Workflow is a keyword in any business, leaving out all the BPM noise and the trendy terms, simply put, workflow is the series of steps and the logic you follow to do your work.
Once upon a time, business was simple. You start small with a small team with a vague workflow that changes every day as you discover what to do. As you grow, you realize what works through trial and error at a specific scale, but then you hire more people, take more clients and create more complexity, thus you add more steps, more logic to your workflow and you continue to refine it over and over again. Workflow was slow, but was unique to each business, always improving and never written in stone because it wasn’t in software.
The world has changed immensely, today running a business is all about data, tools and buzzwords. If you don’t use the latest and greatest tool, do your work like everyone else does, word on the street you’ll be put out of business in no time! You will be told not to think, innovation isn’t for you! Your business is not unique! You just need to follow blindly what your competitors are doing!
This mentality is a deep issue and more than we can cover, but part of it comes from the abundance of Software as a Service (SaaS) products. Bold statement? Keep on reading…
SaaS products come as templates for success in a specific industry, they are marketed as a perfect solution for all issues in that industry and how their customers’ workflow has been improved by opting for that SaaS. There is no debate on the possibilities they open for small businesses, mainly the access to great sets of tools for unmatched prices in the bespoke solutions market.
One of the downsides is the opinionated nature of a SaaS, it’s always built to fit a specific workflow. The designer followed the feedback from the majority and provided features to please the most. But there is no guarantee you are in that majority. Another important downside is the design comes with a size in mind. No matter what huge numbers you see on that last shiny plan on the pricing page, you should know that SaaS might not be as useful in a big operation. Many SaaS providers expect the business to grow in a linear fashion, that comes with an idea that all you need as you grow is a bigger quota of everything but ignore actual needs that come with scale.
Nowadays young businesses while trying to figure out their workflow are being sold on the idea of squeezing themselves in a pre-made one-size-fits-all template. But what other choices do they have? Manage the business in spreadsheets like cavemen? Or invest in a bespoke solution for a workflow they don’t know it works? The answer is a series of compromises.
There is no perfection, only beautiful versions of brokenness.
― Shannon L. Alder
To use SaaS products to your advantage, you need to understand what they truly are, not a workflow but building blocks. You shouldn’t rely on a tool to tell you how you should provide your core value. A SaaS shouldn’t dictate your workflow, but your workflow should decide which SaaS to use and how exactly it contributes to the global workflow.
As a small business, you don’t get the luxury of an abstract workflow, because at the end you have to choose from a set of building blocks. Thinking about SaaS as building blocks, opens a new world of possibilities.
Instead of seeking perfection by asking “I’m starting a business, what SaaS will solve all my problems, works for my small operation now yet scale to work with my huge team in the future”. You ask realistic questions like “I’m starting a business, my business in the short term will need to deal with aspects X,Y and Z, then what combination of SaaS products (or other solutions) will work for me the most and how can I make it as seamless as possible”
You can’t afford to create your own full-blown blocks. But you can still glue those blocks together and fill the in-betweens for a polished workflow. The glue we talk about here is a software layer that joins multiple SaaS products to work together seamlessly.
We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.
― Marshall McLuhan
SaaS providers also understand their own limitations, they can’t make everybody happy so they allow their products to be extensible via APIs or other means. The openness — what we’d like to call gluability — is a mandatory requirement in choosing a product, a closed system is a dead end that you should never take.
You might have used this gluability before as a Zap from Zapier, an Applet from IFTTT, an integration provided by one SaaS to talk to another, or a custom software that talks to a SaaS or two.
The beauty of gluability lies in the componentization of your workflow. As long as you have gluable components you can arrange them in any flow you think works best. If not, changing things isn’t as hard nor expensive as redesigning a rigid system. Also, each component becomes replaceable, by changing the glue interface, you can switch between similar products and harvest the power of a better tool with less effort.
Time to address the elephant in the room, cost! The cost-effectiveness of SaaS products is undeniable, thus you should use that to your advantage. Depending on what subset of features you use, building and maintaining an alternative from scratch will cost the same as months to many years of subscription.
There is no need to reinvent available decent wheels when you can add a few components to make it good, then great, don’t be afraid to move through the beautiful versions of brokenness because one day you’ll find one you like and might even call perfect!
If you are having troubles gluing together your workflow, we at SaaS Glue have made it our mission to build efficient integrated workflows. Feel free to reach out, we helped many businesses refine their workflows and would be glad to help you as well.
© 2020 SaaS Glue