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Five questions to help you spot fake SaaS

Walking around TM Forum’s DTW – Ignite event last week, I was chuckling to myself as I saw a whole plethora of vendors claiming how they now offer their product as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). I’m talking about dinosaur vendors jazzing up their marketing lingo to try to pass off updated legacy products as true SaaS solutions—basically, SaaS-washing their products. But it made me wonder: as a telco executive evaluating enterprise software, how can you tell #fakeSaaS from real SaaS? It’s a tricky landscape, and cutting through the noise is crucial for telcos. 

The most famous example of SaaS software that most enterprise software buyers are familiar with is Salesforce, the CRM company. Becoming a customer of Salesforce is super easy. There’s nothing to install; instead, you simply go to its website, Salesforce.com, and sign up. Within seconds you’re given a login and you can begin using the software. That’s it. You don’t care about where it’s installed (it’s running on AWS, by the way); you just start using it. There’s no fighting to get it installed, or wait time before it’s deployed. You just log in.

But adoption of SaaS products has been slower in the telco sector than others. As acting CEO of Totogi, the SaaS monetization company, I often get questions like, “But we’re an Azure shop, we want Totogi to run on Azure,” or “We’re building a private cloud, can we run Totogi on-premise?” And my answer is: NO, THAT’S NOT HOW SaaS WORKS. Totogi Charging-as-a-Service is truly a SaaS product, just like Salesforce. We give you a login, and you just start using the product. It doesn’t matter which hyperscaler you use and you don’t install it on-prem. We connect to your network and you’re ready to go.

There’s a reason SaaS has become the de facto standard for software outside of telco. It’s awesome. It’s easier to use, has lower TCO, and allows users to focus on what matters: using the product (not fidgeting with installs and upgrades). CSPs should be adopting SaaS like crazy, but it’s particularly crucial for mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). They are lean and nimble, with smaller teams and tighter margins. SaaS solutions can deliver the agility and cost-efficiency they need.

Five questions for exposing #fakeSaaS

The truth is, it’s pretty easy for vendors to #fakeSaaS. All they have to do is change the commercial agreement. Behind the curtains the software hasn’t changed; it looks the same, and it’s deployed in the same way (customer by customer). Instead of selling their product with a perpetual license (owned), #fakeSaaS vendors license it as a subscription (rented) to give you that “pay-as-you-grow” feeling. To make it feel more “SaaSy,” they install it in their managed cloud, maintained by an army of their managed services professionals. This is HOSTED software, not SaaS software. In order to be true SaaS, legacy products have to be rearchitected and rewritten, requiring significant investment by legacy vendors. It’s easier and cheaper to do #fakeSaaS, and so most vendors opt for the shortcut.

True SaaS is about more than the commercial arrangement or who’s managing the production instance. It offers a harmonious blend of multi-tenancy, real-time adaptability, scalability, and openness. To help you cut through the noise to find REAL SaaS solutions, here are five copy-and-paste questions you can ask your vendors.

1. Infrastructure 

Question: Can you describe the underlying infrastructure of your solution and how it’s different from traditional hosting?

Why ask: This question will reveal whether the solution has true SaaS architecture or is a rebranded legacy system.

Bad answer: “We stand up your production instance. We assign a team to support your deployment.”

Good answer: “Our platform is running on the cloud as we speak. All we need to do is give you a login and you’re up and running.”

2. New Versions / Upgrades

Question: How does my instance get access to new features?

Why ask: Real SaaS updates the platform—and all customers—at once, not customer by customer. Customers are on the same exact version of the software leading to economies of scale for the vendor and lower cost for you.

Bad answer: “You are in charge of when you move to a new version. We may charge you for the new software, and, of course, we need to make sure all your integrations and customizations are tested before we put it into production. That will be an extra charge, too.”

Good answer: “We upgrade our platform on a regular basis with little-to-no downtime. All customers are on the same version of our platform, which allows us to support our customers better and keep feature velocity high. There’s no charge for new versions or upgrades.”

3. Disaster recovery 

Question: Describe your disaster recovery plan for the SaaS software.

Why ask: Genuine SaaS has resilience built into the product from day one, ensuring that no manual steps are required for failover. 

Bad answer: “We can set that up for you for an additional cost and additional licensing fees.”

Good answer: “We use multiple availability zones for the cloud regions where our platform is running, with real-time replication and automatic failover mechanisms.”

4. Scalability

Question: How does your platform scale up when more capacity is needed?

Why ask: This will reveal if the vendor can truly deliver on the elastic scalability of real SaaS, or if extra capacity is allocated as a manual, pre-configured process.

Bad answer: “We allocate a fixed amount of resources per customer, based on predicted use. We monitor it for changes in capacity needs and provision manually as needed.”

Good answer: “Our platform scales dynamically with user load, distributing resources as needed. A great example is Event X, where we handled 500k additional transactions per second over regular demand.”

5. APIs and extensibility

Question: Who can use your APIs and API documentation?

Why ask: Real SaaS platforms evolve with well-maintained APIs and provide transparent API documentation.

Bad answer: “We have API documentation, but only our own consultants have access to it and you have to pay us to make any modifications to extensions or integrations that touch our system.”

Good answer: “Absolutely! We update our extensive API documentation with each release, which ensures smooth integration. We even provide sample code to make it easier for developers to use our API. You can access it yourself, have your systems integration partner do it, or we can help. Your choice.”

When all else fails, I remind execs to use one simple test: “WWSFD (What Would Salesforce Do)?” If the vendor’s answer fits how Salesforce would support its customers, it’s probably SaaS. If it doesn’t, it’s probably not.

For all telcos, but especially MVNOs, selecting true SaaS solutions matters. These solutions should allow you to focus on growing your business, not technical deployments.

You know whose solutions are truly SaaS? Totogi’s! I’m acting CEO of this SaaS monetization platform for modern telcos, which offers Charging as a Service, Churn Prediction Service, and more. Come see it all in action, and hear my keynote at MVNO Nation Live on October 23 – 25 in Valencia, Spain. You won’t want to miss it!

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