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Why IT Executives Should Dedicate R&D Time to Exploring New SaaS Tools


July 1, 2021

3 minute read

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What do you think of when you hear the words “research and development”? If you’re anything like me, you probably think of scientists wearing very sterile lab coats working meticulously in a very sterile laboratory. And unless you’re reading serious whitepapers about R&D, the image you have of it might look something like this.

What I typically don’t think of is…CIOs tinkering with new SaaS applications while working from home.

But according to BetterCloud’s CIO Tommy Donnelly, executives need to dedicate R&D time to exploring new SaaS applications. Here are a few reasons why.

It’s too risky to wait until there’s a business need

As the demand for SaaS continues to explode, an overwhelming number of SaaS companies have entered the market. That’s not exactly breaking news. But out of curiosity, I searched Crunchbase’s database to see how many SaaS companies raised between $1-$10 million in funding over the past 12 months.

The answer? A whopping 741 of them. Imagine how many more SaaS companies you’d find if you expanded those search parameters to greater amounts of funding. And we haven’t even begun to talk about SaaS applications offered by public companies.

With that in mind, it would be easy for a CIO to evaluate a new SaaS app when a business need arises for it. But Donnelly believes that if you wait that long, you’re too late.

“You have to put your hands on things to understand the capabilities and determine if the technology is viable,” Donnelly continues. “If you wait to evaluate when there is a critical business need, you’ll rush to answer some important questions, which makes it too risky to implement new technology.”

So what happens when you try to implement a new tool under a tight deadline? You could rely on word-of-mouth recommendations from your peers. But as you might have guessed, there are some serious pitfalls to choosing a tool based on its hype in the marketplace.

It’s too easy to get sucked into an application’s hype

My primary care doctor always urges me not to Google any symptoms that I’m experiencing. Like most doctors, he says that all I’ll get out of that exercise is bad information and undue anxiety.

In many ways, that’s also what you’ll get when you rely too heavily on articles about the SaaS applications that you’re considering—and that’s when Donnelly says CIOs are prone to making bad decisions for their organizations.

“You’re going to find articles about new technologies that were written by people who have never used them,” Donnelly says. “That time I dedicate to ‘playing’ with new technologies helps me understand whether something isn’t viable—or if it’s something that can help me build a capability to enable the business down the line.”

But aren’t there some tools that folks just insist on having at their disposal? Sure, but Donnelly says that it’s still important for CIOs to spend some time evaluating them. And in many cases, he says that you’ll frequently find limitations in apps that appear to be a “silver bullet” solution.

“There are some applications or technologies that you’d think would be transformative,” he continues. “But during your R&D time, you’ll often discover that something with a lot of hype has limitations that make the tool unusable or hard to operationalize.”

Mapping your IT priorities to broader business goals

OK, so we’ve talked about a lot of reasons why CIOs should create R&D time for themselves. But how can you do it productively? And how much of that work should you delegate to your team?

In a recent blog post, our Director of IT Justine Bienkowski shared a few thoughts on how to build a strategic IT roadmap, including a few recommendations for connecting the team’s work to company goals. As I sat down to write this blog post, it dawned on me that her tips are just as relevant for an executive looking for ways to maximize his or her R&D time.

You should take some time to read Bienkowski’s original post, but here are a few things to consider as you’re testing out new SaaS applications.

  1. Identify and understand your company’s growth strategies. If you don’t know, ask someone. If they don’t know, ask someone else!
  2. If something would be nice to have but doesn’t necessarily have business value, consider dropping it.
  3. Reframe your operational work. If you can increase a team’s efficiency by a few percentage points, that could be a gamechanger.

Of course, this short checklist is just a starting point. And don’t forget that R&D should be fun. Not only does it allow you to get your hands on emerging technologies, but tinkering with SaaS applications consistently enables your company to keep pace with technology innovation—and ultimately, gain an important competitive advantage.

Related: For more resources on how IT can become a true partner to the business, check out Why CIOs Need a SaaSOps Team and The 4 Unconventional IT Success Metrics We Use (and Why).