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Maddy Osman
I write about productivity, the future of work, and collaboration at the Planio Blog.
February 14, 2018 · 7 min read

How to Select a Cloud App for Your Company (SaaS Provider Selection Guide)

Find the Perfect Cloud Provider

Cloud apps are indispensable tools today, as they allow you to take your work everywhere there’s an internet connection and to free up space on your computer’s hard drives.

When teams are working on the same project (or ones that influence each other), working in a cloud environment, where changes are immediately saved and synced, is essential. Without a cloud component, vast amounts of time are wasted on manually compiling various aspects of a project, which often leads to the discovery of duplicate work that could have otherwise been avoided.

There are numerous Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies that offer cloud services that can host various applications, which make it so that there is no need to install software instances on individual computers. These businesses also provide data security and customer services, which is great for small-medium enterprises (SMEs), as it means you won’t need to hire your own IT team to deal with data-storage issues.

Many users sign up for online services without thinking about whether or not the particular provider is equipped to adequately protect their personal data.

However, for all the efficiencies they provide, there are some downsides that come with relying on a SaaS cloud service. The most painful problem arises when the Internet is down. In such situations, it’s often impossible to access essential documents or software that doesn’t also exist on your hard drive. The other major issue is the threat against data privacy, as you are relying on a third-party to protect your company’s sensitive information.

Many users sign up for online services without thinking about whether or not the particular provider is equipped to adequately protect their personal data. They also rarely worry about the quality of the company’s support staff until it’s too late and the app crashes.

Though less than ideal, these risks are minimal for individuals, while the same issues can put a company relying on a similar service at great risk. This is because a company is often responsible for collecting and protecting personal data files for employees and customers, thus multiplying the damage done if data is compromised. Along these same lines, if an app crashes and a company has poor IT support, the failure could easily hinder the progress of multiple employees who rely on the system.

Knowing all of this, how do you select a cloud app for your company that adequately fits your needs?

Cloud App Functionality

By assessing the functionality of a service, it’s possible to find one SaaS plattform that supports all the apps you need, including messaging, project management, time tracking, and so on. Not only can the costs for subscriptions to multiple services quickly add up, there can also be compatibility problems that prevent the integration of these systems.

It’s easier for a company to have one SaaS provider because it saves time and money. Think of the adaptation of one comprehensive cloud service in terms of hosting one training for everyone. Just be wary of choosing something so complex that you end up paying for a lot of additional features you won’t use.

While reviewing your options, take flexibility into consideration. Is it easy to modify aspects of the product to suit your needs? If not, what solutions does the company suggest? Don’t be shy about getting on the phone and talking with company representatives, hammering out any possible hangups before committing to their service.

Other factors you want to give weight to when making your decision to select a cloud app for your company include the size of your company, the number of employees who will be using the SaaS solution, whether or not an external party will be using the system, and expected growth and changes within your company.

Note that even though an app you’re eyeing may seem good in theory, it may be another thing when you actually have to use it. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of free demos and trial periods to be sure you’re selecting the right cloud app for your company.

Cloud App Security (And What to Look For)

Recent headlines have been stuffed with news of security issues and data leaks from many online services, which has cost their businesses millions and done significant damage to clients. However, a company’s ability to battle data breaches are not the only aspects of security that you should look into. In general, security relates to their ability to backup data, protect from unexpected interruptions, provide state-of-the-art encryption, and battle hacker attacks.

Technology isn’t foolproof; systems can crash. If your SaaS solution goes down, what measures are in place to ensure your data is safe and the most recent changes saved? Make sure any potential SaaS service you might sign up with can adequately answer this simple question.

Check their SaaS Backup Plan

The bottom line is that it’s better to pay more for a good backup plan than build your data from the ground up again. All data should be regularly and systematically backed up. Your SaaS provider should make backups frequently and store them securely in geographically separate places from their main data center. When possible, find a provider who can also supply on-demand backups you can download to your own computer and make use of that feature regularly.

When the power gets cut in your building or your home, you can light a candle and read a book. For cloud providers, situations like this are a little less romantic. Ask your SaaS’ representatives about their data center facilities and typical service uptimes as well as service uptime guarantees (SLAs). Redundant power supply and emergency power generators are the standard today. Their app should also run on redundant servers and your data should be stored on highly available storage clusters. A single rented server or VPS does not provide a solid basis for a cloud app. If the app runs on a public cloud like Amazon AWS, make sure their team understands the different service availability levels and uptime guarantees and check those against your own requirements.

There is, of course, the most obvious security concern as well: hackers. Before you select a cloud app for your company, it’s necessary to assess what the SaaS provider does to protect you and your clients from hackers.

For example, does their developer team build the app with security in mind, eliminating the risk for common vulnerabilities such as Cross-Site-Scripting (XSS), SQL injections, and the like? Do they update their server software and all components to the latest versions and patch levels on time? Do they apply security fixes to common vulnerabilities such as Heartbleed or POODLE as well as to their application libraries? Do these updates happen in a timely manner?

The SaaS company you finally choose should also use the latest encryption standards as a first line of defense from hackers. A good indicator is the company’s rating on the Qualys SSL Server Test. Your SaaS provider should have a good explanation for anything less than an “A” rating here.

Don’t get caught up only thinking about the short term when you’re signing on for a SaaS service. You’ll be investing in your employees understanding the system, which means that once you’re committed, you’ll probably not be changing anytime soon. With this in mind, take the time to understand what happens to your data if the SaaS business goes bust or discontinues their services.

Cloud App Support

A good support team is why most companies opt for SaaS programs. This way, they don’t have to pay for in-house IT support.

Your chosen SaaS company’s support team should be quick and efficient. You want to ensure that they are able to rapidly reply to your requests through your preferred channels, such as email, chat, social media, or phone.

Cloud App Selection 101: Try out their support during the trial and see how hard it is to get a technical person on the line.

The more channels available, the easier it will be to reach the support team and get answers. Try out their support during the trial and see how hard it is to get a technical person on the line. If support is not included in your package, check what the additional costs will be to get the service, as it is sometimes considered an add-on available for an additional monthly fee only.

Cloud App Privacy

Beyond keeping data secure within the SaaS system, privacy issues extend to data ownership, data independence, and data storage sites.

The Case for Cloud Security

The most important question to answer is: who owns the data being stored by the SaaS provider? It’s easy to assume that since it’s your data, you own it. However, that might not necessarily be the case. If the SaaS provider goes out of business, ensure that there is a way for you to get a full backup of all your data from their system both for productivity reasons and data safety. Along the same lines, find out answers to questions such as who at the SaaS provider has access to your data? Are they able to remove it without your knowledge? Is it being analysed for marketing or other purposes?

If your provider does shut down and you are the owner of the data, will they facilitate data export? If not, you might again find yourself losing hours of sleep and years of work. Think ahead and address issues like this before committing to a provider.

It’s also important to understand the SaaS provider’s policy with regards to adhering to your countries’ rules on privacy. Will they comply with privacy laws in the European Union such as the GDPR? At the end of the day, your company is the one being responsible should any sensitive client data you stored in the cloud is lost or stolen.

Lastly, where is the physical location that the data is stored? What kind of facility is it? How secure is the facility and who has physical access to it? Too often we forget that the cloud doesn’t exist only in an online sense. Your data is sitting at a physical location somewhere. Make sure you know where it is, how well it’s protected, and which laws apply.

Pricing

There are several kinds of SaaS pricing structures, but some of the most common are:

By establishing whether or not you will get individual plans for team members or a plan for the whole company can make it easier to decide which type of payment plan works best for you. For example, if only a few key members need only a couple features, it makes more sense to go with a per active user or per feature plan. However, if you have a large company with numerous employees, a tiered plan might be the most cost-effective payment plan for you.

However, the bottom line is ensuring that the plan you go with offers everything your company needs. If you don’t want to pay a flat rate, but the SaaS provider that best fits your needs only does flat-rate plans, contact them directly and communicate your concerns to them. Their sales team will probably find a way to make it work for you.

How to Select a Cloud App

Selecting a cloud app for your company is vastly different from choosing one for personal use. The responsibilities for data protection are significantly higher and the consequences of a poor choice are exponentially worse.

When you select a cloud app for your company, there are more aspects of the cloud that need to be taken into account. Taking functionality, security, support, privacy, and pricing into account, it’s possible to evaluate all your options and find a system that will help your company grow and succeed.

When considering cloud solutions for your team, don’t forget to add Planio to your list of possibilities. Planio was created with teams in mind, designed to ensure project success by making sure everyone has access to the information they need to complete a project on schedule.

Do you have any tips for how to select a cloud app for your company? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Tweet at @Planio, and we’ll share the best insights.