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How limited is customization in a cloud computing or software as a service (SaaS) solution?

This question was asked by an attendee at a recent Proformative Cloud Computing and SaaS event: How limited is customization in a cloud computing or software as a service (SaaS) solution?  We need flexibiltiy as we grow to handle customized integrations and reporting.  This is my biggest concern in a cloud computing / SaaS environment.


Brain Moore
Title: Owner
Company: SMB
(Owner, SMB) |

You should opt for a private cloud. A private cloud is also known as an internal cloud or an enterprise cloud. Private cloud services are provided “as a service” over the Internet. Private cloud is deployed over a company intranet or hosted data center. This is private product for a company or organization offering advanced security and highly available or fault tolerant solutions not possible in a public cloud. In this scenario, the private cloud owner shares few, if any, resources with other organizations. Here, customization is not an issue.

Topic Expert
Len Green
Title: Performance Improvement Consultant and E..
Company: Haygarth Consulting LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Performance Improvement Consultant and ERP Strategist, Haygarth Consulting LLC) |

Here's my perspective as a person who helps clients choose and use software.

Firstly, Cloud and SaaS = 2 different concepts (with some overlap :)).
Cloud computing means you are connecting via the interent to your applications that are installed/hosted remotely. You can take applications out of your own data center and have a 3rd party host them...that's a form of cloud computing. Example: MS Dynamics GP, SAP R/3, Lawson, Oracle EBS.

SaaS software = applications that are hosted "in the cloud" where multiple clients share the same software code, but where each client's data is secure and not accessible by other clients. Examples: IntAcct, NetSuite, SAP ByDesign, Ultipro.

Now-let's address your question re customization. I will focus on SaaS software. Technically, customization refers to changing software code. Not recommended unless in extreme circumstances (because you may encounter issues when upgrades come around). What I find that people mean is "configuration" because they are looking for flexibility. The question in the back of their minds is "How can my software adapt when my business model changes? I don't want to change ERP systems again."

When evaluating SaaS software, it is critical to examine the native features that permit configuration by end users (and avoid the need to hire consultants to do this work). Some of the indicators of "configurability" can include:
1. Ability to add user defined fields to master data (e.g. adding attributes to GL accounts, vendor or customer master records)-and what types of fields are they (text, list box, radio button...)
2. Whether those user defined fields can be easily added to queries/saved searches that users may create in the future (and can the queries be shared with other users)
3. Ability to modify pre-delivered reports and queries to suit your own reporting requirements (e.g. sort AR aging by largest to smallest balances, summarize sales by customer category, creating exception based lists, etc.).
4. Ability to process transactions from outside systems in bulk, with error checking controls.
5. Are configuration changes automatically applied to all subsidiaries or can they be limited?

If you simply have moved your current on-premise software to a hosted provider (that's cloud but not SaaS), your configuration capability is driven by the way your software vendor permits that and/or how you have already made such changes to the system.

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