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Top 12 Questions and Requirements for SaaS & Cloud Vendors – Technology, Security, Identity Management, Compliance, Standards**

July 20, 2011 2 comments

Evaluating, selecting and implementing a SaaS or a Cloud based application goes beyond just the application functionality. This is just 50% of the equation or value proposition. Looking into the other technology aspects of the SaaS vendor is very very important such as Security, Compliance, Data, Identity Management, Integration, Standards, Support, Hosting facility, SLAs etc.

Business has a lot of urgency and temptation to select and implement SaaS applications. As IT we need to help them in choosing the right solution that meets both business and technology requirements. This is where IT can partner with the Business to provide additional value in evaluating and selecting the right SaaS vendors that meets both business and technology objectives. By doing this you can avoid the pitfalls of business selecting and implementing SaaS applications outside of IT.

Following are the Top 12 questions & requirements you will need to ask SaaS and Cloud vendors. This is based on my experience in evaluating, selecting and implementing 12+ SaaS applications and 3 cloud environments over the past 4 plus years.

**See related detailed post on SaaS Vendor Evaluation and Selection Process – Framework, Reference architectures, SaaS identity Management)**

**See Cloud ROI framework from Forrester**

1. Hosting Provider & Data Location

  • Who is the hosting provider?
  • Where is the hosting location? Country, State?
  • What type of infrastructure is used? Hardware, software, operating system, technology platform?
  • Ask for the architecture diagrams for all layers? Business, Application, Integration, Data & infrastructure layer diagrams?
  • Where is the primary data being stored? In order to comply with local jurisdiction, privacy and regulation requirements
  • Where is the backup data being stored?
  • What type of virtualization software is used? VM Ware, Hyper-V?
  • What type of network bandwidth is available (min 100 Mbps) ? What options are available for dedicated bandwidth?
  • What type of scalability is provided for additional computing power – CPU, RAM, Storage? Costs? Time to implement?

2. Data Access, Security, Segregation & Encryption

  • Is it a dedicated or a shared environment?
  • If it a shared environment, how is the data segregated from other shared environments?
  • What type of data architecture is implemented? Diagrams?
  • How is security managed in the shared environment? What controls are in place?
  • Who has access to the infrastructure, hardware, software, data? Ask for specific info on the roles & responsibilities of administrators, profiles, hiring practices etc
  • What application & data access audit logs are available? How often can you get this?
  • How is the primary data encrypted? What encryption schemes are used? Who has access to the decryption keys? How often is this tested?
  • How is the backup data stored? Is the data in raw files or encrypted format? What locations are the backup data stored? Who has access to this backup data?
  • What type of investigative support is provided in cases of breach?
  • Is the vendor is acquired, sold or dissolved? What options are available to get the data? Costs? How is the data wiped out of the environment?

3. Regulatory Compliance

Business is responsible for the data security, integrity and privacy even if it is a SaaS app that is management by the vendor.

  • What types of regulations are being followed complied?
  • PCI & HIPPA compliance? What options are available? How is this managed?
  • How often is this audited?
  • How is this enforced?
  • Ask for availability & access to the audit reports on a regular basis

4. Hosting Facility Security & Compliance

  • Is the hosting facility SAS 70 II (Statement of Auditing Standards) compliant? This is an important requirement as this encompasses all security and regulations compliance?
  • How often is this compliance audited?
  • Auditing and compliance is just 50% of the requirement. It is important to find out how the hosting vendor actively enforcing SAS 70 II controls is & requirements in to their work processes. Ask for this info in detail.

5. Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery

  • What type of business continuity & disaster recovery options are available? Is this part of the standard services?
  • Where are the DR (disaster recovery) data centers locations located?
  • What type of infrastructure exists to replicate and synchronize data between the primary and DR data centers? Is this available in real-time, daily?
  • If the primary environment is down?  How quickly can the DR environment be made active either in the primary or the DR data center?

6. Identity Management, Security & Single Sign-On

  • What type of identity management solution is provided? (See related post on Identity management)
  • Is Single Sign-On (SSO) provided? What types of SSO options are available? SAML, HTTP-Fed, Open Auth etc?
  • Can the SaaS app be integrated with an existing Identity Management system?
  • What type of user store is available? Can this user store be integrated with Active Directory or any other user store database?
  • What type of user security, authentication and authorization options are available?

7. Standards, Policies, Procedures & Frameworks

  • What architecture and technology standards, policies and procedures do you follow and comply?
  • What architecture frameworks do you follow? TOGAF?
  • How do you manage the projects internally? Agile, PMP?
  • What type of professional services do you offer to implement and support the SaaS application? What type of PM resources do you have? Skills, experience, certifications etc?

8. Integration, APIs & Reports

  • What type of APIs and web-services are available to pull and push data?
  • Are the APIs secured and encrypted?
  • Is there an option to access the data directly from the database?
  • What type of reports can be generated or created?

9. Support & Maintenance

  • What type of support is provided? Self-service, email, phone?
  • What are the support times? 24×7, 5 days a week?
  • What are the support response times? Critical, Urgent, High & Low issues/requests?
  • Who provides the support desk and where are they located? How many employees is part of the support desk? Dedicated or shared with projects?
  • Is there a premium support model?
  • What type of monitoring and alerting does the vendor provide?
  • What type of migration and integration support does the vendor provide?
  • Is there a dedicated support manager and account rep?
  • How do you support and manage integration with the customer’s existing SaaS apps?
  • How are upgrades, patches and other maintenance performed?
  • What type of change management & risk management procedures do you follow? How often is this communicated to the customers?
  • Does the customer have any control on applying patches, upgrades and changes to the SaaS app? (this is very important to know especially if the SaaS app is integrated with other SaaS apps).

10 Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

  • What SLAs are available – reliability, availability, performance, issues, requests etc? Penalties?
  • What types of credits are available if SLAs are not met?
  • Are the terms & conditions of the contract tied to the SLAs?
  • Is the exit strategy tied to the SLAs?
  • Is there a regular meeting (monthly/quarterly) to review the SLAs, issues, requests?
  • Who will be part of the SLAs meetings?
  • How are the issues escalated if the SLAs are not complied? Who can we escalate to in the management team?

11. Vendor Management, Product Road-map & Viability

  • Who is the management? What is their experience?
  • Is it funded by a VC firm? Who is it?
  • What are their financials? How many customers do they have?
  • What is the organization structure? How many employees? Where are they located?
  • How many employees are there in the product development & support team?
  • What is their product road-map and strategy?
  • How are they managing their product strategy? Competition, Market, Positioning, Customer requirements? How is this communicated and how often?
  • How do they accommodate customer requirements into their product strategy? Is there a customer advisory council?
  • Do you provide a trial or proof of concept for your product including new features?

12. Pricing & Contract

  • After reviewing the above 11 items, the prices may vary from your initial analysis/requirements (this always happened in my case!!). Understanding the true pricing is very important.
  • What is included and excluded in the pricing? Will you charge for new product features?
  • Are you open to contract negotiations that meet the company legal needs & requirements?
  • What is the minimum contract period? Are there any discounts for long-term contract? Is there an option to exit during the contract and what are the terms & conditions, penalties?
  • See sample SaaS legal addendum

By doing the above, IT can play a valuable partner with business to evaluate, select and implement SaaS or Cloud based applications.

Contact Info

LinkedIn  kchakkarapani@yahoo.com

SaaS Vendor Evaluation and Selection Process – Framework, Reference architectures, SaaS identity Management

July 6, 2011 2 comments

Evaluating and selecting a SaaS vendor is more of an “Art” than “Science”. Each SaaS vendor has an unique identity and offers different products and services for different industries.

I am an early adopter of SaaS….back in early 2006 when the SaaS concept was taking shape and new terms such as IaaS, PaaS were popping up. I was truly amazed with the whole concept as it was “truly” different than its predecessor “ASP” model and a “true” pay as you go model.

For every business/IT initiative, I see whether we can go the SaaS way. So far I have evaluated, selected and implemented 12+ SaaS applications across various business functions and processes – Enterprise Collaboration (Socialtext), Social Media(Higher Logic), Document Management (Box.Net), Video Collaboration(Delve Networks), Electronic Fax (Protus MyFax), CRM (Avectra), HR/Payroll(Ultipro), IT Service Desk, Operations & Management ITIL V3 (Numara Footprints), Mobile Applications (QuickMobile), Digital Publications/eBooks (Texterity) etc.

We also ended up going for a Hybrid Cloud based on-premise SaaS solution to address the Single Sign-On & Identity management (Symplified) for SaaS applications. This one was the “Mother” of all SaaS apps. This is a common challenge that many organizations are facing or will face soon as the number/usage of SaaS apps increases. See a related article on Federation 2.0: An Identity ecosystem. I have shared some comments/ideas.

We have also taken SaaS adoption and use to the next level by integrating 4 SaaS apps to provide an unique product and value to the business. For example, we integrated Document Management (Box.Net), Video Management (Delve Networks) and IT Service Desk (Numara Footprints) to our Enterprise Collaboration Platform (Socialtext). Click here to see this architecture.

As business units are free to scan the market, evaluate and select the SaaS applications without IT’s involvement (the frustration and blockers comes in when the SaaS app needs to integrate with other SaaS apps, AD or enterprise applications, it’s too late at that time), we found a way on how to manage this as well. We made IT as a “true” partner for the business and showed/demonstrated how IT can provide value to this process. We have also developed expertise in legal review of contracts (very interesting to review contracts for a change).

Related Posts

Top 12 Questions and Requirements for SaaS & Cloud Vendors – Technology, Security, Identity Management, Compliance, Standards

Cloud Security, Identity Management & SaaS Single Sign-On – What’s the business value?

We implemented a simple SaaS vendor evaluation and selection framework to meet our goals, objectives and needs. Please use this as a sample or for reference purposes.

Vendor Evaluation & Selection

This section covers 7 categories and primarily focuses on the vendor. I use the baseline framework and then customize the items in each category based on the business needs, requirements and product area.

  1. General – management team, financials, strategy, road map, support etc
  2. SaaS/Cloud Computing – service limits, hosted infrastructure, security, privacy, contract, SaS 70 II compliance etc
  3. Legal – Payment Terms – Costs based on milestones, travel expenses etc
  4. Legal – Specifications/Service Level Guarantees etc – Performance standards, SLAs etc
  5. Legal – Warranty, Indemnification – Compliance with laws, industry standards, contract terms etc
  6. Legal -Security – PIC, HIPAA etc
  7. Legal – Miscellaneous – Termination conditions, breach, extensions, options etc.

Click here to see the complete list (powered by Box.Net, our popular SaaS app for document management & collaboration). Assign the weights
based on importance, rank them and total up.

Product Features Evaluation

This section covers 4 categories. Again I use the baseline framework and then customize the items in each category based on the business needs, requirements and product area.

  1. Features – List of all the features that link to the business requirements.
  2. Architecture, Security & Support – Hosted, On-premise, Architecture, Performance, Scalability, Support reqs etc
  3. Integration – SAML or HTTP fed for SSO, Web services, API, database access etc
  4. User Experience – Ease of use, self-services, navigation etc

Click here to see the complete list. This is the sample framework that was created for Enterprise Collaboration Platform project.

With regard to SSO capability, we give a lot of importance to SaaS apps that are SAML capable (Security Assertion Markup Language). This makes integrating the SaaS apps to our internal network/identity management much easier and helps users not to remember one more login/password. (Users hate when they have to remember multiple logins/passwords for different SaaS apps as each has different password policies, I hate that as well!!!). Luckily we don’t have that challenge anymore as we have implemented Hybrid Cloud SaaS based SSO/Identity management application powered by Symplified. We are also looking into Symplified for mobile based access to SaaS apps to meet the growing use of mobile devices by users.

SaaS Reference Model

With many different options available today – Private, public, hybrid cloud based SaaS apps, it is important to understand the benefits, value, pros and cons of each model. Over the past 1 year, a new model “Hybrid Cloud” (part of category 1) is becoming popular as it provides the benefits of both SaaS and on-premise (appliance or VM). Benefits & value – behind the firewall security, better integration to the network system/AD for SSO, close proximity to internal enterprise applications etc. I have implemented 2 SaaS apps (one of them is the Enterprise Collaboration platform) on this model and it’s working out great.

  1. Off the Shelf Application
  2. Custom built application
  3. Hosted application
  4. Custom built, co-located
  5. SaaS
  6. Custom built, Cloud hosted

Click here to see the reference model.

SaaS Legal Addendum

Based on many SaaS implementations, we documented a standard SaaS legal addendum (with legal’s help) that we give it to the shortlisted vendors early on. This saves both the vendor and us a lot of time and helps us to focus more on the product, features, SLAs etc.

Click here to the see the sample addendum.

By demonstrating and showing the above vendor evaluation and selection process to the business, we became a “true” partner to them as we do due diligence on more items (architecture, integration, SSO, SLAs etc). As all the SaaS contracts have to go thru legal, we partnered with the legal team. So if any SaaS contract comes the legal way and IT was not part of it, we get notified and we meet with the business unit and show the above process. This framework is working out successfully and helping the organization as a whole.

Appreciate your feedback and comments.

Contact Info

LinkedIn  kchakkarapani@yahoo.com

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