Introduction To SaaS Development
Preparing for SaaS Development
Choosing the Software Engineering Language
A Comparison of The Most Popular Software Programming Languages
Building the Right Team
Managing a SaaS Development Project — Incredo’s Process
- The necessary preparations for a SaaS Development project.
- Choosing the right software language for your project.
- How to build the right team.
- Essentials of managing a SaaS Development project.
SaaS is all the talk these days. It’s taking over everything. Thanks to the revolutionary software distribution model, businesses are now able to save a ton of time, money, and human resources at remarkable levels. SaaS solutions not only cost around three times less than traditional software solutions, but they’re also way more flexible, scalable, and easier to use.
If you want your business to thrive in the years to come, it’s in your best interest to take advantage of the paradigm shift that is currently going on. For one, SaaS has radically changed the way companies are managing, storing, and exchanging data. But you’d best buckle up because it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
To get a better appreciation of SaaS and have a better perspective on what’s to come, it’d be best to get yourself familiar with how the business model evolved over the past decades.
Sometimes used interchangeably with cloud computing, the term “SaaS” or “Software as a Service” was first used in 2011. The business model that gave birth to it goes way back -- about 60 years ago when IBM offered “time-sharing” to its customers. If you have no idea what that is, think of typical keyboards and monitors attached to a main computer. It wasn’t strictly “Software as a Service,” but by using a shared resource environment, it was groundbreaking at the time and it sure as hell beat going through massive paper ledgers every time!
Soon, the dot-com boom came, and by the end of 2001, it had become apparent that the Internet was here to stay. As the Internet became widespread and more embedded in our daily lives, the computing industry implemented an early form of SaaS called ASP (Application Service Providers), a business model offering IT-enabled solutions to customers over the web. It’s also worth mentioning that during the ASP set up, each client was required to install the software locally on their PCs.
ASPs, however, didn’t have the infrastructure to support “multi-tenancy,” meaning you needed to maintain a separate instance for each client. This, of course, took up a lot of resources and undoubtedly created headaches!
Unable to scale and handle the oncoming barrage of client requests, ASPs became riddled with performance issues. Soon enough, a number of ASP companies such as Industry Consortium and FutureLink Distribution Corp began shutting down left and right.
While some ASP companies were able to weather the storm, the age of SaaS 1.0 was beginning to make its mark on the computing industry, led by none other than Salesforce.
Founded in March 1999 by three entrepreneurs, Salesforce was formed to provide SaaS solutions specifically. Though most of its revenue comes from its CRM (customer relationship management) product, Salesforce also offers consumers a variety of commercial applications on the web.
The idea behind Salesforce was as simple as it was revolutionary: to deliver software exclusively via the web using a subscription-based model. No installations, no upgrades, no nothing. While other computing companies like Zendesk and Slack followed suit, Salesforce maintained its dominance in the SaaS space. In fact, the company’s Q4 numbers indicate that its market cap has soared to $88 billion.
SaaS 2.0 came onto the scene in 2013 when enterprises started focusing on the business side of software. These developments led to the industry’s renewed focus on customer-centric business models. At SaaS Fest 2016, David Cancel of Drift said in his talk that SaaS 2.0 will be ruled by the customer, adding that companies who put the needs of their customers first will dominate the competition.
This is evident today. In our increasingly digitized society, customers are expecting more, challenging businesses to deliver a seamless, omnichannel experience while using the best technology to provide personalized services.
Due to its robust infrastructure, exceptional scalability and seamless integration with third-party services and tools, SaaS applications were able to implement and take advantage of emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, data analytics, and AR/VR (Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality). This signaled the start of the SaaS 3.0 era.
Artificial Intelligence, in particular, has often been dubbed as “the next big thing” in the technology industry. With SaaS serving as the defacto delivery model, a handful of AI-infused apps are getting smarter and more intelligent than ever.
Big players like Amazon, Oracle, and AWS have been carving out a place for themselves in the AI space by developing “AI as a service” cloud tools. However, as cloud services and enterprise technology are becoming cheaper, small to medium-sized businesses are starting to catch up to their larger counterparts. This is even more apparent because anyone with extensive knowledge of the five primary programming languages (Python, Prolog, JAVA, C++, and LISP) is capable of building AI technologies that have the potential to disrupt the market.
AR/VR technology is also picking up speed and covering a lot of ground thanks to the SaaS model. With SaaS authoring tools like Lectora Online, Gomo, and dominKnow available online, you can easily create 360VR interactive environments without entering a single line of code!
The Blockchain sector has also significantly impacted SaaS. As the number of people who want to build on Blockchain continues to increase, so does the demand for SaaS solutions tailored to Blockchain technologies.
So what does the future hold for SaaS as a business model? One thing’s obvious, SaaS is not going anywhere soon. According to a 2017 study conducted by BetterCloud, 73% of enterprises will run almost entirely on SaaS by 2020. And you’d better get in on the action if you want your business to thrive and survive through the massive changes that are ahead of us.
Preparing for a SaaS development project can be a daunting task for most project managers. For one thing, building a SaaS enterprise solution is a process with many moving parts. If you’re not careful, chances are your project won’t see the light of day outside of the development phase.
Like every process, SaaS enterprise development requires specific steps and methodologies, not to mention the expertise, to bring a successful product to market. Every big project needs a strong foundation to build upon. By laying out the initial groundwork for your SaaS project, you can create a solid base upon which everything else follows and grows.
To put it simply, if you want to get everything right, you have to make the correct preparations. Here are four essential steps to ensure that your SaaS enterprise project becomes a success.
Your SaaS product is bound for failure if you don’t take the time to understand your target user. If you don’t understand their pain points, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to provide them with real solutions that they’ll need. To learn more about your target user, you need to do some extensive research. You can begin by asking the following questions:
You have to do a whole lot better than just answering these questions in a broad manner. For your SaaS product to be a big hit with your consumers, you have to narrow down your user base and understand your target audience all the way down to the most minute details. One of the most effective ways of doing so is by creating user personas.
User personas are character sketches that represent your prospective users, and in the case of B2B marketing, decision-makers. The more detailed your user persona is, the better it will serve you in terms of propelling the growth of your SaaS application. What’s more, a detailed user persona gives your marketers something to work with when it comes to building your brand’s authority and engaging your target audience.
If you don’t feel that user personas are essential to your business, bear in mind that a 2016 study by Cintell reported that 71% of companies that exceeded their revenue and lead goals used documented personas to drive their marketing efforts.
If you’ve already developed a SaaS product before, you can interview ideal users from your existing customer base. You can ask them the following:
Tailor your questions to your specific business needs so you’ll get the answers that’ll help you better target the needs of your user base. For a comprehensive list of questions to ask your target users, you can check out 33 Degrees Design Studio’s free template.
Another useful method that can help you add more detail to your user persona is to use Google Analytics. Analytics reports, after all, provide comprehensive data that tell a great deal about the behavior of users when they use your app. By drawing insights from such data, you can determine what users want to achieve. Knowing what they want to achieve will help you come up with ideas or solutions that can help them out.
When you go to the Audience section and select Demographics, you’ll see a detailed breakdown of your site’s visitors, including their age and gender.
By looking at and analyzing each of these metrics and exploring their correlations between different demographic segments, you can come up with actionable insights that will help you address the needs of your target audience.
Google Analytics’ Interest Reports, as the name implies, gives you detailed information about your users’ interests. Go to Interest Reports and then go to Audience then Interests. Once there, you’ll see three main categories, which are:
If you’re just starting out, you can enrich your user persona by looking at your competitors’ customers. After all, they’re a part of your target audience too. Tracking social media mentions of your competitors can help you acquire key insights that can inform your target audience’s purchasing behavior. There’s a ton of social listening tools that can help you do just that, including HootSuite, BuzzSumo, Tweetdeck, Google Alerts, and more.
Once you have a fully developed user persona, you can use it as a guide that will inform your decisions as you build your SaaS app’s features. For example, if customer churn is one of your prospects’ major pain points, you can develop a feature that makes it easier for them to personalize their interactions with their clients.
If your SaaS app caters to businesses, keep in mind that business decision makers have a different purchasing behavior from that of regular consumers. C level execs tasked to look for SaaS solutions are likely to spend more hours online before deciding. Because they are accountable to others within their organization, they are going to look closely at the particular needs of their business before picking a SaaS solution. They may also need to consult with other decision makers within their respective organization, each with a different area of expertise.
Once you’ve worked out the answers to these questions, you can start brainstorming with your partners on how you can differentiate your brand from your competitors. Do you think you can offer a similar product at a lower price? Are there underserved marketing channels you can capitalize on? From there, you can come up with a unique value proposition that will convince your prospects that your product or service is the better option.
It pays to know which software engineering languages your competitors are using for their respective SaaS apps. Monitoring the relevant details of how they implement their products can reveal a great deal about processes and tools that you’re missing out on. It helps to identify specific strategies your competitors are using. Perhaps you can adopt these strategies yourself to better address the specific needs of your business and your customers.
Speaking of tools, BuiltWith is one competitor analysis solutions provider that can help you “spy” on your competitors, particularly the technologies they are using. The tool allows you to check out the software engineering languages they’re using for their web applications. Even better, it provides access to market analysis data that will help you edge out your competitors.
Before releasing your enterprise SaaS solution into the wild, you have to run it through beta testing. This can help you come up with a better product down the line because:
An excellent way to pull this off is to implement an MVP process. For those who are not familiar with the term, MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. As the name itself suggests, MVP is an early version of your SaaS app. What it essentially does is help you get to the full version of the product within a shorter time frame.
For the MVP process to work, start with a prototype that aims to solve one major problem for the customer. The goal here is to give early adopters the opportunity to validate their assumptions about your product’s usability, enabling them to come up with insights and suggestions that would help you improve your product before its official release
Conceptualizing a product or service is one thing; releasing it to the world is quite another. Developing a SaaS solution is a long, complex process and integral aspects of communication may get lost in translation. This is where rapid prototyping can come in handy.
Rapid prototyping in SaaS development is a process where the team creates a mock-up version of your product’s final version. In short, you’re creating an incomplete copy of your product but with its most basic elements and functions intact. With rapid prototyping, you and your team can get a better grasp of what the final version will look like and how it will function with minimal time investment. It helps you test ideas in regards to its overall design and functionality. Additionally, it can also help the development team come up with insights that will help them refine the product further towards the project’s completion.
Low-fidelity prototypes contain only the most basic elements of the final product, including visual elements, key content, structural hierarchies, and more. Creating a lo-fi prototype usually takes less than an hour, allowing the development team to explore ideas and hypotheses in a shorter time frame. It’s also affordable, making it the more attractive choice for development teams who are working on a tight budget.
One major downside of using a low-fidelity prototype is that its bare bones approach may result in inaccurate testing. Due to its limited interactivity, interaction flows may not be as detailed, and things may not translate well in the implementation stage.
A Hi-fi prototype is an interactive prototype that looks and functions like the final product. Since its visual elements and content are more detailed, high-fidelity prototypes often result in more accurate and effective testing. It’s highly interactive, allowing the team to think more critically about technical considerations they may face in both the developmental and implementation stages.
Unlike lo-fi prototypes, hi-fi prototypes are more expensive and require more time to create. A project that has a limited budget may find it difficult to convince stakeholders to throw their support for the product.
At this point, you already know that your enterprise SaaS solution makes sense -- both from a marketing and user experience standpoint. Your next order of business is to come up with a structured roadmap outlining the features and functionalities that you need to implement in the forthcoming releases. Make sure that you make the necessary tweaks and polishes to ensure that all issues that were raised in the MVP phase have been resolved.
With that part done, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty -- choosing the software engineering language that will be used to develop your SaaS app. You want to make sure that the technologies used for the project are efficient, fast, robust, and conducive to iterations.
Those who don’t have a deep background in programming may find it difficult to wrap their heads around the technical processes involved. In this case, it’s imperative to know that web or software development is composed of two parts: the front-end and the back-end. The front-end side of development is often referred to as the client-side while the back-end is often called the server-side.
Back-end or the server-side typically refers to the guts of the app that lives on the server. The back-end is hidden from users, but without it, the websites and the applications they are using will merely cease to exist. The back-end, after all, is where the heavy calculations and the data wrangling are done. In other words, the front-end or UI owes the front-end a boatload for doing most of the dirty work.
Back-end developers use a wide range of programming languages and frameworks, including PHP, Python, Java, and Ruby, not to mention database systems such as Oracle, MySQL, and SQL Server.
Next, you’d want to pick the software engineering languages that will be used in developing your SaaS application. At the very least, you should have minimum background knowledge of different programming languages. That way, you’ll be in a better position to check whether your business objectives are being met.
There are two possible scenarios when it comes to hiring a team of developers. Either you choose to hire a CTO (chief technology officer) beforehand or work with a third party agency. If you go with hiring one, chances are the CTO already has a programming language in mind. Since the CTO is responsible for overseeing all technical aspects of the SaaS project, you don’t have to do much beyond communicating your startup’s strategic goals. The CTO should be able to carry these goals out while communicating and collaborating with the entire development team.
If you’re still looking for a CTO, then you’d need to have at least a general idea about which programming language will be ideal for your SaaS enterprise app before you start screening candidates. It will end up saving you more time in the end.
Choosing a software programming language is where it gets really tricky. For one thing, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to picking one. But you can narrow down your list by using the following criteria in the selection process.
Every software deals with data on a regular basis. But if it doesn’t have enough resources to manage and process data efficiently, your users will end up frustrated. So for better results, pick a programming language that provides an excellent environment for database-building. That said, the best programming language for your SaaS solution will depend mainly on the type of database you want to use. The following are different database types you need to keep your eye on.
Is your SaaS application more focused on data integrity? Is it meant to handle highly-structured data? In such cases, relational database management systems like Oracle, MySQL, MS Server, or PostgreSQL are ideal.
If your software is geared towards managing semi or unstructured data and processing in-depth data analysis, you’re better off using document database systems like MongoDB and Couchbase.
SaaS apps built for optimizing data management at scale will work best using key-value database systems or key-value stores. Redis and Memcached are currently the most popular key-value stores in the market.
Wide-column stores, on the other hand, are ideal for apps that require significant data analytics and large-scale projects on account of their processing speed. Cassandra, HBase, and Accumolo are known to be proficient in handling large datasets.
Early prototype testing
A good programming language should leave a lot of room for early prototyping. The earlier you can test a software’s usability, the earlier you can get user feedback. In the end, it saves you more time and money, allowing you to make the necessary adjustments and modifications before heading into the MVP process.
Speed and performance
The fastest and best performing programming language will depend on your field. But for general purposes, Python or Ruby is ideal.
Potential for scalability
Scalability is integral to a successful SaaS platform. After all, your business can’t grow if your SaaS solution doesn’t offer room for growth. To make your SaaS scalable, you have to choose the right software stack for the project.
To help you narrow down your list, let’s discuss what makes each programming language unique, including their respective pros and cons.
- The necessary preparations for a SaaS Development project.
- Choosing the right software language for your project.
- How to build the right team.
- Essentials of managing a SaaS Development project.
PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) is a scripting language used to build super simple, dynamic web pages quickly and efficiently. Since its debut in 1995 it's been a popular go-to for web developers.
Say you're working on a SaaS project and struggling to pick the right framework for developing, PHP is your best choice.
For starters, it offers the best solutions to the most common problems. Thanks to its robust app setup, each and every phase of development are kept streamlined. There are tons of packages, libraries, and frameworks that you can snag for free. Who doesn't like free stuff!?
You can put your mind at ease when it comes to security too since PHP is continually peer-reviewed. With the right PHP framework, you can read, maintain, and test your code a whole lot easier.
The PHP community is also large and diverse, not to mention friendly, helpful and welcoming. So if you find yourself stuck in a specific phase of your SaaS development, you can always rely on the PHP community for help.
One major drawback of using PHP is that it tends to execute more slowly compared to other programming languages. The reason for this is because the PHP framework requires more resources than most languages. Also, PHP lacks the focus of other languages when it comes to staying ahead of the curve due to its legacy baggage. Regardless of how old the language is it's still reliable and an easy go-to.
On top of that, Node.js’s unrestricted and dynamic nature gives you more freedom when building apps. There’s so much freedom, in fact, that developers are finding building apps from scratch is totally doable.
Node.js uses a non-blocking IO system, allowing it to process several requests at the same time. As a result, your app requires less RAM, allowing for greater speed and reliability. Non-blocking IO system = less processes = less RAM used = more speed.
Node.js’s main weakness is that it doesn’t support multi-threaded programming so it can handle complex apps. It uses single-threaded programming, which isn't exactly ideal for processing heavy computations. Another con of using Node.js inconsistency with the API, which changes frequently. This leads to compatibility issues from time to time. Grrrr!