SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) is a software licensing and delivery model that works on a subscription basis. Most of us are familiar with everyday examples such as Netflix or Spotify, but SaaS adoption in horticulture is also on the rise. "Where one might think only mid and high-tech growers are taking advantage of SaaS, my research shows that growers on every tech level are already using it," Annelot Schmeitz reveals. As part of her master's degree thesis, she dove into the industry to look at ways tech providers can create value to make SaaS more accessible to growers.
"The benefits SaaS provides to the horticultural industry are already known by many," Annelot says. "Affordability is one such factor, as subscription-based costs are more cash-flow friendly, allowing growers to invest in solutions sooner rather than waiting until they have saved more money. Another is the continuous improvement of the software and immediate access to it, meaning growers can be confident that they are using the latest tools available. Lastly, the relationship between tech provider and grower is closer – the best performers are engaged in an ongoing dialogue where tech providers get a deep understanding of customer needs and customers influence product development and get access to tools to solve their specific problems."
However, Annelot noticed utilization rate remains low and conducted research into how this might be improved. In a recent webinar hosted by WayBeyond Ltd., Annelot discussed her findings with Daniel Than, the technical account manager at WayBeyond Ltd.
In recent years there has been a change in customer demand, becoming more focused on service instead of product ownership. According to Schmeitz's research, we're shifting to a service-based economy – meaning the manufacturing and selling of products is becoming less interesting, and instead, the offering of services aimed at creating value for consumers by matching their needs is becoming the norm.
In order to discover the value growers can create using SaaS solutions and how tech providers can best support growers in doing this, Annelot had two main research objectives;
- Gain insight into what prevents and what helps growers receive value from SaaS.
- Discover how tech providers can better support growers in their value creation.
To gather this information, Annelot interviewed eight growers from the Netherlands, Morocco, and Mexico, active in the low, mid, and high-tech markets. These interviews made it possible to discover growers' attitudes, perspectives, and the value created by SaaS during the adoption process. All of the growers interviewed were using SaaS.
"Where one might think only mid and high-tech growers are taking advantage of SaaS, the research showed that growers on every tech level are already using it. Because of this, the interviews provide a good sample of the struggles in implementation as well as the value created in doing so," Annelot says.
Annelot's research showed four practices that help growers create more value when using SaaS;
- Ease of platform use; platform needs to be easy and straightforward to use, regardless of literacy level.
- Transparent communication & sharing of information; more data sharing between grower and tech provider, as well as clear agreements on data ownership.
- SaaS training; helping growers understand their data and how to best use SaaS tools to gain insights from that data.
- Interoperability between different solutions; growers gain more insights if the tech solutions they are using can 'talk' to each other.
Daniel Than noted two of these (transparent communication and training) involved deeper engagement with the customer than traditional sales models.
But the research also showed factors that limit the value being delivered to growers;
- Knowledge gap within a company; there are different levels of knowledge within a company, so not everyone knows how to use the software.
- Unstable internet and/or power connection; SaaS solutions require internet and power to be functional and accessible.
- No effort in a long-term relationship between the grower and tech provider; regular contact and deeper relationship building are needed for both parties to be successful.
- A closed system; open API function for data sharing between platforms creates greater value.
Again, the relationship between provider and grower shines through.
Provide better support
The second objective of the research asking 'How can tech providers better support growers in their value creation?', showed six main factors of improvement;
- Training; to show the value of software and how to use it successfully.
- Interoperability; data needs to be able to be exchanged among platforms, for instance, through open APIs.
- Transparent communication; time and effort needs to be put into maintaining a long-term, open relationship between the grower and tech provider.
- Clear data sharing and ownership agreements; provide better insight and value and is also part of long-term relationship building as it requires trust.
- Stable infrastructure; growers need to provide this where possible, but tech providers can also develop features such as offline modes for when infrastructure is temporarily unavailable.
- App simplicity; easy-to-understand interface.
Optimize value creation
Daniel noticed three main factors to focus on when trying to optimize value creation;
- Collaboration between tech providers and growers. This collaboration works both ways. Tech providers need to facilitate the changes, but growers in kind need to be able to provide constructive feedback. This also requires a change in the mindset of growers. Instead of saying, 'what can you do for me,' they should ask themselves, 'how can we work together to achieve the best outcome?'
- Interoperability between software. This means solutions created by the tech providers need to be able to communicate with other solutions and pass on data. This might require tech companies to work with competitors in some cases or create partnerships with other providers. The ability to work together requires less" gatekeeping" by tech companies.
- Supporting users. Tech providers need to be able to facilitate the adoption of the solutions by providing educational material. Providing training in the form of video tutorials, webinars, and written guides, as well as a personal contact at the tech company responsible for the customer's success.