with an important system. While one solution is to minimize/avoid any sort of future investments, we would suggest a different and more practical approach is employed as defined below:
- Acknowledge and Embrace The Notion Of Investment | You can ride a minimal/non-incremental investment approach; however, in doing so, you may be doing a disservice to your organization and your user community. Once you launch the first (or subsequent) Business Release, expect ideas to come forth. That engagement can be inspiring and even when the feedback is negative, embrace it and plan for adjustments. If you do not allow for innovation, don’t be surprised when users find other non-authorized systems to augment or replace innovation that can be infused into the platforms for which you are responsible. Users may be said to be like water…they find the easiest path out. Make your software platform the easiest for in-scope and related items.
- Give Your Team An Allocation Of Time For Innovation | Your core team should be given an allocation to learn about the existing software and how it can be refined to better support your use cases. Through their own experiences or feedback from the broader user constituency, let them experiment to further refine the configuration and processes.
- Stay In Tune With Your SaaS Software Vendor | If you see the SaaS vendor as a strategic partner, invest additional time in terms of understanding the product roadmap and how it can positively impact your business and users. Likewise, invest the time to educate the vendor about your priorities and roadmap.
- Socialize The Concept of Steady/Innovation State and Innovation Insanity Prioritization | By planning for an approach to innovation, you can better control the discussion and direction. Share this or a modified version of your Investment plan for innovation with others and a galvanized and structured vision can be embraced by your key stakeholders.
Planning for Internal and SaaS Product innovations in a controlled manner will allow your organization, your users, and you to benefit on so many fronts. Take a few small steps and measure your success accordingly!
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