What is SaaS and its Benefits for your Business?

Software as a Service (SaaS) has been around for a while, but many people are still searching for answers to questions about the technology.

What is it, exactly? What�s all the hype about? Is it right for my business?

This article addresses these questions and helps you make sense of this increasingly popular way of using the software in the workplace.

SaaS, or Software-as-a-Service, is an on-demand, cloud-based delivery model for software applications. A service provider hosts the application at a remote location and the user accesses it over the Internet using a web browser.

[Tweet “SaaS, or Software-as-a-Service, is an on-demand, cloud-based delivery model for software applications. “]

The service provider manages the infrastructure on which the application runs. The customer pays for a monthly or yearly subscription and the fee for service is usually based on the number of users.

Resources can be scaled up or down for the customer on an as-needed basis.

An example of a SaaS application that is familiar to most Internet users is Google Apps, a suite of business productivity apps that includes email, calendar, and file sharing and editing.

[Tweet “Facebook and Twitter are SaaS, as are services such as Office 365 and Google Apps.”]

[Tweet “By utilizing a cloud-based program, you can be confident that your security risks are minimized.”]

[Tweet “Many cloud-based programs allow for, and even encourage, collaboration between departments and employees.”]

Disadvantages of SaaS

While SaaS applications exist for virtually any business process you can think of, the following is a list of the areas in which SaaS is most commonly used:

[Tweet “Manage your company�s finances and keep the books up-to-date. Examples are Quickbooks Online.”]

Is my data safe in the Cloud?

The truth is that storing your business-critical data on a server in your office building is probably riskier than storing it on a SaaS service provider�s server in a remote location.

This sounds counterintuitive, but SaaS vendors have more resources to devote to security, data backup, and infrastructure maintenance than most small and medium-sized businesses.

Plus, data centers have to undergo strict security audits.

Addressing the security of your data in the Cloud is more a matter of due diligence on your part. It�s up to you to verify the vendor�s security policies, and procedures are up to par.

Also, be aware that if the vendor doesn�t handle your company�s data in compliance with government regulations your business must follow, you will be held responsible, not the vendor.

There are several things you need to do to have the utmost confidence in any SaaS vendor you choose to work with.

First, you have to do your research. A thorough understanding of your business�s needs and whether or not a particular SaaS application can meet those needs is critical.

Second, you must get references from other businesses similar to yours who have used the application. Hearing about their experiences deploying, using and managing the software is invaluable.

Third, you have to ask questions of the cloud computing service provider to understand exactly what you are getting yourself into, questions aimed at uncovering any hidden costs, how you will get your data back in the event that you decide to switch vendors, what level of support you can expect, what security policies and procedures they have in place, etc.

And fourth, after you select a vendor and its application, you have to negotiate a solid Service Level Agreement (SLA) that clearly defines the business relationship between your company and the vendor and lays out the expectations of both parties in as much detail as possible.

Adopting a SaaS solution has the potential to be an enormous undertaking, depending on its level of importance to the organization.

A stand-alone application like email, for example, is going to require less in the way of integration and cultural change than a CRM or ERP system.

For larger, more complicated systems, not only will the technology change but the business processes and training methods that go along with it will also need adjustment.

You also have to anticipate that an entirely new set of problems and operational issues will crop up on a day-to-day basis, not the ones you are used to with on-premise software.

Part of the planning process is discovering what those new problems and issues might be. These challenges can be overcome with the right amount of preparation.

At the beginning, identify what you hope moving to a SaaS solution will accomplish, define what success looks like, and work out the financial details, like what the costs are likely to be and what your company can afford.

Then comes the technical part: defining requirements and outlining the technical specifications.

Once you have that down, you can start evaluating vendors. And lastly, the implementation stage: selecting the vendor, deploying the application, and training the end users.

Preparing to deploy a SaaS application is much the same as deploying on-premise software. You just have to be aware of and plan for the unique challenges regarding systems integration and business process management that SaaS applications present.

Do you have a SaaS question? A tool you want to recommend, or a�SaaS story to tell? Share it here in the comments section below.

Tip: Are you thinking to move your business to SaaS provider? Check this article, it concentrates on some of the questions your company CIO should ask potential SaaS providers.

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