Why SaaS Trumps Traditional Software for Large Global Rollouts

I occasionally hear this doubt about SaaS: “How can a SaaS company handle a large, global software rollout? Isn’t that a job for an ERP giant?” It’s natural to have questions about a new software delivery model, but this is among the most misguided doubts about SaaS—and where a key benefit of SaaS is often overlooked.

Global software rollouts have become synonymous with a giant software vendor and its armies of employees, integrators, and consultants. That doubt about Software as a Service (SaaS) arises because there are no giant SaaS companies out there (Salesforce.com comes the closest, with about 5,000 employees). But the whole point of SaaS is rollout armies aren’t required, as a single version of the software is served up to every user across the globe. Software isn’t being installed on servers at customer data centers in London, Luxembourg, Bangalore, and Buenos Aires, but it’s served up to users in those parts of the world, just the same.

Steven JohnA great illustration of a single version of SaaS in action is Aviva’s rollout of Workday Human Capital Management (HCM). London-based Aviva is one of the world’s largest insurance companies and has grown largely through acquisitions, with 46,000 employees in 28 countries. Like many organizations, the company’s core business strategy is to operate as a single global organization that rapidly responds to customer needs. Because Workday is a single version of software delivered to every user, Aviva sees Workday HCM as providing managers and employees with improved decision-making and collaboration across the global workforce. That, obviously, ties right into the core strategy of operating as a single global organization.

Workday uses a phrase to summarize the value of this global insight with its Workday HCM offering: Visibility, Alignment, and Optimization. The idea is that once you have visibility into the entire workforce, you can align your employees to company goals, and optimize those resources for optimal business outcomes.

In a typical scenario five years after a large company’s global on-premise software rollout, some of its regions will have upgraded to the next version of the software and others won’t have for a number of possible reasons—the upgrade wasn’t in the budget, it wasn’t a priority for those regions, or those regions couldn’t find the right talent to implement the upgrade. What is the company’s visibility into its global workforce at that point? Unfortunately, visibility is probably getting worse every day, as each region gradually drifts away from that initial “global rollout” intended to bring visibility—another ERP silo bobbing aimlessly in the sea.

While it’s possible to do a single global instance of on-premise software, companies typically choose to roll out separate instances by region to better support local needs. SaaS can be a superior alternative for global rollouts when it provides companywide visibility while also providing local visibility and support of local requirements such as languages, currencies, country-specific data formats, business processes, and other locale-specific needs.

Here’s an example of what unity with SaaS looks like at Aviva, from the Workday case study, on the first phase of the rollout completed last year:

“In the past, if you sat in Vancouver, the only job openings you could see were in Canada,” says Andy Moffat, Aviva’s European director of human resources. “Now you can apply anywhere online. It’s about shifting behaviors, and helping people see and collaborate on information.”


Aviva, by the way, used to be a big user of traditional on-premise HR software. The organization was supporting 112 different HR systems in Europe alone.

How can a SaaS company handle a global rollout of SaaS? Let’s turn that around and ask this question: How the heck does a massive, multi-region, multi-year, on-premise software implementation, requiring small armies of consultants and integrators, possibly make sense for a large global rollout? Given the more modern options available for global software rollouts, it’s time to rethink our doubts.