Where the Money Lives Series, Part 6: Going Above and Beyond – Exceptional Hosting Value Isn’t About Blinking Lights
As we explore opportunities for companies to make money offering Document Management solutions to their clients, we reference our first article in the series that spoke to Software as a Service subscription revenue. SaaS is usually more than just charging a monthly fee for the software licenses – it’s hosting the whole environment and alleviating the client’s need to worry about anything technical. Regardless of the level of SaaS you’re pursuing, every client of a Document Management solution needs a place to run the software. The technical environment can either live within the company (referred to as ‘On Premises’), a Public Cloud Service (such as Microsoft or Amazon) or a Private Cloud Service (such as one you might operate for your clients).
Some companies are up to the challenge of hosting software and running the infrastructure necessary to keep a Document Management system live, backed up and safe from intruders. The value proposition must be more than ‘lights on and storage’ though, because if that’s all you’re offering, you’ve entered a price race to the bottom with the big guys better equipped to win. In order to succeed in offering Document Management hosting services, you must focus your expertise at the application level. Specifically, this means ensuring the software ‘runs well’ and that the customer is continually reminded of how much benefit they are getting from using it. Here are some examples of some essentials you’ll want to consider to continually “wow” your customer:
System Performance: It will be critical that your infrastructure team is not only monitoring the blinking server lights, but that they are on top of aspects like search crawl times and frequencies (how long it’s taking the solution to index new content for future search results), page load times (if your application is web-based), search response times (how long a search result takes to present) and other aspects of the actual application. We live in the age of instant gratification and your customers expect speed and fluidity; make sure they are impressed with system performance.
Reporting: Good Document Management systems provide a staggering amount of insight into your customer’s document content and metadata. For this to happen, most systems are running reports at fixed times (usually at night), and/or are exporting large data sets to external reporting databases. Ensuring these functions are not only running, but aren’t slowing other processes or user interaction is critical. Don’t forget to set up a periodic review with your clients to go through the details to ensure they understand the story their documents are telling them about their organization. Providing reports isn’t enough. You must provide personal guidance and filtered insights.
Automated Processes: It’s not uncommon for automated routines (data-loads from other systems, event timers, workflows) to run throughout the day and night. Consistent with the Reporting point above, your expertise at the application level can ensure there aren’t any car crashes and/or other issues preventing the system from staying current and fully functioning. Knowing the solution design, the application, as well as the infrastructure will prevent these sorts of issues. Always be thinking about how the customer experiences your solution and the value they feel they’re getting. Reviewing and fine tuning automated processes to provide a seamless customer experience will add huge benefits to positive customer experience.
Backup Recovery: It’s expected that all Document Management systems will be backed up, usually hourly. What often surprises companies is that there are frequent requests to recover deleted or lost documents from old backups. This is an extremely valuable service you can provide your clients, as you know if they are asking for a document from a backup, it’s important to them, and they really need it.
Security: Obviously this is a huge topic unto itself, but let's assume for a moment that you know how to keep the intruders out. There are still many security services that the hosting company is going to be asked to provide. Some examples include direct tunnels between the hosted Document Management system and an internal line of business system (like an accounting or client management system), providing access to third parties (such as a partners or suppliers) – but only to certain areas – and other aspects that involve both the application capabilities as well as the infrastructure features. It’s complicated, but services like this are one reason your clients will use your hosting services instead of the cheapest, no value-add, hosting they can find.
Patching: Keeping environments current for security and new functionality reasons doesn’t just occur at the operating system level. It’s important to keep the Document Management system, and all the applications running within it, current. Often updates will include new features and workflow improvements. Sharing these improvements with your customers provides value and real benefits that are impossible to ignore. Use this to your advantage.
Licence Management: As the ‘place where the software lives’ company, you are responsible to manage and maintain the software licensing – for the Document Management system, but also for ALL the other tools, utilities, 3rd party products and operating systems. This is a valuable service you are providing your client, in ensuring their compliance with all license agreements as well as anticipating usage overages. Don’t let an expired 3rd party license hinder your wow factor.
Hosting a Document Management system can be a huge value-added service for your clients. If you have the application knowledge and infrastructure skills, you can add monthly fees to your subscription pricing above the standard ‘storage’ hosting services. This is an area only the experts should go, but if you have the qualifications, it’s another place where the money lives.
Now it’s your turn - are you receiving great hosting services that include application expertise? What are you specifically looking for in a hosting provider? Please share your stories and questions with us.