Salesforce.com rightfully deserves the credit for ushering in the technology innovation of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and the mantra of configuration rather than customization. Over the past 20 years, they have relentlessly improved the flexibility of their solution, turning it into a robust platform, while offering third-party companies the opportunity to tightly integrate their products and solutions – further extending the reach and capabilities of the overall Salesforce offering.
SaaS has been around and successful in the association and non-profit market too since Community Brands (then Avectra) released the NetForum Pro Association Management Solution in the mid-2000’s. SaaS has many benefits to both the customer and the software provider, as outlined in this article by Brand24, but my favorite benefit, and maybe the most compelling for you, is on-going and automated updates.
We can all remember (and some of us might still be experiencing) the once-a-year system updates that require substantial planning, tremendous testing commitments, and often a halt to all development projects until the upgrade is complete. You need to be nimble and proactive but that is not possible if you have to stop and perform the annual software update. The old model is a boat-anchor for both you and the software provider because it generally includes customizations, which condemn you (and the vendor) to maintaining those customizations.
You do need solutions tailored to meet your needs but what you want are configurations. Modern state-of-the-art SaaS solutions like the Nucleus Data Analytics platform (and Salesforce), allow for rapid and impactful alterations to the solution to meet your requirements, but these changes are configurations to the platform – not customizations. This can benefit you in several ways:
- Configurations do not start the undesirable break/fix cycle
- Configurations can be implemented and managed by less-technical staff
- Upgrades can happen seamlessly, without impact to your operations, while bringing valuable new features to you quickly
Equally important are the benefits to your software provider (as you want them to be efficient and successful):
- Configurations do not need to be maintained by them
- Configurations do not need to be considered during an upgrade
- Your vendor can institute a repeatable Agile sprint cycle which drives innovation, creativity, and accountability
Because Nucleus is a SaaS platform and uses configurations to tailor the product, we have been able to deliver some remarkable enhancements to the solution in a short period of time. They are as follows:
- Self-Service Visualization Builder (released March 31st)
- Data Glossary
- Configurable Goals
- Configurable API Access Keys
The Self-Service Visualization Builder is a game-changer for our clients. Now they can add an unlimited number of charts and graphs to Nucleus without needing to contact us for help. These enhancements are configurations to the system and thus automatically protected and enhanced during an upgrade. Combined with our off-the-shelf association analytics provided to each department, our clients receive best-of-breed and flexibility.
Data Governance is an important component of any data analytics initiative. As we noted in a prior blog about our Data Glossary, one vital outcome of a data governance initiative is agreeing on key terms and definitions for the organization. We recently added a Data Glossary to Nucleus that will enable you to manage all your industry terms and definitions on-line. The Nucleus Data Glossary includes a search tool and allows you to categorize and relate one term to another, to help your users find what they need. Additionally, the Data Glossary is “context aware” so that users are provided information from the Data Glossary when they are inspecting related data in a visualization.
The third example is Configurable Goals. An important component of any good data analytics solution is an executive dashboard with metrics and goals. We recently enhanced Nucleus and added Configurable Goals, which allows you to set, for example, your 2020 membership goal. As the system is collecting and aggregating your renewals and new acquisitions, the system will present that number side-by-side with the configured goal (visual included). Instead of customizing the visualization to include the goal, you can update the goal configuration and not worry that an update to the software will overwrite your work.
A slightly more technical example is our new configurable API Access Keys. With each implementation, Nucleus is integrated to several different solutions. In some case, Nucleus is pulling data into the Data Lake and in other instances, solutions are accessing data from the Data Lake. A great example of a system that can access data in the Data Lake is PowerBI. We have both a PowerBI and Tableau data connector that allows these systems to access data. Providing access to your critical organizational data needs to be carefully managed and controlled. Through configurations in Nucleus, it is extremely easy. An Admin can grant a staff member access to the Data Lake with a specific API key generated just for them. And just as quickly, they can revoke the access to that users – all through configuration.
Before you proceed with a Data Analytics initiative, ask your vendor these important questions:
- How often do you upgrade the system? If the answer is less than once a month, they are not following Agile principles and they are not a pure SaaS solution. Their innovation will be stifled.
- Are your clients all upgraded at once? If the answer is no, they are not a pure multi-tenant SaaS solution. They will be spending valuable resources upgrading their clients.
- If I make modifications to a visualization, will it be upgraded with new features in the future? If the answer is no, you are receiving customizations, not configurations and you are embarking on the break/fix cycle.
Configuration is king! And, your friend. Knowing that your vendor will be able to quickly and efficiently add new capabilities to your solution, without the fear of disrupting your operation, is not only comforting, it is good business.