SaaS Contractual Considerations: Part I

Despite the claims to the contrary from the monolithic on-premise players who are threatened by the new platform and all of the advantages it has to offer, SaaS is gaining momentum. The best evidence I have to offer is the rate at which analysts and bloggers, including yours truly, are getting inquiries into how to evaluate these offerings from a functional and TCO perspective and how to construct the contract. And it’s not just buyers who want to know what needs to be in the contract to protect their investment. Providers also want to know what clauses they should be including to protect themselves as well.

As I am not a lawyer, I cannot claim to be an expert on contract construction of any kind, but I can claim to be very familiar with IT contracts (as someone who has always handled his own and been involved in their construction and review at a number of companies) and to have considerable knowledge with regards to issues that need to be addressed on both sides of the table. Thus, I give you the doctor‘s top issues for consideration when negotiating your next SaaS contract in addition to the standard issues of term, fees, liability, representations, warranties, confidentiality, insurance, indemnity, rights, relationship, dispute resolution, publicity, and government law that your lawyers will remind you of in every contract drafting. Today, we’ll focus on the buyer:

For the Buyer:

  • Data Export, Backup, & Security
    It’s your data and you should have full access to it 100% of the time and the ability to extract some of it or all of it on a whim with little or no notice to a standard, open format such as CSV, EDI, or XML. Of course, if the provider is hosting your entire ERP system and you have Gigabytes of data, expect to pay a bandwidth usage fee if you plan to do this regularly, or a service fee if you require the provider to back it up to encrypted DVDs or Tape and courier the data to you. Similarly, it’s your data and you have every right to expect it to be secure and available no matter what. Insure that the provider is required to do complete backups at least daily, incremental backups at least hourly, and required to store a copy of the encrypted daily backups in an off-site location.
  • System Availability & Up-Time
    One of the attractions of SaaS is the 24/7 uptime that your average company IT shop, that works 9 to 5 in one time zone, can’t deliver. Make sure the system has a guaranteed up-time of 99.999% when you need it (e.g. between 8 am PST and 8 pm GMT if your users are predominantly in North America or Europe) and that you have at least 99.5% uptime the rest of the time, with scheduled maintenance only occurring in agreed upon time windows with adequate notice.
  • Pay For Use
    The beauty of SaaS is the scalability it offers you and the ability to add or subtract users as needed. Make sure you’re SaaS agreement only charges you for the number of users with active accounts (subject to any minimum number of seats you might have agreed to) on a monthly basis.
  • Guaranteed Response Time
    There’s no perfect software system and something will inevitably go wrong with on-demand just like something inevitably went wrong with your current on-premise system. Make sure that the provider agrees to start investigating all outages immediately during agreed upon normal operating hours for your business and within 30 to 60 minutes otherwise. Make sure they are required to get back to you with progress within a maximum timeframe of 60 minutes and to report on progress on an agreed upon schedule.
  • Escrow & Guaranteed Availability
    You generally select an enterprise system with the intent of using it for at least the mid-term, if not the long term, and if a system works well for you, the last thing you want to happen is for the provider to disappear (either due to financial failure or M&A) and take its system with it. Thus, it’s important to take precautions that will insure that, no matter what, you will have continue access to the system for as long as you so desire. The way to do this is to (1) insist on escrow and immediate access to the updated source code and related documentation which is to include required system architectural designs, complete installation instructions, and maintenance and support manuals that are kept up to date on every release and (2) forced support for a minimum period of time on material change of ownership, including the option to acquire the system from escrow at an agreed upon perpetual (annual) license cost at the end of the the minimum support period if the acquiring company no longer wishes to support the system.

Be sure to check out the Master “Software as a Service” Managed Services Agreement in the Procurement-Based Contract Templates, Version 2, that is made freely available to you by Stephen Guth of The Vendor Management Office blog.

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