Are You Ready to Manage a Cloud SaaS Application?

By now everyone knows that managing a production Cloud application is significantly different than managing a traditional on premise application. A common way to describe it is there are things you will do less of things you will do more of and things that will be done about the same. One thing is clear. You will have to reconfigure, retrain and re-orient your application support organization. In this blog I will offer some guidance on how to do that.

Focusing on how traditional activities will change helps to frame this discussion.

Things you will do less of – During implementation, you will spend less time managing hardware, network infrastructure, foundation software such as database and educating your IT staff on these issues. You will spend a lot less time analyzing, testing, and maintaining customizations. In production you will not have to deal with the issues just mentioned nor will you have to spend time physically applying updates and patches.

Things you will do about the same – There is a lot that is the same during implementation. Educating users, testing, writing reports, developing interfaces, migrating data, and configuring the software. A lot of this effort goes away during production, but you will still have to have resources managing interfaces, developing new reports etc.

Things you will do more of when implementing – During implementation you will spend a lot more time configuring business processes. Since you cannot customize in the traditional sense, you must understand how the software will work in your organization. This greatly increases the need for project team and end user education as well as a robust change management effort. Meta believes that developing, implementing, changing, and maintaining processes starts with your People, not the process. That is why our People Driven ROI approach emphasizes developing key skills and managing organizational change.

Things you will do more of in production – This issue gets to the heart of my blog. Although the Cloud vendor performs the updates, your responsibility lies in analyzing release content, deciding which features to adopt, educating users and regression testing. So far, my experience shows that many organizations are not being as effective as possible in this area. Also note that managing service requests will change.

So how can organizations effectively manage a production Cloud instance? Here are some tips:

Retrain and re-organize your support staff. Supporting a Cloud instance requires different effort and skills. The focus needs to be directed toward three major areas:

  1. Planning and analyzing releases – Vendors like Oracle issue new releases 4 times a year. Unlike a PeopleSoft PUM, there is no option for not taking the update. You need to assign a team of dedicated staff to analyze the release contents and work with end users on feature adoption. This requires a dedicated and well-trained team of IT staff with strong business analysis skills. This does not imply adding new staff but re-focusing existing Team members.
  2. Business lead and end user education – Change management does not go away once you are live. You need resources committed on an on-going basis to develop/enhance training material and work with end users. A strong internal help desk is essential to manage end user issues as they arise.
  3. Testing, testing, testing – This may be the most difficult area. Releases come 4 times and year and each one requires testing beyond what the vendor does prior to the update. You need to test interfaces and new features to ensure that the upgrade is adopted with minimal disruption. I think organizations should examine how to automate the testing process. Users can look at test automation tools or even a training tool like Oracle Guided Learning. But tools can be expensive and are another Cloud application to support. If you do not want to take on that burden, I suggest you work with your managed services partner to include testing and test automation. You should also address testing software or services when you issue an RFP for Cloud applications.

Cloud applications offers your staff the ability to focus on value added work that leads to a higher ROI and lower total cost of ownership. But you have to structure your organization to support it.