Guest Post: Joe Croney – VP Product Engineering, SaaS
Every day engineers encounter an endless stream of acronyms. A few make it into daily conversations and many more end up the subject of office jokes. It can seem there is no rhyme or reason to which ones get traction; however, those representing a specific technology seem to stick. SaaS (Software as a Service) represents a precise way of delivering software and a broad set of business strategies, so its use varies significantly by context.
I recently joined the INRIX team and was immediately impressed with the excitement to make our shift to SaaS “real”. Indeed, the Product Engineering teams dove so quickly into building INRIX IQ that there was little time to explore the question about what SaaS was all about! In the tried and true principle of learning by doing, we are now on solid ground to further enhance our culture, cadence, and capabilities.
Here are five takeaways from our INRIX IQ efforts for any team to consider when moving to SaaS:
1) Focus on the customer solution, not your organizational chart.
SaaS is all about scalable solutions & data, two things we have ample experience with from our investments in real-time traffic and big-data tools. Recently, we innovated to create INRIX Road Rules, which helps cities communicate the ‘rules of the road’ to AV, TNC and micromobility operators. Road Rules, along with Roadway Analytics and Trip Trends are now part of our SaaS application suite. In short, the team was well prepared with the expertise to build INRIX IQ.
In Engineering, we have teams organized by expertise and product focus, but thankfully, the INRIX culture does not focus on an org chart. It was clear our efforts would span many domains and did not fit cleanly within a single team. More importantly, we knew that INRIX IQ needed to reflect a design informed by customer needs, not our internal structure.
Our solution was a virtual team formed across groups that aligned efforts around the customer experience. The level of team collaboration to build INRIX IQ was one of this project’s biggest successes. I feel comfortable speaking for the team that despite an intense schedule of back-to-back virtual meetings and late nights, it was a joy to connect colleagues from across the company to achieve an aggressive goal.
2) Encourage Product Managers to hone priorities instead of fixating on a plan.
Engineers enjoy precise requirements so they can ensure solutions match business goals. Scope changes, re-prioritization, ambiguity, and hard deadlines all elevate the perceived risk and team stress. Yet, quick pivots and adjustments to plans are necessary to react to SaaS customer feedback. So, the paradox is how to stay committed to engineering principles for high quality while recognizing the non-linear process of scoping out a winning solution.
With this first release of INRIX IQ, we found that embracing change – instead of fighting it – was necessary, as was tight collaboration with Product Managers. As a result, we are now re-tooling our approach to roadmap planning, backlog prioritization, and change management workflow to encourage adjustments and give the flexibility needed for our SaaS strategy to thrive.
3) Integrate external SaaS platforms instead of building everything from scratch.
Engineers love to build. And INRIX has a full arsenal of custom services, including authentication, rights management, UI components, and logging. There was recognition up-front that to become a SaaS company would mean integrating best-of-breed intelligent mobility solutions for standard services.
We found external solutions for subscription management and usage analytics were designed around managing a SaaS business. Integration via public API’s gave an easy entry point but did not squarely fit into existing business processes and architecture. The temptation to default back to internal tools was real and the subject of debate. Ultimately, our efforts to evaluate, select, and change out some of these platforms paid off with immediate wins as well as limited integrations that we can build upon going forward.
4) Include UX design experts in every phase of R&D.
A solid foundation and appreciation for UX are essential for the transition to SaaS. The INRIX UX team’s expansion coincided perfectly with efforts around INRIX IQ and presented an opportunity to adjust our workflow to inject design thinking at every stage.
Integrating UX professionals into an existing software R&D team is rarely friction-free. Yet, developers have a universal appreciation for the assistance, making the product both functional and a pleasure to use. The UX front’s critical lesson was that iterative conversations instead of hard hand-offs were the most effective vehicle to improve the product experience.
5) Success requires more than excellent product engineering.
As we conclude this first release, it is apparent that embracing a SaaS culture would require a much deeper connection with every group within the company, from sales to finance, from marketing to support, from business development to product strategy.
Our intelligent mobility solutions are more than the data and software experiences; instead, they are defined by every interaction a customer has with INRIX. We designed INRIX IQ to allow everyone to use data to improve the value we deliver and apply our deep experience in data science to that end.
The most exciting part of our journey to SaaS is in the year ahead as we find ways to apply agile engineering design practices to innovate quickly and meet the transportation industry’s evolving needs. I know that our engineering teams look forward to learning through close collaboration to build experiences to delight our customers.