What is SaaS? And what is important for NFPs to consider when adopting a new SaaS solution?

...and most new technologies for that matter!

Why are we creating these blogs?

I am always humbled and inspired by the amount of passion and drive Orange Sky (OSA) has around improving the community and wellbeing of those around them. Since the beginning the team has always tried to think outside the box and find new ways to help those in need. Amongst many other reasons, this is why I was so excited to join the OSA Campfire Team.

For those of you who may not know, Orange Sky has now added a #tech4good arm to their operations called “Campfire”. After building their own fit for purpose technology that helped them scale and manage their volunteer base/impact more efficiently, Orange Sky was backed by Google to develop and share this solution, called Campfire, in the form of SaaS (Software as a Service) with other Non-for-profit (NFP) organisations – so they too, can improve and scale their impact to the community.

As part of the Campfire journey, we are excited and passionate about sharing lessons learnt and helpful ideas surrounding technology and innovation in the NFP industry, so that we may help educate and inform amazing organisations who may be looking for new ways to improve their operations and social impact.

One of the early pieces of this journey is this blog – helping to shed light on what SaaS is, and some lessons learnt on what to consider in this space.

Hope you enjoy!

 

For many non-for-profit (NFP) organisations, we don’t have an unlimited amount of time and resources, so we need to be extremely thoughtful about where we invest our time and effort into new ideas, technologies and solutions to improve our businesses and the way we operate.

When it comes to NFPs, much of our resources are gifted to us out of the kindness of people’s hearts – whether that’s monetary donations, or the invaluable time our volunteers give us – so we must make sure everything we are gifted is utilised to its full extent in order to sustain the positive impact we have on the community (and of course in honour of our donor’s contributions / acknowledge our volunteers).

A key part of utilising our resources is making sure we are operating at full capacity by using the most appropriate technologies in the right way. When it comes to improving the way organisations operate, the Great SaaS popularity surge has been growing exponentially since the early 2000’s and is showing no signs of slowing in the future – and for good reason.

 

To get the ball rolling, I want to introduce you to a great quote that I believe really puts the concept of considering a SaaS solution into perspective:

“With SaaS, you aren’t actually buying anything tangible… no software, no hardware, and no equipment… Instead you are buying an improvement to a process, and (hopefully) a better way of working” Gavin Tye (2018)

I personally believe this sums up the best mind set to have when an organisation is considering changing or implementing a new SaaS solution.

Now before we dive into this, let’s take a step back and define/unpack what SaaS is (note: for all those who are familiar with SaaS, feel free to jump to the next section!).

What is SaaS?

Graph Source – Better Cloud

You may or not be aware, but there is a good chance you are already using SaaS in your day to day life – possibly in the form of Netflix, Dropbox, Spotify, DocuSign, Slack, or many others.

By textbook definition, “Software as a Service (SaaS) allows users to connect to and use cloud-based apps over the Internet, that you purchase on a pay-as-you-go basis from a cloud service provider. You rent the use of an app for you or your organisation, where users connect to it usually via web browser or mobile device” (quote source thanks to Microsoft Azure). Or if you are anything like me and prefer visual learning, here is a short, and easy to follow video about SaaS and cloud computing.

Why is SaaS becoming so popular? International IT giant, IBM noted “In SaaS, the user does not pay for the software itself. Instead, it works like a rental. They have the authorization to use it for a period of time and pay for the software that they are using. This provides advantages to organisation in the form of faster set up ROIs, lower costs (no software or hardware), scalability/integration, simple upgrades, and easy to use/adopt”.

In a nutshell, SaaS gives you the benefit of having fast and simple access to specialised applications (and typically) maintained and supported by experienced experts in the product/industry.

 

What to remember when you’re considering SaaS.

There is an almost endless number of things one should consider when researching, implementing and using SaaS for their organisation’s operations. Nevertheless, to keep things short, sweet and engaging, in these blogs we will only focus on 3 lessons that we have learnt over time to be very important when considering a SaaS solution for your business – Starting with “PART 1: Start with your current process”.

PART 1: Start with your current process – Necessity is the mother of Invention!

To paraphrase what was previously proclaimed, SaaS (in its most simple form) is an improvement to a process using software – which means in order to improve something we first must understand what it currently is and what are the corresponding benefits and issues involved.

For example, the international success of Dropbox. Legend has it, the co-founder created the idea at University when he kept forgetting his USB that carried important information. But Drobox did not invent the idea of file sharing – we already had servers, USB flash drives, external hard drives, floppy discs (depending how old you are). Instead they looked at how people were currently sharing files, what the current process was, then identified what needed to be kept and what needed to be changed to improve the process. Which was something like:

KEEP

IMPROVE

  • The ability to share any file type
  • Choose who gets to access/view it (but more security would be nice)
  • Secure storage (subjective!)
  • Ability to upload and download files with the click of a button

 

  • Access anywhere/anytime without the need for physical devices (e.g. USBs, ext hard drives, etc.)
  • Large and secure online storage that does not require expensive costly infrastructure
  • Ability to share and transfer files easily on an international scale
  • The ability to scale storage and use overtime – both size of files and quantity

 

The point of this isn’t to sell you the benefits of a subscription to Dropbox, the point is to show you how ‘understanding your current state’ will quickly and easily illustrate what needs to be improved and what doesn’t – allowing you to focus on only the important things that generate value.

A really important outcome of this exercise can be that (in fact) there may be no need to implement a new system at all, and your current applications may be able to handle it. By mapping out how things are currently being done and what already exists, the answer you are looking for may already be right in front of you – saving you time & dollars!

For example (and in context), say you are using NFP admin software (for arguments sake we will call “Ez-volunteer”) for your teams day to day task and check lists, and you start to think about how you are going to manage a big event you have coming up in 6 months, so you begin to shop around and read reviews around “Event Management” Software in the market. Instead, try first to:

  1. look at what you mean by “Event Management” Software, and what you hope it will do for you. Personally, it helps me to write a list and brainstorm what I want/need and what I don’t.
  2. Explore what your existing applications can already do and what their capacity and usability is, as they may be able to support your “Project Management” requirements as it is. In this case, Ez-volunteer may work as a great event management tool by allowing admins to schedule items of work and delegate them to the appropriate people including any sub tasks or requirements – i.e. day to day tasks on a bigger scale. HOWEVER, be weary that being too conservative on costs could push you to the extreme on this by forcing you to stretch a single platform too far for something is not purpose built for. For example, you could save money by not buying a spoon then trying to eat your soup with a fork – but the results may not be pretty.
  3. Contact any trusted providers of your existing applications and ask them what they suggest. Most SaaS products will have their own support teams who are experts in the product and are usually more than happy to see where else they can help (as it makes for a happier and more long-term customer). Try telling them what you are hoping to achieve and see what solutions they might come up with. Some companies may even be happy enough to introduce you to their other clients who are similar to you and who have overcome similar challenges.

Of course, if all this does not achieve what you are after and there appears to be a lack of time and resources, then it may make sense to reach out to other solutions in the market to see how they can help you.

The purpose of Part 1 is to help organisations understand that mapping your current process and the way you wish it was (in as much detail as possible) will help you to find the right solution by focusing on the problem and preventing you from buying “nice to haves” – a.k.a. shopping on an empty stomach – buying things you may not actually need.

Which is a great transition to the Second Point “PART 2: Focus on the problem” – which will be released soon on this channel.

If you are a NFP and would like more information about this or have any feedback, feel free to reach out to us by clicking here, messaging me on my profile!

By Alex Urquhart

Campfire’s Partnership Engagement Manager