Until recently, small business assumed that it could not access the same kinds of technology and opportunities that big corporations could with vastly greater resources. Rapid technology shifts have led many smaller businesses to expect more from technology—if Amazon can do it, why can’t we?
As a technologist, I often help companies understand the contrast between their expectations versus their budget. Everyone hopes for the magic behind the scenes: A simple, easy-to-use application that does it all and doesn’t cost a fortune. In years past, that has been a pipe dream for most business.
The great news is that now most businesses don’t have to build software from scratch for most of their company needs. Other businesses have invented the wheel already—they’ve created the software your business needs. And businesses creating software for themselves have realized there’s a market out there, so now many sell their software solutions, providing a Software as a Service (SaaS, pronounced like sass) to other firms.
This disrupted the traditional software market. Instead of paying large licensing fees and 20 percent per year on software maintenance, a company can now pay a much lower fixed monthly cost to lease software in the cloud, and still get the benefits of software functionality, upgrades and maintenance.
There are significant benefits to a SaaS Model:
- You pay less to get most of what you expect — that magic behind the scenes.
- You usually don’t have to have the servers to run the software. The software company will host it for you giving you the additional benefits of scalability, speed and redundancy.
- Automated backup is often part of the package.
- Application maintenance and updates are deployed automatically by the software creator to the entire client base.
- You are not forever married to the same software — the switching costs are less severe.
Using a SaaS solution is like hitting the easy button to software you can use – well almost.
You may not be able to find one SaaS system that can do everything your business needs — accounting, customer relationship management, inventory, and digital marketing — but now we can connect one SaaS with another SaaS system, kind of like Legos. You can snap on whatever piece your business needs and they can be programmed to communicate with each other.
Back to Amazon. Remember when they started in 1995 only selling books? Now they sell anything and everything you want delivered straight to your home. As Amazon added products and vendors, it had to add functionality to make online shopping an easy experience for both vendors and buyers. Its speed, customer management, payment system, and many other features set new expectations for what buying and selling ought to feel like. Amazon still leads the way for most.
What does this have to do with your own business’ SaaS needs? Everything.
If you want to create an online presence, you probably can’t afford the technology team that Jeff Bezos has, but it is expected. So what do you do? With Software as a Service, you can fuse different applications together based on the functionality you need, customization required and your budget.
So for example, to build an e-commerce site you likely utilized these kinds of applications:
- A website with a content management system application
- A customer relationship management program
- An accounting application
- An inventory application
- A shopping cart application
- Credit card processing functionality
- A shipping software integration with the shopping cart
- An analytics program to measure what is getting attention on the website
- A marketing automation/communication application to communicate with your prospects and clients
- A social media toolset to market and influence digitally
- A backup program
- A hosting application
That’s twelve sets of functionality you can put together so they collaborate, communicate and transact. If you have custom needs, you may need to tinker with those using custom programming, but you won’t have to build twelve applications from the ground up.
Be smart about it. Be up front about what you know and what you do and do not know. Find someone that can explain this to you in terms you understand. They should ask the questions about your business and provide strategies and solutions to gain the efficiency and options you expect using SaaS.