Technology is not what it used to be. Remember when new “computer programs” were purchased on these shiny discs called “CD Roms?” You know the ones. You’d bring them home to install on your PC, and the instant you pressed ‘close’ on your disc drive there was already a newer, shinier “version” called 2.1 or 2.6 or that rendered your program obsolete before you’d figured out how to use it. Begrudgingly, you were back at the same computer store to buy the same program within a year. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Thankfully, software delivery has changed for the better. There are no more stores, and no more “versions.” Now, software developers work diligently behind the scenes and deliver their up-to-date products to us via “the cloud.” The fluidity of technology is delivered seamlessly to us through the press of a button. Sounds incredibly futuristic, right? I mean, my smartphone tells me when I should put out my recycle bin. Well, okay then… where’s my flying car and meals in pill form?

The truth is that SaaS has been around for a while, but its popularity is new for Public Works. Here’s a breakdown of the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of this software delivery model:

What is SaaS?

Software as a Service, or Saas, is technology that is delivered via subscription. You access the product with an internet connection and log into the company’s platform on your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Popular examples of SaaS include, Spotify, Netflix, and Evernote. In fact, if you have a web-based email account, you’re using SaaS: your email provider stores your messages and user data in “the cloud” and you access this data via login to their platform.

SaaS in incredibly helpful for four major reasons:

  1. Quality: the provider is (usually!) a specialist in providing the service.
  2. Reliability: they can operate the technology better than I can do it myself.
  3. Security: they can do a better job of securing the hardware than I could.
  4. Price: they can do all this cheaper than I can.

What is “The Cloud”?

The cloud is, very simply: “other people’s computers”. Internet servers are big, hot, and complex, and they do best when managed by specialists. There are a number of reasons why SaaS via the cloud is helpful, but foremost among them is back-up servers. This keeps your data from being lost in the event that a server goes down. A close second is security. When servers are managed by the provider, they have highly trained staff on hand whose sole job is to address and fix failures very quickly. Subscribers need not worry about storing and managing data, which mitigates the risk of losing it altogether.

Why is SaaS so Popular?

SaaS makes expensive technology affordable. The building blocks of SaaS, meaning years of technological research and development, have made it easy to quickly make products that look good and work well. With SaaS, subscribers can now access technologies that used to be cost prohibitive. If a city wanted a custom in-house waste app made five years ago, it would take a small team of technically trained staff as well as tens of thousands of dollars in upfront costs to make it happen— for version 1.0. Forget about all the useful features that were cut out of the initial version. With SaaS, there is no updating these “versions” because the work is done for you: development of new features, maintenance to keep things running smoothly, security updates and bug fixes, everything. All you need to do is remember your username and password (and Saas can help you with that problem too!).

High Quality Customer Service

One of the benefits of a competitive SaaS market is that software vendors are vying for your loyalty. When you subscribe to their service, it is essential to their business that they keep you as a subscriber. Cancellations equal lost revenue, so it is in their best interests to consistently offer 1) high quality products, and 2) near-instant access to customer success teams. CS teams are at your beck and call to assist, troubleshoot, and ensure that you are getting the most out of your paid subscription. The competitive nature of being a software vendor comes from knowing that we can be replaced anytime. This ensures high-quality service.

An added bonus of Customer Success teams is that they are highly specialized within their domain. They will have repeated implementation and launch models hundreds of times with other customers, resulting in a breadth of knowledge for the subscriber to draw from. Their best practices provide incredible levels of insight, and you can dive into these as needed.

Never Fall Behind

Remember those CD Rom days when you had to go and re-buy a program for updates? It’s a dated example, but it still has parallels to buying software today. SaaS delivery allows for constant product improvements as tech development teams are able to release updates frequently – even multiple times a day! When you subscribe to cloud-based technology, you should expect that the service stays up to date and in keeping with changes in the industry. SaaS means you are never behind the times.

The Cost of SaaS

The subscription model of SaaS sometimes makes people pause. “Wait,” they say, “I have to keep paying for this? Why can’t I just pay once?”

The model of Saas should explain itself: customers pay a lower fee more frequently to have constant access to a top of the line product. You have guarantees on how it looks, feels, and functions. And if it doesn’t meet your needs or underperforms in some way, you can wash your hands of the product and move elsewhere, no strings attached.

This not only ensures quality solutions for the customer, but makes it much more affordable in the long run. The alternative to SaaS is developing tech solutions in-house, which poses heavy financial investment. In-house development means in-house management; if you choose this route, you are then responsible for the constant cycle of managing and updating that software. And if your final product doesn’t function how you want it to, that means a lot of wasted time and resources when you go back to the drawing board and wait weeks, months or years for the internal IT team to find time for tweaks, bug fixes, and design improvements. With SaaS your product is guaranteed, and your system admins and IT staff aren’t bogged down by constant development, upkeep and maintenance, allowing them to put their time to better use in other areas.