The main barriers to successful adoption of SaaS

Cloud computing SaaS

By Mark Barlow, AppLearn

Most modern businesses, of any size and in any sector, rely on software as a service in some way, from Salesforce, used to manage customer relationships, to GoToMeeting, used to connect with colleagues and international clients, and Google Apps, which encompasses the search engine giant’s version of old faithfuls including Excel and Word (Sheets and Docs, respectively).

The impact of poorly implemented and adopted SaaS is the same in businesses of any size – time is wasted on helpdesk queries, licensing fees are lost, and employees lose motivation and fail to get the most out of the programmes they are using.

While unsuccessful SaaS adoption is disruptive at any level, if we consider large businesses – the BTs, the Vodafones, the Barclays, the Santanders – SaaS adoption gone wrong becomes a major headache due to the sheer numbers of people involved. A financial headache, a time and internal resource headache, and a headache that can ultimately negatively impact the bottom line of the business due to lost working hours, strained internal resource and, often, dismissal of the new software before its full potential has been seen. With many SaaS providers asking for a yearly fee upfront, and not offering monthly payment plans, this can be a costly mistake.

Businesses of this size and reach could have thousands to tens of thousands of employees, and an issue with Salesforce that could be resolved in a smaller company within a day could lead to thousands of extra hours of work for internal IT desks. Imagine 7,000 employees coming across the same roadblock in a SaaS programme and raising helpdesk tickets at the same time – it is not difficult to see how things could spiral to an unsustainable service level.

There are many barriers to successful SaaS adoption, but most of them could be resolved if businesses referred back to the teachings of the popular saying – “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. So what do we think are the main barriers to adoption?

Lack of adoption strategy

A lack of a clear adoption strategy and budget is the single biggest reason that businesses fail to make the most out of SaaS, and ultimately lose money. Our research shows that 75% of business transformation projects involving SaaS fail because of low user adoption, and this is often caused by lack of proper preparation when signing up for a new software.

Issues many IT leaders and managers fail to consider when taking on new SaaS include:

  • Migration of old files into a new programme. Do you need to keep all the files? Just some? Are they going to be openable and usable via your new SaaS? Will you need to access them regularly?
  • Avoid investing in licenses unless you’re willing to invest in the adoption and use – otherwise employees get stuck in no man’s land of using the software but also relying on the old ways of working.
  • Consider the business impact if your SaaS fails. Is it business critical? Would you be able to function without it, even for a day?
  • Get people involved early, particularly key figures within the business. Having the buy-in of senior members of staff can help to boost morale. It is also vitally important to give staff as much notice as possible about a change to software – don’t just drop it on them last minute.
  • Look at it from the perspective of an employee – consider what’s in it for them. It is vital to communicate the benefits and value of SaaS to those who are going to use it, perhaps with specific and tangible examples. For instance, consider how much simpler and collaborative Google Docs is compared to Microsoft Word. Instead of saving version upon version of a document, Google Docs allows multiple users to edit documents, and automatically saves the most recent version. This kind of change can save employees hours a week.
  • How are you going to manage the transition period between your old systems and the new? Most business leaders expect a turn off of the old system, and a switch on of the new. In reality, this is very difficult to achieve.
  • Don’t forget post launch – while most of the focus goes on implementation and going live, budget and resources still need to be set aside for post launch. If possible, someone needs to take ownership of the adoption strategy in BAU. With the adoption of new software having such wide ranging implications, a single key figure in the process helps to keep things focused and on track.

Outdated training and communication

A major misstep many companies make when adopting SaaS is that they fail to fully consider the implications on the people who are going to be using the service. Businesses need to invest the time finding out how their employees use the kind of software they are investing in – what do they like about it? What would they change? What features can’t they live without?

The people using the software are the most important advocates for it, so it is vital to get their input.

Another area where implementation could be vastly improved is within the training offered to employees, and its format. The workplace of 2016 is very different to the workplace of the past, and people digest and use information in different ways. Many employees are keen self learners, using the internet and utility/information apps to solve their work problems and knowledge gaps. Due to this, employees in the modern workplace expect on-demand assistance and embrace peer to peer learning. So any adoption strategy needs to focus on one to one training on demand and allowing employees to teach, share and learn from each other.

In our increasingly digitalised world, most employees prefer online training to “old fashioned” training methods, which is a challenge for many in traditional industries. Gone are the days when employees are prepared to sit in a windowless training room making notes from an overhead projector – the modern employee expects training to fit their own busy schedule.

Overwhelmed support teams

Many large-scale businesses employ sizeable internal IT support teams tasked with ensuring the tech side of the business runs smoothly – poor implementation of software, and a lack of training and focus on the individuals using it, will directly impact helpdesk time, leading to a huge rise in tickets being raised. Depending on the business and its function, this could result in massively stretched internal resources, but could also impact the time available for IT employees to assist clients and customers.

Ahead of installing any kind of SaaS, business owners need to dig into the numbers of their business – look at hours available, staff capacity, any annual leave planned on the support desk, and work out whether you have the additional resource needed to absorb a spike in help desk queries.

Mark Barlow is the founder and CEO of AppLearn. Follow his tweets at @AppLearntv


  1. Interesting read. As such problems are encountered in SaaS implementation, it is important that careful planning, test runs and evaluation are done before going into SaaS from an on-premise setup. Doing so will give you a hint of how SaaS will work for your company and provide changes as appropriate otherwise. Of course, once SaaS is implemented timely updates, training and seminars are a must. —

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