The Advantages of a SaaS system - Membership, Chamber of Commerce, Transport Applications, Cloud Office, etc.


Introduction to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications enjoy an overwhelming collection of unfair advantages over in-house applications and packages.

Over the medium-term — not to mention the long-term — in-house applications simply cannot compete with the vast array of benefits of a SaaS model. Because of the rapid growth and evolution — not to mention the host of other advantages— of SaaS applications, in-house applications simply cannot keep up, let alone catch-up.

You may not even recognize it, but many of the applications you use today are SaaS, or web-based applications. Examples include webmail (Gmail, Hotmail, Cloud Office, etc.), social applications (Facebook, Flikr, Instagram, etc.), productivity applications (Google Docs), storage applications (Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.), enterprise applications (MMS, Salesforce, ServiceNow, Slack), and much more. All of these applications have enjoyed dramatic growth at the expense of "old" legacy installed applications or packages.

The success of these SaaS applications is not simply the result of the superior business execution. The SaaS delivery model enjoys an inherent structural advantage that is overwhelming.

Given these advantages, it is difficult to comprehend a scenario in which SaaS doesn’t replace the vast majority of in-house applications.

Understanding SaaS applications and Customization

Companies have been badly "burned"/misled by not understanding the limits of customization of a SaaS application before deployment.

Not all SaaS applications can be customized equally - especially with bespoke system-specific features and operational/functional requirements.

SaaS applications typically provide a single core set of functionality. Depending on the SaaS application that is selected and, if that SaaS uses modern technology and flexible design methodologies and principles, then it can be highly flexible and customizable. There are basically two levels of customization.

Option 1 - Within limits set by the Saas Vendor = Disadvantage

A good example of this is Gmail, where users can set-up email folders, assemble email routing rules, connect to various mail servers, add various accounts and signatures, modify or personalize the overall visual look and feel of Gmail. These "customizations" are usually included in the standard costs of the core SaaS.

With regard to other SaaS applications on offer - this is the area where clients are falsely led by unscrupulous vendors to believe that they can "customize" the application to suit themselves, but in reality, there are usually many restrictions and limitations that are enforced by the application vendor. These scenarios typically include the misleading assurances that: "We can set up your SaaS application to operate as a full website and brand it to suit your company. You can add pages and send newsletters." Vendors who make these claims probably have no inkling of your company's strategic direction, requirements and future growth - nor have they completed a thorough, honest analysis of your current and proposed website requirements - and matched that against their SaaS solution.

In the truthful world, no true SaaS application in the world can offer the advanced flexibility, functionality and ease of use of a true professional CMS / Social website platform such as Wordpress, etc. - or even hope to compete with the rapid technological advancements in the specialised web industry where the lifespan of technology is approximately a mere 2-3 years.

Option 2 - As per client specifications & strategic ongoing requirements = Huge Advantage

In a flexible, technology-aware SaaS environment, clients can request special functionality (or even sub-systems) to extend the core set of SaaS functions, e.g. extra data capture forms for extended profiles for customers / members, unique transactional processing such as membership registrations, debtors, invoicing, storage for videos & training materials, seamless integration / synchronization of data within a client's website pages.

The SaaS Vendor charges for the cost of the development of such "add-on" programs and then maintains & supports them as part of an extended SaaS license. The client pays a license fee for the ongoing use of the add-on feature(s) or sub-systems. The license fee then also covers any technological and security enhancements, database management and oversite and ongoing upgrades. The client can also request further enhancements and modifications at will to growth the systems according to their strategic requirements.

In this way, the client can build up a unique operational platform of SaaS sub-systems, all connected to the original core set of the original foundation SaaS Application.

ADVANTAGES OF SaaS APPLICATIONS

ADVANTAGES

DESCRIPTION

Faster Development / Simplified Quality control checks

While in-house applications must be developed for, and tested on, a variety of platform combinations (operating system, hardware, security, tools, applications, etc.), SaaS applications are written to run on a single controlled environment (the developer’s), resulting in dramatically easier and faster development, debugging and support.

SaaS applications also don’t have to maintain old versions of their software—a significant effort for installed software—there is only one version for everyone. This results in much faster product evolution, among other things.

Faster/Easier Deployment and "installation"

Deploying in-house applications, especially in a large company can take months or even years and requires a great deal of work and time to "bed down".

SaaS applications aren’t deployed on the users’ physical machines. The user simply gets a username and password and starts using the application.

If there is personalization or configuration of the SaaS application, it is only done once, instead of for each computer, like in-house applications.

As a result, SaaS applications are faster and easier to deploy and they dramatically reduce or eliminate traditional deployment costs.

Faster Product Evolution & keeping up with technological advancements

Most users, or IT people, will only purchase and install software upgrades every 12-18 months (even longer in smaller, cash-strapped companies) - because of the time and costs involved.

Many SaaS applications can deploy new features within 24 hours. If one deployment model enables new features every day and the other requires a year or more to get a new feature out, which one do you think will evolve more rapidly?

This is a HUGE advantage! "If my custom SaaS application can evolve 365-TIMES faster than my competition, the competition simply cannot compete."

Tighter links and co-ordination between Development & Operations

In-house software companies develop their application, then Q&A it, then they ship it to customers (AKA beta testers), and then they wait for problems to emerge. SaaS vendors “eat their own cooking” because they operate and maintain their own application.

In fact, SaaS companies merge development and operations into a single job function ("DevOps"). This close co-ordination and co-operation between development and operations result in better software and faster problem discovery and resolution.

When your customer is in the cube next to you, problems get resolved very quickly. When the customer is at the end of the phone and there is a six-month lag from adding a feature to when the customer calls with a problem, problem resolution can take a very long time to recognize, let alone resolve.

Lowering Software and Hardware Costs

SaaS applications are typically designed and built to be cost-conscious in deployment and operation. When the developer pays the cost of operation, they build the application to operate very cost-efficiently, using open source tools and running on low-cost but highly secure and scalable cloud infrastructures.

Companies benefit enormously from the decreased requirement for costly skilled IT staff, and the purchasing and maintaining of expensive hardware (and software packages) to run servers and systems in-house (or distributed around the country).

User / Usage-Driven Rapid Application Evolution, Growth and Improvements

Unlike an in-house package, SaaS developers get real-time analytic feedback on user behaviour and usage patterns: which features are used frequently, which are underutilized, etc. These analytics enable the developer to focus on, and rapidly evolve, the features that are most important to users.

Users don’t realize it, but by simply using the SaaS application, they are invisibly building the developer’s product roadmap. SaaS developers can also do A/B testing, deploying two versions of a design or feature to see which design is most appealing to customers. In other words, instead of guessing what users want, customer usage patterns tell the developer exactly what customers want.

In-house applications, on the other hand, ship a product and then wait to (hopefully) hear from customers what they did right or wrong.

Superior, effective and speedy support

How many times have you talked with a support person who asks you for information about your environment (hardware, operating system, software, etc.). Then they try to "imagine" what is happening on your system. They might even have to remote in e.g. via Teamviewer and check your configuration and other files. Then they have a collection of known issues and conflicts to wade through to see if your problem has a workaround. They may also need to ask you whether you have installed the latest patches for a variety of applications.

SaaS support is far easier, usually going something likes this: “Ok, let me log in as a superuser and fix that problem.” Any support engineer who moves from supporting an in-house application (known as the "guessing game") to supporting a SaaS application (i.e. providing a fix within minutes), will never choose to go back to the old way of doing things.

Faster Bug Fixes result in quicker turnaround time and less loss of productivity

When a single user identifies a problem within a SaaS application, the developer can typically have a fix deployed for ALL customers by the end of the day.

An in-house developer might program and test the "fix" patch (for the various versions of the application they support, not to mention the various platforms) then alert their customers to the patch. Then it could then take weeks or months — for a company to deploy the patch on their various servers and/or desktops and laptops. By the time in-house applications deploy the patches, it is safe to say that a significant number of users have lost a great deal of productivity due to the problem.

The simple question to ask yourself is: “What is the turn-around time from reporting a bug, to the company-wide deployment of a fix?” For SaaS, many bugs can be reported, fixed and deployed the same day.

Eliminates Anti-Piracy Issues

Installed software often comes with dongles, server-specific licenses or keys, and other anti-piracy constraints that can quickly become an operational nightmare.

Most SaaS applications simply have high-level security access protocols in place to provide a secure environment for all users and SaaS is also flexible about things like which type of device or computer you use, and when and where you login.

Supports Data Federation or Centralization

Many companies believe that standardizing on certain in-house, installed packages or applications and databases will centrally normalize, store and manage the data created across the entire company. They are mistaken - this approach does not do that - it makes it easier, but it is by no means automatic.

Various departments and even users will maintain their own data silos. If the installed application relies on third-party tools like Excel for charting and manipulating data, for example, you can easily end up with different incompatible Excel files scattered across different computers, undermining your data federation goal.

With a SaaS application, specified users are granted access to the entire collection of data, across the company. Since all data for that application is available from a central location, data federation is a snap.

Superior Data Integration

Companies may want to share their data between applications. In-house applications installed on multiple servers or laptops can result in data being spread across the organization, making it difficult to integrate with other applications.

SaaS applications can aggregate the data, or even allow standard integration via APIs, providing a single point of integration. SaaS applications are then able to build ecosystems of applications that leverage their APIs to deliver extended services to the users (e.g. Abatrans MMS, Salesforce, Facebook, Slack, etc.)

Enables IT to Focus on Strategic Initiatives

SaaS offloads the mission-critical, high-pressure tasks like installation, configuration, problem troubleshooting, data backup, maintenance of expensive servers and equipment, etc. to the SaaS vendor. Instead, IT staff can focus on more strategic and high-value projects like systems identification, integration, and data federation.

Security, Reduction of Data Risk / Loss, Ensuring continuity of succession

There is a commonly held belief that in-house applications are more secure than SaaS applications - in South Africa, that has been proven wrong countless times.

Studies show that clouds are more secure than corporate networks. Further, SaaS applications have excellent records for data security because they only need to secure a single application with well-established access points and usage models.

Corporate in-house or distributed networks (data storage) typically have multiple access points (many running legacy applications or old versions of software or firmware) and very diverse usage models (e.g. copying an entire drive might simply look like a backup) as well as potential threats introduced by users. Bottom line, securing a diverse corporate network is far more challenging that securing a single SaaS application.

Additionally, If your data is distributed across various laptops in the company, you might have a user leave the company and take his data with him, or someone might accidentally delete the shared file, and IT only has a week-old backup.

By centralizing data in a SaaS and limiting the export to Admin users, other users can manipulate the data but they cannot export and copy it. This enables the company to protect their data assets and reduce data loss.

In the South African environment, the risk factor for data theft also drops dramatically as there is no local data to steal when systems and other devices are stolen.

DISADVANTAGES OF SaaS APPLICATIONS

If we are going to present the advantages, it is only fair to also present the disadvantages, both perceived and real.

DISADVANTAGES

DESCRIPTION

Requires Internet Access (?)

All SaaS applications require full- or part-time Internet access with reasonably stable connections. Administrators and workers accessing the application constantly are recommended to be connected via high-speed Broadband ADSL connection. This is generally not a problem in most areas of South Africa. Access is normally through HTML5+ internet browser applications, e.g. Chrome, Edge, IE or FireFox.

Data Ownership

SaaS applications typically enable a company admin to access all of their data from a central point—versus disparate laptops, desktops, and servers—simplifying the data ownership issue.

Because it is core to their business, SaaS vendors are usually good stewards of the customers’ data and typically include daily database oversite, maintenance and backup of all client data as part of the license fee.

However, some companies want to take ownership of their data. SaaS applications typically provide a mechanism for customers to download and backup their data, minimizing this issue. Most vendors can arrange this on request.

Conclusion


SaaS applications enjoy an overwhelming array of advantages over in-house applications.

SaaS applications provide almost instant deployment, long-term lowering hardware and software costs, lower levels of in-house company staff skills, foster distributed access (remote workers) but centralized data, far superior support, security and more.

But above all else, the simple fact that SaaS applications can deploy enhancements on a daily basis, versus annually for in-house applications, enables them to evolve hundreds of times faster than in-house applications.

This means that SaaS functionality will quickly surpass that of existing in-house applications. For these reasons, we fully expect that SaaS applications will continue to displace installed applications at an ever accelerating pace.


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