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How To Become a SaaS Superhero

Software as a service can make you a corporate star.

SaaS means you can act like a big business — and compete with big business — even if you don’t have the IT staff and resources of a multinational conglomerate.

In fact, you’re probably already using "software as a service," even if you don’t realize it. Here’s how it works: The software and your data are hosted by a third-party provider, typically in the cloud, and accessed over the Internet. It’s predominately used for office productivity tools such as email, word processing, accounting, human resources, collaboration, online file sharing, as well as security.

And the market is growing. Research firm IDC predicts that 27.8 per cent of the worldwide enterprise applications market will be SaaS-based by 2018, up from 16.6 per cent in 2013.

Here are just a few ways SaaS can help you become a small business superhero:

1. You don't have to buy an expensive cape; just rent it!

Rather than investing in your own hardware to run software applications, you can rent it. It’s like subscribing to a magazine, where you pay a monthly fee for the subscription. You don’t have to pay hefty fees up-front, nor do you have to deal with user licenses.

2. You never have to take your Batmobile in for repairs

Since you pay a fixed monthly fee, it’s easier to budget for IT. Your SaaS provider is responsible for maintaining the software — and the IT equipment that runs it — so you also save money by eliminating the need for on-site maintenance and upgrades.

3. You can be faster than a speeding bullet

Rolling out a SaaS application doesn’t require a lengthy development cycle, so you can get started right away. That makes you flexible and nimble — much more so than larger enterprises that are building customized, in-house solutions.

4. There's plenty of space for the whole Justice League

With SaaS, you pay for what you need, when you need it. In other words, you don’t have to buy a software suite designed for 1,000 employees if you only have 10. And you can scale up (or down) as needed — say, during a busy holiday period or as your business grows.

5. It comes with its own Fortress of Solitude

For many large enterprises, moving sensitive data to a hosted data centre raises security concerns. But for small business, this approach often provides a higher level of security, especially if you don’t have IT staff to handle it in-house — so it’s a bonus, not a drawback. You’ll get automatic security patches and software updates, as well as backup service. And you’ll likely get better reliability and performance, too.

But SaaS can't solve all problems. Like anything, it has its limitations, and it might not be the best fit for every application. For industry-specific business applications, a SaaS solution may not exist, or you may be constrained by compliance or privacy regulations.

One of the biggest issues is not having a clear understanding of where SaaS fits into your business. There’s no point moving to SaaS for SaaS’s sake.

“Understanding how the technologies they need can be delivered as a service is a challenge,” says Eric Diamond of Tribeca Cloud in an article in DailyTech. “With the cloud model, the Internet connection becomes paramount, and the costs for adequate reliability, redundancy and bandwidth must be factored into the ROI discussion.” And, he points out, not all services lend themselves to this delivery model.

Many SaaS providers offer a try-before-you-buy approach — take advantage of this to see if it’s a good fit for your business. And conduct a proper risk assessment before moving on-premise applications over to a hosted model (whether that’s with your internal IT team or an external partner).

Also, make sure the SaaS application is properly integrated with your existing infrastructure and ensure users know how to use it. It’s also wise to review your SaaS applications on a regular basis to see if you’re meeting your business goals, if you need to scale up (or down) and if the provider is meeting quality of service requirements.

SaaS is often referred to as the great equalizer. It can level the playing field, allowing you to take advantage of technologies once only accessible to the largest of enterprises, and to try out new ways of communicating and collaborating with employees and customers. Do your due diligence and you can become a SaaS superhero, too.

If you're in the market for SaaS, you're probably also thinking about your cloud strategy. Read about taking the next step with cloud-based IT.

Image by JD Hancock.

Vawn Himmelsbach

Vawn Himmelsbach is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. She has covered technology and travel for 15 years, for media outlets such as CBCNews.ca, The Globe & Mail, Metro News, ITBusiness, PCworld Canada and Computerworld Canada. She also spent three years living abroad and working as an Asian correspondent.

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