Is software as a service (SaaS) right for your business?
SaaS stands for Software as a Service. It means exactly what the name says; it’s accessing software as an online service via a web browser, as opposed to using a DVD or download to install it on your desktop.
Over recent years web browsers have been capable of more complex applications than just displaying websites. This has mainly been due to browser vendors (Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge / IE etc) agreeing on a standard way to do things. The trend has spawned a family of “aaS” movements: PaaS, iPaaS, IaaS et al.
SaaS products are not customisable, but they are configurable. This means that everyone that uses the product is on the same version. Features can be switched on and off as-per your needs and it can usually be styled as-per your brand. However, the software you have is identical to what everyone else has.
Will SaaS fit my needs?
You have to evaluate it and see if it’s a good fit. Most vendors will offer a free, full-feature trial so you can find out for sure. If it doesn’t do what you want, then you have 3 options:
- 1Don't buy it.
- 2Change the way you do things to fit the product.
- 3Build custom functionality into some other software and integrate the systems.
Where is my data?
SaaS products are hosted in the mythical “cloud” so your data will be up there too. As a consumer you usually don’t care where in the world your data is stored. Businesses on the other hand will need to check where the vendor stores data to conform with local data protection laws. The big vendors like Microsoft and Amazon have data centres all round the world so you can choose your region.
Most SaaS products have a well-documented API that you can use to integrate other systems and push / pull data as and when required.
Is SaaS secure?
There’s been a lot of discussion on this subject. Traditionally people like to be able to physically touch the servers that their apps and data are on and have it under lock and key. That mindset is shifting and the rate of adoption of SaaS products is huge. All data transferred between browser and the vendor is transmitted securely.
That being said, do your due diligence. Check for data centre accreditation (ISO 27001 etc) and that the software has been penetration tested. As a rule of thumb, the more well known a brand is the safer it’ll be. That’s not to say smaller challengers aren’t secure – just do your due diligence.
What does SaaS cost?
Usually the model is to give a certain level of features / storage / users for free then charge in a tiered model once that usage is breached. The power of three (free, standard, premium) tends to be the norm.
The beauty of SaaS is that there’s usually no long contractual tie-in period. If you no longer want the product then simply cancel your subscription. Some more niche, industry specific products may still have long tie-in periods.
Remember that there’s no customisation costs to factor in. If you’ve been offered customisation then it’s not SaaS!
What about upgrades?
It gets upgraded in the background without any fuss or input from you. Usually the pace of feature releases is far higher with SaaS products.
There’s a single roadmap and the good vendors will actively encourage and listen to users’ feedback. They also use analytics to decide what features are good and stay, and which ones are bad and may need to be tweaked or go completely.
Pros of SaaS
- 1You can access your apps and data from any browser anywhere so no need to install on individual machines.
- 2It’ll work on anything; PC, Mac or Linux.
- 3Upgrades are done in the background with no fuss or involvement from you.
- 4Your data is backed up for you by the vendor.
- 5Usually a simple trial / sign-up process makes set-up faster and easier.
- 6It is usually a monthly or similar subscription, so you have no long tie-ins.
- 7The training / adoption curve is lower due to standard browser feel and behaviour.
- 8Your disaster recovery plan can be a simple as “meet in Starbucks around the corner”!
Cons of SaaS
- 1If the web is down, then you can’t access your application or data (you can mitigate this with multiple internet connections).
- 2Depending on your use of SaaS the geography of stored data can be problematic.
- 3Your data stored in the SaaS product is no longer as easily accessible as traditional on-premise.
- 4Integrating other systems, especially legacy on-premise, can be trickier.
- 5Upgrades can sometimes be a surprise! A change of layout or a missing feature you liked can be annoying at times.
Do I need SaaS?
Chances are you’re already using at least one SaaS product if you access it via a web browser. Maybe Trello, Xero, Gmail (or indeed most Google products) or Office 365 (although that’s hybrid).
If your main business software isn’t SaaS and your vendor hasn’t spoken about moving to SaaS, then start to worry! If after speaking to them they still don’t have plans to move to SaaS, then start looking at alternative suppliers as on-premise installed software has its days numbered…