Monday, November 02, 2009

Introduction to the book on SaaS Service Operations

"You can't handle the truth!" (Col. Jessep in 'A Few Good Men')

(Note: This article is part of the STORM™ methodology)

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I am working my way through writing a book on SaaS Service Operations. Using the web as a collaborative tool, I have decided to share my work, bit by bit (three chapters, so far) to test it within the community and get live feedback from those who matter, potentially those that would read and recommend it.
Following is the (draft) introduction chapter. I would dearly appreciate your feedback on content, style, typos, grammar and whether you might find such a book an interesting read.
My initial thoughts about the title are along the lines of 'Survival Guide' or 'A day in a SaaS Emergency Room'.
I am not fishing for compliments - it will beat the purpose, and yes, I can handle the truth.
Many thanx,

Introduction – or Why am I Writing This Book.

Well, someone has to write it. Numerous words have been exhausted over the years on matters SaaS, but I have seen very little being written about SaaS Service Operations, and there are no books on this subject that I am aware of.

As SaaS is becoming mainstream, it has also become the most visible and mature service in the Cloud stack. Consumer expectations have elevated such that they are demanding fast response times and a service that delivers on the availability slogan of ‘anytime-anywhere’. These expectations do not refer only to the application; but also it is expected of the customer and professional services as well. SaaS companies often excel when it relates to the first ‘S’ of SaaS, i.e. Software, but fair quite poorly with regards to the second ‘S’ – Service.

What started as an experiment of the few and the brave, will soon become the major force in the software market, and what will differentiate one company from the rest is no longer the on-demand allure or the feature set, but the level of service it provides.

I am a war veteran in this respect and have many scars to parade. There are probably very few mistakes that I have not made. Being a descendant of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, I like to think of myself as one who has learned from his mistakes and taken steps to remedy them.

‘Operational Fatigue’ is a term I coined after the umpteenth time I was awoken in the wee hours of the morning to handle an outage that occurred yet once again, after having seemingly fixed the problem two weeks prior. I could have just as well created this phrase after the two hour scheduled downtime to upgrade the service. The upgrade turned into a nine hour nightmare that was finally resolved (a couple of minutes before our major customers started their workday) by some engineering heroics. As always, these were followed by heart wrenching phone calls to the CEOs of our customers to explain what went wrong (again) and why it would not repeat.
No wonder I grind my teeth at night.

Throughout my years of practice in this space I have discovered a number of traits across the industry:
  • Most SaaS companies are structured and behave in a similar fashion
  • Most SaaS companies lack the discipline, the tools and the practices to provide an efficient and effective service operation
  • Most SaaS companies, therefore, end up paying the price of not meeting their SLAs, which leads to customer dissatisfaction, customer churn and ‘Operational Fatigue’
The intended audience for this book is whomever is responsible for the quality of customer service. That includes the CEO, the CTO, VP Engineering, VP-Director-Manager of Operations and VP-Director-Manager of customer service. All of these functions must work in unison to ensure a smooth operation both outwardly and internally.

This book is divided into four sections:
  1. The first section introduces concepts about SaaS, the evolution of the market and why the model is here to stay. Enough has been written about the subject so I will stick to some of my observations without going into a long dissertation.
  2. The second section contains insights on service operations in an SaaS company. It includes various posts published on my blog (‘Dani’s Perspective on SaaS’), over the past year. It discusses typical SaaS operations, discipline, transparency, outsourcing in the Cloud, metrics, inter-department communications, etc.
  3. The third section covers Operational Support Systems that might or might not be supported by the product. They include: Billing, On-Boarding, De-provisioning, Integration, Retention Policy, Communication and more.
  4. The final section is instructional and lays out the principles of my adaptation of ITIL for SaaS Service Operations™ . It explains what ITIL is and why I chose ITIL as a basis for defining the practices of running an efficient and effective service operation. It covers six practices that I have developed and refined throughout the years at various companies with whom I worked either as an employee or as a consultant.
By following the practices, following the workflows and deploying the tools outlined in this book, SaaS companies can instill the discipline needed to reap the benefits in a surprisingly short time.

It is not complicated, it is not expensive, nor is there sorcery involved - it only requires awareness and leadership.


Elaine Blechman said...

If the rest of the book is as well-written, good-humored and intelligent as this introduction, it will be a great contribution to the SaaS field.

Bill Schweber said...

Dani--very well written, good avoidance of tired, vague,or meaningless cliches (you should see some of the material and collateral that Intel sends out!). We don't have anything specific to add/contribute but we are learning a lot.
One question: how do the problems and issues you raise in this chapter differ from problems/issues that many other service-oriented operations have? What's unique or new due to the fact that this is SaaS you are talking about?

Dani Shomron said...

Service oriented operations have been around for a century with phone, water, gas and electricity.
I believe that many of these principles are very similar.
The point is that this is all very new to the software industry that has been product oriented forever.
They lack the practices and tools that are common in the other industries and, of course, they have their own special needs.

Anonymous said...

i definitely adore your own writing style, very interesting,
don't give up and keep posting simply because it simply truly worth to read it,
excited to see more of your articles, cheers!