SaaS Technology: The Route to Scaling Innovation for Commerce
Bigcommerce’s MAKE IT BIG Online Conference, Tracy Wallace (TW), host of the video and Editor-in-Chief at BigCommerce, sat down with many commerce thought leaders including;
- Steve Case – CEO and Co-founder at Revolution and AOL
- Pauline Brown – Author/Lecturer/Advisor, and LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton
- Jackson Jeyanayagam – CMO at Boxed.com
- Ezra Firestone – Founder at SmartMarketer.com
- Rick Cesari – Marketing Mastermind at GoPro, Sonicare, OxiClean
- Eric Gutoski – Partner & Managing Director, North America at BORN
- …and many more.
Among these industry leaders, our very own Jon Marsella (JM) CEO of Jasper PIM discussed the ever changing technology landscape. More specifically, the SaaS technology evolution and how Product Information Management (PIM) integration streamlines information from multiple back office systems leading to company growth and success.
TW: Jasper PIM, if you are not familiar, they’ve created a PIM solution, they have a systems integrator background. Also, they work with some crazy, cool brands helping to reduce the complexity in their ecommerce operations. Whether that’s B2B or B2C. On the B2B site it’s like Clarion and Avery Dennison. On the B2B side there’s Skullcandy. You’ve been in the ecommerce industry for a long time. How has it changed and how is it shifting?
JM: What we’ve observed over the past ten years is that ecommerce has really matured and for us we started when ecommerce was just really getting started. At that stage we found that a lot of merchants were developing their own systems and it was a really unsophisticated landscape in terms of packages and platforms. A lot of merchants were trying to solve problems themselves. Many of them were quite technical and hands-on so they would build their own sites in WordPress.
TW: You needed to be then.
JM: You absolutely did, yes. So you need to either be enterprising or get a big agency behind you. It has definitely matured so now we have all these great platforms and technologies. Now we’re starting to see that the industry is starting to consolidate and we’re seeing that some of the SaaS players are really starting to come together and putting more unified solutions together. Merchants are getting better and better solution platform opportunities without having to make that big investment and take that leap. So things are getting a little bit more affordable for them but there still are some challenges and gaps that we see there.
TW: So you work mainly with large organizations and I’d imagine a lot of these folks have been online for a while or have had operations for a long time. So they come from that background of having created their own solutions or having experience with that. How do you educate them or bring them along to the newer stuff that is happening now?
JM: Let me tell you that is challenging. I can say it has been a process for some of our customers and prospects. So yes, you’re right. A lot of the clientele we served are large enterprise merchants or mid-market merchants and they had big, sophisticated back office systems. So they’ll have dynamics and Oracle and SAP. They are used to, in many cases still used to, it’s more control. Their IT departments want a certain amount of control. Leadership doesn’t want to have a lot of dependency on what they perceive in the SaaS space as maybe too many different throats to choke or too many fail points. So there’s a lot of challenge there, but what we’re finding now though is that as these SaaS players are getting more sophisticated and consolidating and have better toolsets and offerings. You think about the past five years how much it has changed. How many of these platforms now are more robust, they have more features and more tools, they integrate with your systems. They just integrate better with what you naturally and organically have. Getting back to your question, you take the large scale mid-market customer who has Oracle or SAP back office you educate them and say take a bit of a risk, take a test or sample of your audience or market. Try out a SaaS offering. Integrate it deeply and connect that nice piece of middleware and connect that with a PIM, a Product Information Management System that we produce. That entire solution set then empowers the customer to start using SaaS platforms and not just shopping cart platforms, but other SaaS technologies. So you can still have your super secure deep office environment and it is protected and so on. On the front end you’ve got a lot more malleability and fluidity.
TW: It sounds like you’re educating these folks on a lot of new tech stack or more modern tech stack.
JM: It does, what we’re really trying to do is take some of the mid-market solution set and bring it more down market and say if you don’t have the big back office experience, you’ve got a little more lightweight ERP accounting platform. You’ve got a lightweight, more modern SaaS inventory system. What we see in the industry is the need to be sort of in the middle of that and connect these systems together with a really malleable front end and shopping environment. Since we’re all synergistic, everyone plays together really well. So that solution now for the merchant is really tightly integrated from a control standpoint. Some of the customers get a really good sense of “Hey I can still have a good measure of control over these things and I can also have some accountability”. Depending on if they partner with us to provide some of that accountability and how do we put these things together and solve some of these problems.
TW: Do you see or think that need for speed and innovation in the market right now is just massive? Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla in the room always kind of pushing. Do you see the need for speed and innovation on the marketing side of these organizations kind of being a push for some of the guys that are IT and are really looking for more control?
JM: Definitely, I think that’s where we found most of the friction between marketing and IT and those sort of differing needs. I think what we’re getting and finding though is the IT and back office teams, as they’re starting to adopt SaaS and moving away from on-premise, as they identify that there are some really great platform solutions that they don’t have to host themselves. They’re starting to fall in love with cloud and starting to get that done properly still secure. The shift, we’ve seen it happen really over the past five years I’d say. Prior to that there was a lot of resistance so we’re still educating merchants and saying “you guys may want to consider letting go of some of these big systems”.
TW: This allows the IT team to not be the tech dead-center right? It allows them to be part of the innovation and moving forward.
JM: Absolutely, right. Along with that loss of perceived control they now gain control of a different way because now what they’re looking at is the systems that bind the systems together, rather than having to control that one behemoth system. If it goes down it’s all on them. So the business is looking at how they don’t have to be attached or tied to that IT control center because at times it is not healthy for the marketing team or the business as a whole.
TW: Right, let’s talk about some of those integrators. So, Jasper PIM had a background in system integration and you guys have built a fantastic PIM, which I’m going to ask you about in a little bit. You guys work of off APIs on modern SaaS technologies. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of APIs and about how these APIs give IT guys a little bit more security and control?
JM: Yes, so I would say that eight out of ten times we’re on a phone call we get a question from someone in IT asking about our API, about the other APIs that we’re going to be connecting with and about how tested are they, how robust are they, what their rate limits are, things like that. It’s becoming this constant. We’re spending a lot of time talking about the importance of having the right APIs in place. Not just the fact that they’re feature-rich, but they’re integral, they’re robust. That the people that have developed the APIs have thought about all of the different ways that systems integrators can break this thing. Typically, that a myriad of ways, but generally it is on things like “I want to model more of an enterprise context, I want to set up a staging environment and see what happens if I throw a bunch of load at this thing and will it respond properly. Does it have integrity issues, and so on and so forth.” The APIs for all of the various systems that you’re going to be connecting with are key.
TW: So those APIs seem like a very important conversation with a lot of these IT folks.
TW: I don’t know if you work much with the marking side at a lot of these places, but on the marketing side are APIs known or talked about a lot?
JM: I would say not as much, they’re definitely aware of the APIs, but not as much as the IT group.
TW: Sure, let’s talk more about this PIM then, I want to use Skullcandy as an example. I know you guys are incredibly excited about Skullcandy . To give everybody a little bit of background here, Skull Candy is using the Jasper PIM essentially as a single source of truth. So, pushing product information out to a variety of localized international sites, as well as off to marketplaces. I also walk around the airport and see all this Skullcandy stuff and am like “They’re suing PIM too; I know they are”. That kind of model, where you’re using the ecommerce site as kind of a cog in a much larger wheel, it reminds me of this commerce as a service thing that we’re hearing lot more about. Can you talk a little about what Skull Candy is doing, why it is so helpful for them, and maybe how others can get in that mindset?
JM: Yeah, I think so one of the big transformational shifts with other platforms they’re moving off of and on to has just been an empowerment, with not only having the central source of truth in the PIM, but having one that enables them very rapidly to connect to multiple markets and manage multiple languages and currencies. So it’s a platform for scale if you’re a merchant that wants to scale form five million a year to ten million a year, from whatever stage you want to be at from one to two. Everyone has aspirations, you know, let’s double, let’s triple, let’s increase our footprint and so the solution as a whole, and what they’ve identified is that it has empowered them to get new markets up and running very quickly, but with integrity. I mean it has been tested through and is working really well. It has been quite a success.
TW: So a lot of it then is about the innovation, the quick go to market but you want to make sure you’re not messing up the backend processes that have made them so successful to being with.
JM: Yes, correct you are. Again, so what we find, commerce as a service. Mid-market customers are not typically going to go into the back end of a shopping cart and manage their orders and manage those things manually, especially not to scale. This is what is often happening and is often what becomes a bottleneck for merchants. So, if you bring all that content together and tie it in with your back office, which in many cases is already working. So, a lot of merchants don’t want to mess with their back end, maybe they’ve invested a lot in it. They do want to be nimble on the front end. We, or others, there needs to be this piece in the middle and is really connecting everything, its professional, it’s an enterprise environment. Yet, it also allows us to connect to those commerce as a service platforms that are really good at not just being tender but being the fact to the customer. Right, and handling all of that load and demand, all of those things that typically, in your holistic environment when you’ve got your IT department sort of controlling everything, you’ve got one big platform. That big platform is trying to manage all your inventory, it’s trying to manage all of your accounting stuff, all of those elements as well as its trying to be the front end of your commerce platforms. So, often times the whole thing becomes way too rigid and you can’t modify it quickly enough.
TW: Right, so this commerce as a service model seems like it is empowering the marketing team to do what it does best, grow, as well making sure the IT guys have the control that they need and that a system in place to make sure the business is running properly.
TW: If there is one thing everyone that is watching should take away from this, what is one piece of advice you might give?
JM: I really like to challenge my customers, prospects, and the industry as a whole to really think about investing in not just systems, but invest in people, process, invest in new technology, prototype tests. Take risks, take calculated risks, iterate quickly. Yeah, the one thing I’d really like to just tell everyone is just go for it.
TW: Yeah, and for you, you founded Jasper PIM. What gets you so excited about the changes in the industry that are happening now? Every time I see you, you’re pumped.
JM: Yeah, wow that’s such an awesome question. I think that what really gives me the most rise is seeing merchants’ eyes pop open when they’ve seen that expansion happen in front of their own eyes. Form their perspective and from our perspective. They’ve really seen transformation; they’ve seen their growth double. For me, what gets me out of bed and helps me keep Jasper moving forward is just seeing merchants succeed. We live or them to succeed in that sense.
TW: Final Question here, is a lot of the folks watching right now are probably in this scaling moment. Probably facing the same difficulties that a lot of the folks you talk to are facing. When they say they’re having trouble with, I’m not even sure what to say, a lot of times they can’t even verbalize it. What kind of advice before you move into the tool selection might you offer?
JM: So with a systems integration background our goal is to always work with the customer and try to find if there’s a way we can help them on the business side too. A lot of times the tools are not failing them. It can be a bit of a grass is greener situation where they’ll say “Hey I’m on this platform and my sales are flat, what can I do? Why is that?” A part of that is to loom at their business challenges, but also to look at their business systems and say “We’ll here’s a few ideas as to how you can be more lean, nimbler. What are your goals, what are you trying to accomplish? Do you want to double your growth? Well, this is how you can go about doing that.” We’re a Software company, and we’re a Product Information Management System. Because we’re living in the middle we’re always trying to figure out how best to help this customer navigate the sea of bits and pieces here and there. It’s a really complex problem.
TW: Well thank you so much for being here with us today. If you want to know more check out Jasper PIM John writes blogs there and for use here at BigCommerce. He is on my speed dial for complex and complicated stuff. He is always having the most sophisticated ecommerce conversations so please check him out.