Automation is key to customer satisfaction and cost-effective service delivery for SaaS and Cloud Computing applications. But how do you decide what is most important to address first? Often there is not sufficient time and resources to do all of the automation that might be desired and provide all of the desired new features.
I would recommend a couple of approaches which can be used individually or in combination.
First, take a look at the customer life cycle and what transactions the customer may need to do throughout that life-cycle. This is a good approach for new services. Automate any sales related tasks first. Remember this is the first exposure that the prospective customer will have to your service. Signing up for trials and converting trials to subscriptions are key transactions and at least some billing is usually done at this point. Are there good tools for uploading data, converting fields, and cleansing data? Once the customer has started using the application other things may be required for regular and smooth operation. Reporting scheduling tools and regular file uploading are typical examples. Finally you can look at the automation tasks which are used later in the usage cycle such as subscription renewal, subscription cancellation and data export at contract end time.
A second way of prioritizing which works well is to prioritize based on the overall impact to the customer and the cost to implement the automation. A quick matrix using high or low categories for impact and cost will help to bring out the things which should be done first and which can be delayed. High customer impact and low cost items should usually be done first. High cost – low impact items can be put at the bottom of the list. A more detailed understanding of the high impact – high cost items and low impact – low cost items should be done and usually most of the high impact – low cost items will be the next level of priorities.
Sometimes there are automation tasks which are very high cost and technically difficult. These are rarely the right first items to work on but don’t put these aside for too long. If your competitors have not solved this yet and your customers put a high value on it you may have a new and substantial competitive advantage for your service. Sometimes these tasks are provided as add-on professional services, but don’t fall into the trap of not addressing them because they are paid for by the customer. You can still charge for the add-on services but having something automated and under customer control at a lower price point is usually much better than the complexity of scheduling and performing professional services.
Remember that when deciding what to automate the customer satisfaction improvement is probably more important than the improvement in operational cost.