Today, the reams of data collected at every customer touch-point and the move towards interacting with customers online have turned marketing into a discipline that depends heavily on technology. This shift has caught many marketers and corporate IT departments by surprise, posing challenges for both.
Most corporate IT departments already have their hands full keeping financial, manufacturing, logistics and general office systems up-and-running. They’re often short-handed and coping with reduced budgets.
The last thing they really want is to add data-intensive marketing systems to their already long list of responsibilities.
From the marketing department’s point of view, it needs flexible and reliable systems that allow it to do its job of understanding and interacting with customers in the most efficient and effective manner. The IT department doesn’t always have the skills or time to meet marketers’ needs quickly.
Software-as-a-service (SaaS) has emerged as the answer to the prayers of both the IT and marketing departments. Put simply, SaaS turns business applications into a service that end-users access across an Internet connection, usually through a Web browser.
The application is run and managed on behalf of its customers by a service provider or software vendor. Many marketers already rely on SaaS in their day-to-day jobs, even if they don’t necessarily call it that. The idea isn’t that different to the way one uses tools such as Google Analytics or Dropbox, for example.
The benefits of SaaS are enormous in the marketing environment. IT departments don’t need to invest in new infrastructure or specialised skills to look after marketing systems because the expert service provider will take care of them. This saves money for the company as a whole.
Marketing departments, meanwhile, have autonomy from the IT department and can get new business applications and campaigns up-and-running very quickly. The return on investment is usually rapid and the risk low because there is no need to build out new infrastructure.
Even integration with existing databases and systems is simplified, as most SaaS solutions now include plugins that tie systems together. Marketers can focus on the features and functionality they need from these tools rather than worrying about the technical details.
Points to ponder
SaaS comes with a few caveats. Marketers should ensure that they retain ownership and control over their data, no matter what happens to their relationship with the software vendor. Data is about control of the customer base and needs to be as carefully managed as any other strategic assets.
They should ask questions about where the application is hosted, and ensure that customer data is protected in a way that meets local legal requirements as well as international good practices. They should also protect themselves with appropriate service level agreements.
Provided these risks are managed, SaaS can help marketing departments access marketing solutions at a low cost-per-month, deploy them quickly and flexibly in response to the needs of their businesses, and do all of this while staying focused on marketing goals rather than technology.