Like an experienced and greasy auto mechanic, there is not a single mistake that I have not done (or witnessed) throughout my years as managing Operations from Fortune 500 companies to startups. I have learned from my experience and painstakingly put together a set of practices that dramatically improve the quality of life for the whole team and the satisfaction level of the customers. IT JUST WORKS! There is no reason for a SaaS company to improve only after making mistakes that have previously been made by others.
Extraordinary people, great products, domain knowledge, specialization and wonderful intentions are the ingredients that bring and make success; yet sloppy SaaS service operations management will break that success.
SaaS companies always end up paying a heavy price for doing something they do not excel in – Service Operations.
STORM™ - SaaS Tactical Operations Resource Management, is a comprehensive methodology for managing the Service Operations of a SaaS Company. It includes a set of practices that have been defined over years of building Operations at SaaS companies and consulting to SaaS companies on excellence in Service Operations.
SaaS – While using ITIL terminology, STORM is not for general IT. Nor is it for any general service provider. The Methodology was devised specifically for the unique needs and characteristics of SaaS companies.
Tactical – Other methodologies offer high-level frameworks. STORM defines how to handle every aspect of the Service Operations, providing workflows, reports and templates and defining tools, so that a SaaS company could very quickly adopt these practices and put them to use.
Operations – the hub around which all the service revolves, in a SaaS company. Connecting Engineering, QA, PS, Sales, Finance and Customer Service.
Resource – Dealing with all the assets of the service – Px4 (People, Programs, Practices and Property)
Management – comprehensive methodology giving management visibility and decision making tools
At the highest level, STORM deals with three notions:
1. Enabling a smooth, efficient and effective day-to-day management of the Service Operation:
While dramatically reducing the human error factor, the smooth operation ensures that although the service is up 24X7, the staff can enjoy a good night's sleep and weekends with their families.
2. Allowing management to view, control and understand the components the Service Operation:
Keeps the decision makers on their toes and provides them with the visibility of the status of various parts that make up the service.
3. Provide a better customer experience:
Thus keeping your customers happy, growing the revenue and reducing churn
The methodology contains a number of crucial practices that cover every aspect of the service operations of a SaaS company. These are (mostly using ITIL parlance):
- Asset Management
- Change Management
- Incident Management
- Event Management
- Release Management (as part of DevOps)
- SLA Management
- Churn Management
- Costs Management
- Communication Management
SaaS Operations Intelligence
A central component of STORM is SaaS Operations Intelligence, or SOI.
Through a smart collection of data from the various practices (which require tools to collect that data), reports are produced to derive crucial strategic insights of the Service Operation and enhance decision making as to what may be lacking in the service and where to invest the next dollar.
Samples of these reports are:
- Change Analysis
- Incident Analysis
- SLA Analysis
- Churn Analysis
- Customer / Asset Mapping
- Impact Analysis
- Costs Analysis
ITIL or eTOM (Enhanced Telecom Operations Map) just don’t cut it for SaaS. There are too many unique characteristics of a SaaS operation that are not being addressed by existing methodologies. (I will explore this theme in a future article).
Throughout the years I have written extensively on SaaS Service Operations.
- Most SaaS companies that I have worked at and consulted to, have similar traits and are suffering from the same problems (see Your Typical SaaS Operations).
- Most SaaS companies have a problem with Operational discipline and are suffering from Operational Fatigue (see Discipline (or lack thereof) and Operational Fatigue).
- Most SaaS companies are not doing a good job managing their SLAs (see SLA Management for SaaS).
- Most SaaS executives cannot answer basic questions about their service since they do not collect the metrics (see Questions that SaaS executives must be able to answer - KPIs that matter).
- In many companies Change Management is akin to wishful thinking and usually results in disastrous events. (see Change Management and the Sanctity of Production).
- I have seen (and worked at) SaaS companies that do not exchange critical information in real time thus causing inefficiency and embarrassment (see Inter Department Communications).
- Fast growth is a blessing but SaaS companies break at the seams on scalability issues (see 2 x E-cube = S-cube - Simple math for SaaS Scalability Success and SaaS, Scalability and the Three Little Pigs).
A methodology that is addressed specifically at SaaS companies, dealing with real issues that plague most SaaS companies is needed.
The STORM methodology has been successfully fully or partially implemented at SaaS companies and has delivered immediate results.
STORM methodology contains practices that can be implemented using simple tools (I have employed MS-Word, Excel, Google Calendar, some scripting, HTML and Bugzilla).
However, STORM’s full value is realized when it is supported by automated workflows, data entry forms and data bases. The SOI component is very hard to realize without an SQL database, tools capturing the data and report generators.
Still, a great value can be derived just from following the practices in a disciplined manner, using productivity tool templates and simple repositories.
In the next article I will expand on the various practices and in future ones I will differentiate it from ITIL (and somewhat, from eTOM), and layout the basic principles.