Having talked to several hundred shipping companies about software, I have come to the conclusion that there is still a lot of misinformation about cloud-based software. As the Software as a Service (SaaS) model has taken over most industries along time ago, it is still facing a relatively sceptical shipping industry. This is a shame considering the huge benefits savings our industry is losing out on. So, in this article, I want to highlight the great benefits of SaaS, and by doing so, debunking some of the myths that are out there.
But first, what is SaaS?
Put simply, SaaS is software that is hosted centrally and has a subscription-based licence. So the software is owned, delivered and managed remotely by a software provider. In effect, SaaS is a software on lease, maintained by the software provider and not hosted on your premises. Because SaaS is hosted in a central cloud, SaaS apps are often referred to as web apps.
Now that we now what SaaS or cloud software actually means, let us dig into the many benefits they provide.
1. Lower cost
With SaaS, you pay for what you need, without having to buy hardware to host your new application. Instead of requiring internal resources to install and maintain the software, the software provider does all of this for you, and remotely. The time to a working solution can drop from months in the traditional model to only a few minutes with a SaaS solution.
2. Reduced time to benefit
There are several ways in which the SaaS model reduces the time to benefit. First of all, in the SaaS model, the software application is already installed and configured. It's like "plug and play" but where the "plug" is already taken care of. You don't need to contact the IT department to set it up, or to make sure that every employer gets the necessary installations. All of this is automatically taken care of, and the software is just readily available for everyone.
Furthermore, with web interfaces being more and more familiar and easier to use, the time to get started actively using the software is heavily reduced. We are finally seeing software in the shipping industry embracing modern user experience (UX) principles. The intuitive software this brings is significantly decreasing the onboarding time (time to get started with new software).
In addition, with professional software being built on APIs, enabling integrations is a walk in the park. An API is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other. The beauty of integrations are that they automate much of the workflow by helping provide a single source of truth for your data, hence eliminating the need input data more than once. More about this further below.
3. Pay as you go
SaaS software gives you the benefit of predictable costs both for the subscription and to some extent, the administration. Even as you scale, you can have a clear idea of what your costs will be. This allows for much more accurate budgeting, especially as compared to the costs of internal IT to manage upgrades, security and maintenance.
4. No need for IT expertise
In some businesses, IT wants nothing to do with installing and running an app. Under the SaaS model, since the software is hosted by the software provider, they take on the responsibility for maintaining the software and upgrading it, ensuring that it is reliable and meeting agreed-upon service level agreements, and keeping the application and its data secure. This eliminates the need to have very expensive IT expertise.
SaaS companies typically offer seamless, automatic, and very frequent upgrades as part of the ongoing subscription charge. Because these upgrades happen frequently and more incrementally than on-premise solutions, they typically also have significantly reduced testing and training costs.
While some IT people worry about security outside of the enterprise walls, the likely truth is that the vendor has a much higher level of security than the enterprise itself would provide. Many will have redundant instances in very secure data centers in multiple geographies. Also, the data is being automatically backed up by the vendor, providing additional security and peace of mind. Because of the data center hosting, you're getting the added benefit of at least some disaster recovery. Lastly, the vendor manages these issues as part of their core competencies—let them. Save your IT staff time for work on the systems they know best.
For many, storing your files on-premise feels subconsciously "safer" because the information is physically closer to your location. However, this doesn't apply well to the realities of cybersecurity. Malicious actors have many different ways of exploiting flaws in on-premise systems, from unpatched security holes to phishing emails that seek to collect your employees' passwords.
Cloud-based software's biggest draw is that even small companies get enterprise-grade technologies at a low price. When you subscribe to SaaS, the software you use is secured by powerful firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, antivirus software, and access controls. This protects you from threats like brute-force attacks, denial-of-service, and malware.
SaaS providers also host software in highly secure facilities, which prevents cybercriminals from getting their hands on your company's mission-critical data.
As mentioned above, professional software is often built on APIs. An API is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other. With APIs and proper documentation, an integration can be created very quickly. As an example, a few months ago my colleague created an integration between our software and Slack (chat app), an app which allows us to add new users through messages in the chat app. He created this integration in less than an hour.
Many integrations come out of the box. Others, can be done fairly quickly (like the example above) given a modern software architecture. However, if you have older software (usually created by older teams), integrations might take time to implement. How easy it is for a company to create integrations is usually a good indication of how tech savvy they actually are.
Since the software is hosted in the cloud and accessible over the internet, users can access it from anywhere and any device. You can access the same data as you colleagues in real time, even seeing who is working on what. Teams that are scattered across large distances are suddenly able to work closely together.
Furthermore, although they are often called web apps, they can be made to function offline. There are many web apps with offline functionality, especially Google's business apps are great examples. However, only companies that adopt the latest technologies can achieve offline functionality.
8. Higher adoption rates
Nobody wants to invest huge sums in custom-developed software or off-the-shelf software that users don't care to adopt. Because of the availability, lower cost and reduced time to benefit, it's easier to get colleagues and employees onboard, and keep them there. Adoption rates are crucial, otherwise users will start reverting to Excel or whatever they were using before. Because the software is accessible via familiar web browsers, SaaS apps typically have much lower learning curves and higher adoption rates.