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Are You Savvy on SaaS? Why Software as a Service Makes Sense for M&E

It's been happening again lately: I'll be working with an organization to figure out how we can help them manage their data. They'll be excited about working with our team, getting organized, and of course, a future filled with beautiful visualization and dashboards. Then, I'll get the call/email.

"My boss/board/C-suite exec wants to know if we'll own the system."

"Do we have to keep paying for the subscription every year that we use DevResults?"

“What if we don’t want upgrades or support and just want to ‘keep the lights on’?”

I don’t blame global development organizations for asking these kinds of questions. Reservations are completely reasonable, especially since so many teams have been burned by custom web developers or consulting firms and there's a lot on the line.

The thing is DevResults is software as a service (SaaS). It's a different way of creating and delivering software. We think it's better; I'll explain why.

What makes SaaS different?

Three things set this model apart:

  • How it's built
  • How it’s paid for
  • How it’s accessed

How is SaaS built?

Software as a service providers use different tools and management models for making their product. At the end of the day, though, SaaS products have three things in common:

  • They're continuously developed (not upgraded sporadically). A new version of Microsoft Word or Outlook comes out every two or three years, and needs to be installed by hand. In contrast, Google Docs or Gmail users are always using the very latest version of the software; bug fixes and incremental improvements to the codebase are released on a daily basis.

  • They're hosted (not installed). SaaS runs on infrastructure that the vendor maintains. The customer doesn't need server rooms, and the end user has nothing installed on their computer.

  • They're designed to be configured (not customized). SaaS products typically have a single codebase that is used by all customers. The differences from one customer to the next are captured by configuring the software's parameters, fields, and workflows - not by altering the source code in ways that make it hard to upgrade the software in the future.

At DevResults, we use Microsoft .NET, Angular, open source libraries, and Microsoft’s Azure Infrastructure as a Service Cloud (IaaS) to ensure the application is reliably accessible, fast, backed up, and secure.

How is SaaS purchased?

SaaS products are typically offered on a monthly or annual subscription basis. Customers pay a fee in exchange for access to the software.

At DevResults, we charge an annual subscription fee. The subscription fee, which includes unlimited user accounts and unlimited data storage, goes to pay for infrastructure and for support. It also pays for the initial cost of developing the software, along with the continuing costs of developing and improving it.

We also charge an initial setup and configuration fee that covers the cost of a dedicated data specialist who works to get teams up and running with the software.

How is SaaS delivered?

Software as a service is almost always accessed via a web browser. Since your data is stored in the cloud, concurrent users are working with the same information, which means that your organization has a single source of truth for mission-critical data.

The benefits of SaaS

The broadly-accepted benefits of SaaS are well-documented, but we tend to focus on three particular benefits:

1 Better software

The SaaS model produces higher quality software that gets better with time and scale. The power of SaaS is rooted in the symbiotic relationship between users and product teams. A successful SaaS product creates a virtuous cycle: The whole user base drives customer-driven product development, which makes the product better. A better product attracts more customers and more revenue, which enables the product team to grow and invest in an even better product.

The beauty of this is that all customers receive the improvements generated from the feedback loop. Customer A provides the inspiration for improving the app in a meaningful way, and customer B benefits from those enhancements. At DevResults, this means our customers benefit from the perspective and best practices of “the crowd,” resulting in better software, as well as general best practices for implementing M&E systems.

This phenomenon is especially relevant in a relatively new domain like M&E software: Different organizations are evolving at different speeds, but they’re ultimately all striving to achieve similar capabilities.

This entire model is reinforced by a pay-as-you-go fee structure that incentivizes providers to stay focused on market needs and deliver great service. Because SaaS companies need to keep earning the renewal fees of our customers, we need to constantly delight users and do better than the alternatives.

2 Less financial risk

Off-the-shelf software and standardized support services allow you to get up and running quickly, speeding up the process of learning, iterating and decision-making. You can quickly see if the tool works and cut the cord if you need to. In other words, there are lower barriers to entry, as well as lower barriers to exit.

Contractually, because SaaS providers are responsible for hosting and complying with a Service Level Agreement (SLA), they’re actually obligated and financially incentivized to deliver quality performance, feature development, and upgrades. The pay-as-you-go structure also means you aren’t legally locked in to any long-term engagements, which also provides flexibility and reduces financial risk.

3 Freedom to do what you do best

Outsourcing all of these incredibly complex risks--engineering teams, technology infrastructure, security, etc.--means you get to focus on your core competency, which is not creating and hosting software. This freedom is especially relevant to global development organizations, who are universally under-resourced on their data management teams yet have the critical function of supporting day to day data operations, M&E, and organizational learning.

Why did DevResults choose SaaS?

I joined DevResults in 2013 because I wholeheartedly bought into Herb’s vision for creating software that helped development organizations. After years of deliberation, our team figured out that custom web development was profitable in the short-term, but ultimately not the best model for building the quality, sustainable product or company we envisioned.

We are now more aligned with our users and making the best tech we're capable of. By focusing on one product and adopting the SaaS model, we’ve given ourselves a chance to go really deep into solving this one problem and we’ve defined a vision for supporting all global development organizations in the (hopefully) not so distant future.

So, next time you’re presented with the challenge of solving your team’s M&E, I hope you’ll consider software as a service. You’ll get a better product, you won’t carry nearly as much risk, and you’ll be freed up to focus on the work that really matters to you.

We plan to write a lot more about our work and trends in tech/international development, so if you’re interested in having a conversation or contributing to our blog, please don’t hesitate to reach out! We’d love to hear from you.