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Jim McIntosh

September 27, 2017

Product Strategy For Scale: Features

or the majority of SaaS products growth equates to adding more users or utilization. For this reason it’s critical that product strategy consider scale.There are obviously many complex operational and systems factors of supporting SaaS products at scale — like software framework, database technologies, enterprise class hosting, sales and marketing campaigns, information security, and compliance controls. I propose product management develop a product strategy that focuses on these three user centric areas:

  • Functional: The features and design of your software

  • Product support: The resources for onboarding and learning

  • Go-to-market: The pricing, packaging, and agreement structure for your product

In this article I’ll be sharing three examples of functional features and the positive impact they can have for your SaaS products. Future posts will cover product support and go-to-market strategies.

Start your journey to scale with search

Search is often used as a verb but in this case I’m referring to search as a noun — as a component of a software architecture.Definitely start simple and offers a search bar to the key objects (documents, users, orders, etc.) to your application to allow users an alternate navigation to the objects they are looking for. Yes, your front-end engineer could write a simple text query for the titles of the main objects in your database with much less effort (debatable). However, your current and future users will thank you for choosing to take a more strategic approach.Have your engineering team pick a best-in-class service because the it will provide higher performance and support innovative features moving forward. I recommend selecting one of the platforms based on Lucene — Solr or Elasticsearch.Once a search platform like this is in place you will be able to add recommendations, reporting, and conditional alerting... Solr is a better option if you are looking for a lighter footprint and faster performance. Elasticsearch is a better option for ease of maintenance and extension of services like reporting or event-based alerting.Mimir+ProductStrategyForScale

Integrate with Identity and SSO providers

“Creating and managing accounts in every new SaaS application my company adopts is simple,” said no one ever.

Survey results vary but most companies with more than 100 users have between 15–30 SaaS applications. Adoption of new SaaS applications in enterprise organizations without single sign-on (SSO) can be an instant roadblock to scaling with the enterprise. I strongly recommend adding an SSO strategy to your product. Simply authenticating users to the application is the starting point, but as the application scales it would be strategic to use that service for provisioning, group assignment, and metadata access.SSO+MimirSource

Most software engineering teams are aware of the SAML and OAuth standards. These standards have matured to the point that developing your own integration is likely the best option. This strategy allows you to also integrate with third party identity providers like Okta, Salesforce, Google, etc.

Make your objects extensible and adaptable

Companies and institutions are all unique in some way. It’s part of what makes up their culture. They use different languages to describe similar features, connect systems with different IDs, and may not be able to connect some systems due to legacy rules or requirements. A scaleable product strategy should align with the company’s core values and define how to link their systems through metadata on objects like users, accounts, products, etc. The notion of extending core objects and even offering synonym support date back 25 years with Oracle — this is nothing new. However, I’ve only seen a few SaaS platforms incorporating this into their strategy in the past three to five years.Aha.io is benchmarking how administrators to change the labels of objects to use the language their customers use. Having a common language across applications can drastically impact the ability to understand and adopt new technology in a broad way.

Aha.io+Mimir

Google’s G Suite offers an intuitive interface to extent the contact record with common and custom fields. Salesforce has developed a platform as a service (PaaS) with the ability to extend objects — another topic in itself. At Mimir we are working to extend the user record in a similar fashion in an upcoming release. This will allow our customers to associate the school ID from another learning management system that doesn’t have the ability to integrate directly.

There are many more examples of features that can support additional scale. Others that I find to be strategic are sub accounts or work groups due to the addition of localization for language, currency, and timezone. And, proactively delivering summary reports to users who may not be in the application on a day-to-day basis. The examples I listed in this post were ones that I felt provided the greatest impact and most return on investment. I’d be happy to continue the discussion on other options in comments, as I love this subject!