What is SaaS?
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is a business model that has risen to prominence in recent years, and then skyrocketed under the global COVID-19 lockdown. However, even as SaaS products, such as Salesforce, Slack, Spotify, and more, have become household names, the exact nature of a SaaS product is still elusive to many. It certainly does not help that, as is often the case with software buzzwords, SaaS is frequently misused or used in a misleading way. Correctly understanding the concept of SaaS is critical to assessing SaaS products and vendors, as well as in determining if SaaS is right for you. So, to set the record straight, read on for a quick guide on the basics of SaaS.
SaaS is like booking a hotel room
When you want to rent a place to stay for a period of time, two options often come to mind: renting an apartment or booking a hotel room. While both provide you a place to stay and certain basic amenities in exchange for a time-based payment rate, there is generally very little you must do to get set up in a hotel room, whereas setting up an apartment can take a lot of work. Also, while you may have to bring up issues to your apartment landlord and sometimes wait days or weeks for a resolution, the hotel generally takes care of everything behind the scenes. Additionally, leasing an apartment is generally a much bigger commitment than booking a hotel room. Although, on the flip side, you usually have very limited control in a hotel room, whereas you usually get a lot more freedom with your apartment.
Software mirrors this example of real estate quite closely. In the world of software, renting is referred to as licensing. SaaS is a form of licensing that is analogous to the hotel room in the above example. Traditional software licensing, such as installing software to your computer and then entering a token to prove that you have paid to use the software, is similar to the apartment, where you generally have to spend some time setting things up on your machine or system, and if there are any issues, you often have to reach out to support, tell them about your machine/system and the issue you are facing, and then hope they resolve the issues in a reasonable period of time. Also, if you decide you no longer want the software, you are generally responsible for uninstalling and cleaning up your machines.
SaaS products, on the other hand, allow vendors to set up new tenants, remove tenants who cancel their subscription, address issues, and release updates all on their own. Ideally, this allows SaaS products to deliver a similar experience to that of a good hotel: you check-in, unpack, use it as long as you want, and then leave if/when you decide, all while everything is cleaned and maintained for you. Of course, just as not all hotels provide a pleasant stay, not all SaaS products live up to this experience, as some require significant set-up periods or are not maintained and updated as seamlessly as they could be.
The implications of SaaS
While SaaS can provide many benefits, such as quick set-up and seamless updates, this reduced burden comes with the side effect of additional reliance on the vendor. Just as a guest at a hotel relies on the hotel staff to make sure their room is available to them, in good condition, and secured from others, SaaS users are largely reliant on their software vendor ensuring the availability, quality, and security of their software. With a good SaaS vendor, this is a benefit, as with traditional software licenses, the consumer is more responsible in maintaining and updating their software.
If you’ve ever had to wait hours for your computer to update or seen news stories of companies that delayed updating their software for months/years and then fell victim to a cybersecurity attack, then you’re familiar with some of the drawbacks of traditional software updates.
However, with a bad SaaS vendor, this can result in significant system down-time, unexpected and undesired changes to the system, and/or vulnerabilities that expose your data. This means SaaS vendors should generally be vetted more thoroughly than traditional software vendors, as a SaaS vendor is not just providing you with software, but also with a service.
To SaaS or not to SaaS?
With all else equal, a good SaaS product is almost always a better choice than a good traditional software product as it allows you and the vendor to both take advantage of economies of scale, while providing you with greater convenience. However, rarely are all things equal. So ultimately, it is still important to assess products on a case-by-case basis. Just don’t forget all the important benefits of SaaS: quick setup, regular updates, and behind-the-scenes maintenance, all of which save time and money for your organization. If you find a trustworthy vendor, SaaS products are extremely efficient.
Attain Partners’ SaaS products
We have several SaaS products in development based on our years of expertise consulting with top academic and research institutions. More information about our Attain Apps product line will be available soon. In the meantime, check out our newest SaaS product: Attain Density.
In our next SaaS post, we’ll discuss exactly how to assess a SaaS vendor, as well as provide some insights on the teams that generally make up a SaaS vendor.
If you’re interested in learning more or want to share your thoughts, please contact us here or reach out to the authors below. As creators of Attain Apps, we are a SaaS vendor ourselves, and we always enjoy sharing, learning, and collaborating with customers.
About the Authors
Sander Altman is the Chief Architect for the Product and Innovation business at Attain Partners. As the technical leader behind Attain Apps since its formation in 2017, Sander has extensive experience with the technology empowering the platform, as well as a developed understanding of the subject matter covered by the various products within the platform. With a background in AI and Intelligent Systems, as well as an M.S. and a B.S. in Computer Science, Sander has focused on providing institutions with intelligent and easy-to-use software to optimize their academic and research enterprises.
Alexander Brown is the Practice Leader for the Product and Innovation business at Attain Partners. Alex is responsible for the full product lifecycle of the Attain Apps product line, which features the firm’s cornerstone intellectual properties distilled into easy-to-use SaaS products. With a background in economics, and experience as a designer, developer, and consultant himself, Alex works hand-in-hand with experts and developers to create products that provide academic and research institutions with best practices and insights in an affordable and convenient package.