SOFTWARE AS A SERVICE In very simple terms, SaaS – Software as a Service – is a service that allows those who wish to use it to access computer software through the internet without having to have the software installed on their own devices in one location. Services such as Xero, Photoshop CS, Quickbooks online and Dropbox are examples of Software as a Service applications, and everyone has heard of Office 360. Any device that can access the internet can access such services, making them highly accessible and mobile. Because of its immediate availability, Software as a Service is often referred to as software on demand, a phrase that describes exactly what it is. Another name associated with SaaS is ASPs or Application Service Providers. ASPs first began to be seen in the 1990s. The acronym SaaS was first used in 2001. SaaS is therefore a system of delivering software services that has been around for some time; it is not in its infancy and has been much developed and it is likely to stay with us for the foreseeable future. The type of SaaS applications that are available is huge; accounting, tracking sales, recruitment database software, communications such as webmail and a host of others are available. SaaS has flourished since the notion of ‘The Cloud’ has become everyday parlance. Cloud services have flourished since the concept of cloud hosting was introduced. Whereas in previous times websites and internet based services needed to be hosted on specific physical computer servers in a specific location, cloud services draw on a vast number of servers over a variety of locations. This ‘pooling’ of server resources allows a vast array of applications and data storage to be realised and shared. The benefits of cloud services are clearly enormous as they allow companies and individuals to access and store information and software without having the often enormous expense of purchasing an array of Information Technology hardware, software and technicians to run, maintain and adapt it. Companies that previously needed their own computer servers, an individual computer for each employee to do their work, multiple licenses to use the same software across a number of machines and costly IT back up can now access the software they need through much cheaper and cost efficient networks of devices. Software as a Service applications are usually accessed by those who subscribe to, rather than purchase the software. This is quite different from the traditional method of purchasing software where the user buys the software package and installs it on a computer or number of devices. In these cases if the computer or device breaks down or has insufficient capability to run the software, the software cannot be accessed. Or, as is currently happening with some older operating systems and internet browsing services, if the operating software becomes outdated the service cannot be accessed. This is not the case with Saas. Saas applications can be thought of as a kind of pay as you go Information Technology and software that can be purchased as need arises on a (usually) pay monthly basis. A business or individual may choose to subscribe to a large number of applications through Saas in order to perform tasks or run a business, or choose to subscribe to only one or two applications. The advantage of this is that small businesses or single individuals can subscribe to high quality professional applications at lower cost than buying software and installing it on appropriate hardware. Some Saas content may provide a ’virtual desktop’ by allowing users to access systems hosted elsewhere. In doing this, computer or device screens merely act as a window on what is happening on a computer elsewhere. The benefits are clear in that this will save money on both software and devices. SaaS is groundbreaking and quite revolutionary in that it frees the user from both location and device specificity. Whereas software installed on a computer in an office can only be accessed through that device and location, SaaS can be accessed anywhere that there is an internet enabled device and authorised user. A further benefit of using SaaS is that the ability to access SaaS software is not limited to the capability of a device to manage the necessary processing as this is provided by the cloud hosting service. There is no need to upgrade memory or purchase additional hardware. SaaS applications require an internet connection; without one the application cannot be accessed and this is, perhaps, the only drawback over the old fashioned system of loading software onto a computer and then running it from that device. However, today’s world has made being on line through the internet an absolute essential, certainly in any kind of business, and internet connections are available almost everywhere. Even buses and other transport systems offer free wi-fi to allow passengers to get online, and there are other options of course. Of course the speed of any internet connection will affect the performance of an application, so there will be some variation across devices and locations; however, this is not inhibiting. The implications for mobile working with SaaS are obviously considerable. Applications can be accessed from many locations. Users do not have to be in an office at their desk to access the services. Working from home is a much more viable option. The time spent in travelling for business need not be wasted and where time would formally be lost because employees cannot get back to their offices in time to access software after travelling for a meeting, they can access the SaaS software in another location provided they have an internet connection and a suitable device. How much SaaS resources will cost a company or individual is of course dependent upon several factors. The number of pieces of software that are subscribed to will impact upon subscription costs. Most SaaS providers charge for given numbers of users; in other words, the more users a subscriber wants to be able to access the SaaS software, the higher the costs will be. However, this can still result in a significant saving. If a company purchases software and all of its employees need to access it, the higher their number the greater the cost of the software as additional licenses will need to be purchased. Similarly, if each employee needs to run the software they will need a device capable of doing so and they in turn will need to be serviced, updated and maintained as necessary. With SaaS this is not necessary, as a number of devices such as tablets and smart phones can be used to access the service. Similarly if a computer or device fails, another can be used in any location provided an internet connection is available. For a company that is considering purchasing SaaS packages it may be worth making comparisons of the costs against those of purchasing a non SaaS packaged application, allowing for depreciation, if the newly acquired package is not going to involve the purchase of new hardware or the recruitment of additional staff to manage it. Anyone considering purchasing SaaS packages should bear in mind the issue of security and discuss this fully with a potential provider. Another issue to consider is a Service Level Agreement; whilst many SaaS providers do offer them it is an issue that has been highlighted that some do not. When looking at potential providers customers need to bear these issues in mind. It is also advised that when looking for an SaaS provider the ability to engage with their development team and have input into future iterations of the software. SUMMARY BENEFITS OF SAAS Saas applications can be accessed through any internet-enabled device, making them readily available almost anywhere at any time and in any location provided an internet connection is available. This offers freedom from the office-bound environment and need for a personal pc at a desk. Time is not lost when travelling, and workers can access applications after travelling without having to return to the office. Devices such as smartphones and tablets can access the applications as well as pcs and laptops running any operating system that supports a browser. There are no initial financial costs for Saas applications as there are with traditional software purchases; use of the service is through subscriptions which are usually paid on a monthly basis and can usually be ended at any point. This means only the services needed are paid for and only for the period that they are needed. Saas services with flexible licensing policies that allow you to expand or contract user numbers as needed and do not enforce lengthy contracts like eBoss are preferable. There are no limitations as to how many devices can access the Saas applications as there often are with traditionally purchased software packages. The need for multiple users to access software often requires the purchase of additional licenses. With SaaS users can use a variety of devices in a variety of locations to access applications. Not everyone may need a laptop or pc at a desk. It is usual for updates to Saas applications to be added to the software by the cloud host, and often there is no charge; this is different to the traditional method where updates often have to be paid for. Saas services free the user from a specific device in a specific location. Users can work at home, in other offices by hot-desking, whilst travelling and in fact anywhere that an internet connection can be established. There are financial benefits in using Saas: no initial financial outlay, usually monthly subscription payments; subscriptions can usually be cancelled when services are no longer required; workers can continue to use services if their ability to travel is interrupted; workers can work from a variety of locations freeing office space and saving on office costs; updates to service software are usually made by the cloud hoster and are often without additional charges; and hardware does not have to be updated and additional processing power purchased. Software applications available through Saas can often be adapted and customised to suit an individual user’s needs; this is not possible with software purchase in the usual manner unless a software specialist is engaged at considerable expense. Because SaaS providers often have their own software specialists the costs of customisation can often be kept down. It is often easier to deal with niche Saas providers as they are generally more receptive to development requests and provide a more personal support framework. The implications for a mobile workforce are considerable. Workers ‘in the field’ on a daily basis can use SaaS applications so long as they have a smartphone, laptop or other device that will allow them to access the internet. This has the potential to increase the efficiency of a mobile workforce as they do not need to travel back to the office or workplace in order to work with the software they require. Nor do they need to carry bulky equipment with the capability to handle the programs they need to work with. Using SaaS means that the packages purchased on a monthly basis can grow with a company or individual’s needs. More users can be added to the monthly subscription as workforces increase. There will be no need for the purchase of further servers or storage devices. Using SaaS applications offers security. If business premises are made inaccessible by weather, flooding, accident or other means, applications can be accessed from other locations with other devices. Using SaaS means that the service provider pays for the development, maintenance and upgrading of applications. For larger companies that may have previously employed their own, or outsourced IT support, this means that there are potentially considerable financial savings. THE FUTURE SaaS providers are rapidly expanding and the format is incredibly popular. Because of the many potential benefits of using SaaS providers this is likely to remain the case for some time to come. Cloud hosting is a major integral part of our computing and data storage world and SaaS is currently one of its most rapidly expanding and popular users. eBoss is of course Saas cloud based recruitment software and provides it's users with all the benefits of cloud based software. You can find out more about eBoss Recruitment Software here.
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