One of the most common impediments to healthy data practice is the IT bottleneck, a workflow dysfunction in which a SaaS provider’s technical staff become overburdened with customer reporting requests. IT bottlenecks typically occur when SaaS vendors fail to provide their users with adequate reporting tools and training, leaving customers no choice but to request technical support.
Although information management and reporting are among IT’s responsibilities, it’s not all they do. They are responsible for installing, configuring, and maintaining the company’s hardware, software, systems, and networks. Some IT teams include software engineers and data analysts as well, further broadening their purview.
When reporting requests come in, these technologists are forced to choose between risking the customer relationship and forsaking their other responsibilities. The customer relationship tends to take priority, which means the SaaS provider must contend with reduced productivity and mounting technical debt.
In severe cases, IT may be unable to work fast enough to keep up with reporting demand and end up with dissatisfied customers despite their best efforts.
You have an IT bottleneck if your ability to supply reporting assistance is outpaced by customer demand for that service. How much time you are willing to devote to ad hoc report generation will depend on the size of your IT team and the scope of its duties. Signs of a bottleneck include:
- Your IT team growing frustrated with the volume of reporting requests.
- Reduced IT productivity in non-reporting areas.
- Customers agitating for quicker turnaround on reporting requests.
IT bottlenecks are caused by inadequate reporting tools at the user level. What qualifies as “adequate” will of course depend on the SaaS application and its users’ needs, but there are generally two classes of software user to accommodate: technical and non-technical. Non-technical users typically run and manipulate premade reports or build simple ones from scratch, turning to more technical users for help with more complex tasks. With the proper tools, technical users can then furnish most of their organization’s ad hoc reporting needs.
SaaS providers wishing to avoid or alleviate IT bottlenecks must accommodate both user groups. If non-technical users cannot see to their basic data needs, they will overload their technical users with requests for help, who will in turn offload some of that work onto the SaaS IT team. If non-technical users are mostly taken care of but technical users have limited access to advanced tools, more custom reports will again become the responsibility of the SaaS IT team.
So here are some scenarios that could cause either one or both user groups to struggle for data insights:
- Your application’s reporting solution doesn’t accommodate enough use cases.
- Users cannot build the right kinds of reports.
- Users cannot perform the right calculations.
- Users cannot build the right charts.
- Your application’s reporting solution is too difficult to use.
- The user interface is too confusing.
- The way the data is presented is too confusing.
- Users do not have access to adequate training, tutorials, or documentation.
- Your application doesn’t provide users with the right canned reports.
- Your users must export their data in order to access and analyze it.
- Your users cannot export their data.
In addition to frustrating both your IT team and users, IT bottlenecks can result in decreased workplace productivity (both internally and for your customers), decreased software sales, and increased customer churn. It can also tarnish your brand’s reputation.
Once you’ve diagnosed the cause of your IT bottleneck, you can work to alleviate it. Increasing access to business intelligence and reporting tools is of course an important component, but those tools must also be accessible to both technical and non-technical users. This means selecting user-friendly tools to begin with and providing proper training and documentation to help users over the learning curve. Simply hiring more IT professionals isn’t a long-term solution, as the problem will grow in proportion to the size of your customer base. Plus, IT staff are more valuable both to the SaaS provider and its customers when given more bandwidth.
Even with proper tools in place, IT will have a role to play in creating and maintaining canned reports, but this is far less time consuming than fielding ad hoc requests. A good rule of thumb is to attempt to cover 80% of customer reporting use cases through the canned report library and any interactive configuration tools users may apply to narrow or style the results. With a sophisticated enough BI solution, the remaining 20% of cases may then be met by customers’ own technical teams, leaving SaaS IT staff free to focus on internal projects.
Originally published with Software Business Growth.