Look for SaaS-y Business Software Solutions

cloud-computingI just finished reading Fast Company’s article concerning Microsoft’s new patent application.  This new technology controls access to a computer’s hardware and software.  It will also control the amount of time a user can access the computer they’re using.  We’ve seen this quite a bit in pay-as-you-go computer rentals, but I don’t believe that Microsoft intends to take over the computer rental market— not in the traditional sense anyway.  What they have done, is found a way to increase the profits of the Software as a Service (SaaS) business model.  Telling me SaaS is here to stay.

Software From Afar

Right now you’re cringing at the mention of another technical acronym. Don’t worry, SaaS is a simple concept.  Instead of installing applications directly on your individual computer, you access the application via your web browser. You’ve probably been using SaaS modelled software for some time, and didn’t realize it.  If you use any type of web based email system— gmail or hotmail for example, you’re using Software as a Service.  The web interface replaces the Outlook client that’s installed on your Window’s based PC.  The mail server, that behemoth administrative nightmare, resides in Microsoft’s or Google’s server facilities.  This leaves you free of any administrative hassle.  That’s the big advantage to SaaS based applications.  No installs, no patches or any other administrative duties.

SaaS for the Small Business

Small business owners tend to fill many roles within their businesses.  You’re the sales manager, office assistant and usually the IT technician.  The last role— IT Technician, takes more time than many other duties.  If you posses little technical know-how, small technical problems can be debilitating to your business.  SaaS helps to alleviate some of that stress.  It takes away all the IT and leaves you with the benefits.  This doesn’t mean you’ll never have technical issues— hey its technology, but you’ll have a built-in technical staff minimizing the occurrence of issues.  This generally makes SaaS software easier to use.

Return on IT Investment

Beyond admin, you gain other advantages  from SaaS software. SaaS based software tends to require very little upfront investment.  In fact many SaaS application providers offer basic packages at no cost.  When the application use does require investment, you’re usually looking at spending less than $20 per user, instead of the hundreds of dollars per user for most desktop applications.  You’ll pay more to access more features.  If we consider the intangibles– very minimal hardware and software dependicies, no servers to run the application and no administrator needed to keep the application running, the total cost of ownership— or utilization (future terminology for SaaS?) works to your benefit.

Where To Start

The SaaS software delivery model is still in its infancy, so look for more offerings in the new year.  Right now, some great tools are available providing exceptional value.

Google Apps
Google Apps provides a complete set of basic office tools, including a calendar, email, word processor and spreadsheet applications.  All the applications are centered around an online console, giving you access to all the tools in one interface.  It also gives you the ability to share documents online with others in your company.  In addition you can share read only versions of documents via an automatically generated url.  The service can be customized for free, and accessed via your own domain.  Its great for businesses new to the web, who want a reliable and quality email application.

Constant Contact
You’ve probably heard of them already.  Constant Contact provides a quick and easy application for professional newsletter generation.  You provide the content, and Constant Contact does the rest.  The company offers a basic service package at no charge, with more features and customization available with paid packages.

SalesForce.com
SalesForce.com provides customer relationship software.  If you sell, or have a sales team, this is the app for you.  SalesForce.com provides a powerful set of capabilities for sales teams.  You can try it free for 30 days. Once the trial period ends, the investment per user is well worth the investment.

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