Gina Edwards

November 10, 2016

Leaps. We have to make them constantly, especially with technology.

The ever-evolving tech world is always dishing out new items that we as users adjust to with varying degrees of success.

We leap to new phone and computer models, social media sites, website structures, payment methods, and the scads of other aspects that any technology entails.

As we keep pushing forward into the movement of making everything smart and internet-compatible, we notice that many tangible items start to disappear from our homes and workplaces and live somewhere else – in this mythical place called the cloud.

Businesses are no stranger to this evolution. As the traditional brick-and-mortar buildings get replaced by online shopping, pop-up stores, and on-demand drone delivery (coming soon to a doorstep near you), the magnitude and reach of each individual business finds unprecedented audience numbers. Now, anyone can have a global business just by signing up for WordPress.

This transition to total internet transformation extends into everyday items, too.

From paper mail and faxes, to storage spaces, to writing utensils, we witness products disappearing left and right. They have been replaced by emails, Dropbox, and touchscreens.

Now, yet another tangible product is up on the chopping block: software. So, what’s its replacement? A little thing called SaaS.

Curious? Let’s leap towards the software systems of the future.

What Is Software as a Service (SaaS)?

When you mention SaaS to most non-tech people, their faces probably crinkle, and they think they have no idea what you’re talking about. However, when you start naming off some common contenders, like Google Drive, Salesforce, or Facebook, their faces will light up.

Oh, that? They use it daily!

Despite the ubiquity of cloud-based services, you’ll still be hardpressed to find someone who can easily explain what the cloud is and how it works, let alone the software that is now more easily available thanks to its invention.

If you happen to fall into the category of people who really don’t understand how SaaS works, keep reading.

Simply put, SaaS is software that lives on the internet. This means that instead of installing programs onto your individual computer, as we’ve done for decades, we can instead access everything we need through the internet –– eliminating the need to download and store anything on local servers.

For this reason, you may also hear SaaS referred to as hosted software, web-based software, or on-demand software, but it’s all the same thing!

Basically, to be considered SaaS, a program must meet a few requirements:

  • Anywhere Access
    • In the age of Wi-Fi, we have the luxury of being able to get to our information anywhere, anytime –– as long as we are hooked up to the internet. SaaS is much the same in that regard. Like your favorite social media or news site, SaaS programs can be reached as long as your internet is up and running.
  • Common Infrastructure With Customizable Features
    • Another tenet of SaaS is that, while its main structure and layout are nearly the same for everyone who uses it, it still offers customizable features that allow users to adjust based on their needs. Think of it like a chain restaurant across the country. The size and layout might vary, but the nuts and bolts of the operation remain the same.
  • Easier Rollout of Updates
    • Because the software lives on the servers of the platform’s owners, when upgrades and updates come out, the burden lies with the company to implement the changes and roll them out to all users. Therefore, it may not require any action on your part to begin using the added features; they will likely be available to you upon login.

Some SaaS You Might Know

Now that you have a basic grasp of what SaaS is, let’s take a look at some common examples of SaaS that you might already be using or are at least familiar with.

Zendesk:

The Zendesk slogan is “Zendesk builds software for better customer relationships.” Through their software, Zendesk seeks to improve the experience of customer support and interactions. If the interactive atmosphere of their website is any indication, they strive to be dynamic and fun.

Their family of products include chat and call center software, messaging apps, analytics and reporting software, and marketing and segmentation tools.

By using Zendesk products, a company can unify and place the customer support experience into one location and also track and monitor the experience. The SaaS elements allow features to be possible that were not as easily implemented with on premises systems.

HubSpot:

Similar to Zendesk, HubSpot has a suite of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software on their website. They have three products: HubSpot CRM, HubSpot Marketing, and HubSpot Sales.

In HubSpot’s CRM platform, they show how people can manage an entire sales pipeline in one place, which could help to increase productivity and sales conversions. The featured video shows how one client, Shopify, puts the CRM to use in their sales systems.

The Shopify representative mentions in the video that, because of this service, none of the salespeople on staff even have phones, since they are able to do all the work they need to do through the HubSpot portal.

Salesforce:

Certainly a heavy hitter in the SaaS arena, Salesforce products cover many business needs, including sales, service, marketing, community, analytics, platform and apps, IOT, and commerce. Their slogan is “We help make your customers love you.”

Like the aforementioned SaaS companies, Salesforce also promotes how its services aim to make life and business easier for CEOs and business owners through the cloud technology and data driven services. The goal is clearly to provide resources and possibilities that would not be possible with a similar on premises service.

At this point, you may be wondering about the bigger picture, meaning – what’s the catch to SaaS?

Of course, while SaaS certainly carries a wide array of positive and useful features, no new technology or system comes without its drawbacks.

Let’s look at some pros and cons of SaaS, and identify the scenarios in which creating your own customized solution would be in your best interest instead.

Positives of the SaaS Model

Cost

Traditionally, the cost of licensing software has been steep, meaning that small and medium-sized businesses have often missed out on the possibility of using it. However, because of the shared environment of cloud-based software, the prices are generally much lower than the on premises alternatives.

This difference can provide more business owners with more access to software that they might not have had access to otherwise.

Speed

While on premises software can cause its users to spend a lot of time in configuration and installation, this isn’t an issue for SaaS. This means that its users can move directly into rollout and implementation of the software in the company.

Scalability

Similarly, the nature of SaaS means that scaling up the number of users or size of the operation is relatively easy. Since the entirety of the software is owned and managed by the host company, users can bump up the size of the operation at any point, without a lot of hassle.

Upgrades and Updates

Because the SaaS company is in control of the program, when new upgrades and solutions become available, it can automatically update the system –– usually without requiring you to purchase anything new or do anything on your end.

Accessibility

Finally, perhaps the biggest and most relevant perk of the SaaS model in this day and age is accessibility. With more people than ever shirking the fixed office for location independence, having a software solution that is available anywhere is absolutely essential for many businesses that are on the go.

Downsides of the SaaS Model

Now, let’s take a look at a few of the drawbacks of the SaaS model.

Security Concerns

One of the great advantages of the SaaS model is the idea that you relieve yourself and your team of the management of the system or product. Obviously, this is a great thing for all of the boring and nitty gritty components of your work that you don’t have any interest in managing.

However, when it comes to the security of personal and identifiable information, the SaaS model may give some people pause. After all, if the servers of the SaaS system you are using are hacked into, this opens your company up to a risk –– something that perhaps an in-house program would have minimized.

However, with increased and more complex encryption options coming out all the time, this concern may be decreasing rapidly.

Performance

Again, one of the great advantages of cloud-based services can also become its weakness. Likely, you use the internet for many components of your business, and as such, have a very reliable and steady internet connection.

However, if you are prone to internet difficulties, this can obviously have a major impact on the productivity of your work on web-based programs. If the web shuts down, your work shuts down.

To combat this issue, some SaaS, such as Google Drive, have built-in offline sync features that can help offset this concern.

Compatibility and Integration

You may find that along the way, you need two different software systems to “talk” to each other, so to speak. With cloud-based software, this becomes more difficult, unless the program vendors have some kind of agreement already.

If not, attempting to make two disparate services work in conjunction may be an exercise in frustration.

For example, if you capture emails on your website using one service, but use a different one to manage your email pipelines, you probably want the two services to have some kind of import/export function. However, if the two don’t work together somehow, you’ll find yourself trapped, entering hundreds of emails manually, and ultimately wasting a lot of time.

Hassles of Switching

Finally, if you do decide to change from one SaaS to another, the process of untangling your business from one and moving it onto another can also be frustrating and difficult. While normally you would simply be choosing to purchase a different software, this time you are cutting off a relationship with a work partner of sorts.

In this way, SaaS products can be like golden handcuffs. Once you commit to using one, it can be a lengthy relationship that you perhaps were not prepared for at the outset. This may result in sticking with a SaaS you aren’t entirely happy with simply to avoid the work of changing.

Researching Software Needs Before Choosing a SaaS

Ultimately, you will need to assess the needs of your company to truly determine whether SaaS will be right for your situation.

If you are in need of specifically tailored features for your business, prefer in-house management, and require tangible hardware, then you might consider investing in on premises software.

If not, then likely you will be able to find a SaaS that meets the needs of your company.

However, tread carefully. There are many SaaS solutions out there, and if you don’t do your homework beforehand, you may end up with a program that does not adequately meet the needs of your company.

Before seeking out a SaaS, ask yourself a few questions first:

  • What is the problem that I am hoping to solve with this software?
  • What are some key features that I need this software to have?
  • How do I see this software playing a role in the growth and future of my company?

Once you have some ideas, it might also be helpful to complete a mind mapping exercise about your software needs and ideas. Allow your mind to wander into many big or far-fetched ideas. Don’t let the limitations of what is possible now stop you.

Spend some time on this – by really digging deep into what you want out of a SaaS, you will be much better equipped to locate the best option. Use your notes when investigating the websites and descriptions of different services.

Read the “about” pages of the different products, and see how many of the features match up with what you’re really looking for by creating lists to check against the original mind map you created. Or, consider the reviews written by objective sites (these usually have such comparison charts already created for you), and test out some free trials to see what the functionality is like.

Do your homework to make sure you are making a well-informed purchase.

So, What’s the Verdict?

Like with any other new technology or product, there are early adopters, the early and late majority, and the laggards. Depending on your general trust of new technology, you might already be on the bandwagon, a reluctant user, or someone who still carries a checkbook.

If you’re still trying to figure out how SaaS plays into your business and plans, run over the basics first:

  • SaaS is software that lives in the cloud, not on your computer, and can be accessed quickly and cheaply from anywhere with internet access.
  • Some SaaS brands you already know probably include CRMs like Zendesk, HubSpot, and Salesforce.
  • SaaS is winning people’s hearts and dollars with its cost, speed, scalability, ease of use, and accessibility.
  • Downsides to SaaS include security concerns, offline functionality (or lack thereof), intersoftware compatibility, and the hassle of switching.

To be honest, using SaaS is more of a question of when rather than if. Nevertheless, like in any other software purchasing decision, you should do your due diligence to select one that works best for your interests and needs.

In fact, you may already be using some SaaS that can give you a more complete picture of its benefits and drawbacks. Consider and analyze all of these available sources of information.

After all, usually the easiest way to dive into something new and unfamiliar is to learn about it. If you’ve done your homework and prepared well, you can start making the leap from in-house to the cloud quickly and smoothly.

Photo Credit: FirmBee


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