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SaaS: a real help or just hype?

A lot has been said recently about Software as a Service (SaaS), and with turbulent times ahead, you might be wondering whether it can save your business money. Dave Stevens, entrepreneur behind the IT company Brennan, talks the benefits and potential pitfalls of SaaS – a delivery method that’s here to stay.

Amidst the constant talk of impending economic doom and collapse, it sometimes feels as if we may need reminding that businesses will still be in the business of doing business.

However, in a climate that is likely to be slower, tougher and less forgiving, SMEs will be looking to embrace anything that offers them more flexibility when it comes to controlling their costs.

With its low-cost, subscription based pricing model, Software as a Service – or ‘SaaS’ – is a compelling way for SMEs to get the software and applications they need while staying in control of their spend.

For those who are unaware, Software as a Service (SaaS) is a method of software delivery where applications are delivered from a central location, usually over the internet, instead of being installed locally on your computer. The oft-quoted examples are services such as Salesforce.com.

There’s no question that SaaS offers an enormous range of benefits. Instead of paying large upfront licensing fees for software, your business can pay monthly, often on a per-user basis. And it’s not only on software costs alone that SaaS can save your business money. It will also mean that your business won’t need to make unnecessary investments in IT support skills otherwise needed to keep applications running in-house.

Like most things IT, however, SaaS isn’t without its dangers.
Typically, the quality of SaaS applications to date has been very good. They’ve been managed by smart companies who’ve been pioneers in the market place and who’ve made large investments to make sure their software platforms work.

As SaaS has become more popular, however, new and less prepared players are entering the scene, often seeing SaaS as a way to boost the profitability of their existing desktop or server applications, rather than as a way to better serve their customers.

What’s more important than Software as a Service is Service as a Service, especially where SMEs are concerned.

One of the biggest potential risks of SaaS is that your business ends up with a wild array of applications that are poorly integrated with your existing IT platform, if at all.

In the SaaS world, good service and good advice is just as valuable as ever.
For businesses considering the NetSuite solution (a web-based CRM/ERP and eCommerce platform), for example, one of the first things to consider is the question of how to best integrate it with the business’s co-existing and future platforms.

This is critical because it’s in the bridges between applications where much of the power of IT is unlocked.
For those small and medium sized businesses considering a SaaS product it is important to be aware of the fact that, while SaaS will save you money, you’re also entrusting potentially critical aspects of your business to a third party.

This isn’t that much different to continuing to install software locally (you trust that the provider of that software has done their job) but when things go wrong with a local install you can turn to a myriad of IT support organisations for help. Where SaaS is involved, however, it’s likely you can only turn to one.

This alone isn’t a reason not to choose a SaaS solution. But it is a reason to be careful of who you choose to partner with, so when you’re entertaining a SaaS solution make sure to be cognisant of the levels of support, customer service and IT advice you’re likely to receive. That way, your business will end up with both the software and the service that it wants.

– Dave Stevens is managing director of Brennan IT (www.brennanit.com.au), a leading provider of telecommunications and IT services to the mid-market, with offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

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