Let’s Talk About Saas, Baby.

Article originally published by Aileen Kerness for Purple, Rock, Scissors.

SaaS stands for “software as a service,” and like all technology jargon, the acronym sounds intimidating, but the concept is simple.

SaaS at its core is a service delivery model which allows us to access and utilize software through the Internet. On a basic level, think of OpenTable, Slack, MailChimp, Google Apps for Work, Evernote, Hootsuite, Spotify, Trello, and SalesForce, to name more than a few, all software platforms which provide quick and efficient service directly through our web browser. SaaS allows us to get what we want, when we want it — usually at a cost (cold hard cash or personal data), and as long as we can maintain a good Internet connection…ehem (insert the name of every Internet Service Provider, ISP).

SaaS modeling can be beneficial to the end user, specifically, for its convenience and limited initial costs. Added bonuses for organizations include eliminating additional hardware requirements and removing the need to purchase, install, and maintain physical hardware. Since the software is part of “cloud computing,” which essentially means “hosted on the Internet,” any changes to content and features or updates to the software are immediately pushed live for us to enjoy (or cynically scrutinize). As a general analysis, the SaaS model has proven most popular for customer relationship management (CRM), collaboration tools, and management environments.

Need Some Examples? They’re all around you.

It’s hard to believe, but you probably use softwares as a service every day, in one way or another. For conceptualization, let’s break it down by our daily work routine.

  • Morning Tasks & Goal Reminders: It’s Monday morning, and there’s much to do. Fortunately for us we have Trello, a simple cross-platform tool that can keep our lives organized and efficient. With Trello, you can create and collaborate on different task lists and project boards to manage and account for every line item directly from a browser, desktop, or mobile application. It’s is free to the average user, and the pricing model only begins when further functionality is required. True to the standard SaaS model, the cost is per user per month with a small discount if you pay up front for the year. It’s a great way to onboard new users, and the tried and true will always pay for the extra “fun” features.
  • Documentation & Scheduling: Composed of Google Calendar, Drive, Hangouts, Gmail, Docs, Sheets, Slides, and more, Google Apps for Work is an online suite of business software streamlining the process for documentation, collaboration, file sharing and storage. Google provides a free version of most of their tools, but the online product suite for business has many fancy perks, including the coveted unlimited storage. Similar to other SaaS platforms, Google apps starts off free with limited usage, and is eventually monetized using a subscription format (per user per month).
  • Happy Hour: Create that dining reservation with coworkers directly from your browser. OpenTable is an online booking tool providing users with free, real-time restaurant reservations along with both reservation and management solutions for the restaurants themselves. While there is no direct cost incurred by the diner, this version of the SaaS model involves earning revenue through hardware installation fees, a monthly subscription fee, and a fee for every diner seated, paid by the restaurateur.
  • After Hours Team Collaboration: Working remotely is the wave of the future, and collaborating with your team has never been easier. At PRPL we use Slack for company-wide communication, which is especially helpful when working off site. Slack is an online centralized messaging system that helps contain all communication to one place, segmented by different channels (or chat rooms). It integrates with the tools that we use on a daily basis such as GitHub, BitBucket, Google Drive, Hangouts, and Dropbox. Among other features, Slack offers file-sharing capabilities, making it ultra convenient to obtain documents and assets quickly, along with group conversations, private messaging, and a contextual search. With full features and sync enabled on both the desktop and the mobile app, Slack is accessible from anywhere at any time. Beyond the features, Slack is the most interesting of the SaaS models mentioned, because of its fair billing policy. Instead of charging per user regardless of how many people are actively engaged with the software like every other platform, Slack bills for what is being consumed, so customers never pay for a user account that isn’t actually using the product. That’s seriously admirable.

SaaS From an End-User’s Perspective

The Good

  • Limited initial costs and scalability with subscription or transaction based fees
  • Real time collaboration
  • Immediate access to content and updates across all software platforms, since updates and patch management are “automatic” all users have the same version of the software
  • Freemium models or trial periods, allowing us to experiment with the full version of the software before financially committing with shiny plastic
  • Everything is stored in someone else’s data center, SaaS reduces the need for on-site resources

The Bad

  • Software as a service means we are essentially leasing the license and content, and don’t be fooled, monthly subscriptions are not necessarily inexpensive.
  • Data security is . . . controversial to say the least. As an example, since 2007, Google was mistakenly collecting browsing data from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks. Egad.
  • Poor Internet connectivity equates to processing and performance lag.
  • Oversaturation of the market. It’s not unlikely that one or more of these companies will fail, and if so, where does our data go? Dun dun dunnn.

Feelin’ SaaSy yet?

Whether you lean on the side of the good, the bad, or the ugly, it appears that SaaS is going to be around for a while. This article by no means addresses the complexities of software as a service, it is simply meant to give you a general sense of the definition from an end-user’s perspective.

We live in the age of the Internet and our world is constantly changing. To keep up, I encourage you to investigate those scary words your techie friends use, and don’t be intimidated by a harmless acronyms!

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