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    Business Systems

    What is Software as a Service, and how could it benefit your business?

    As well as for the clients we work with every day, at Cefar we know for ourselves just what a tough environment it is for businesses at the moment. Overheads are rising, inflation is having an even greater effect and yet the need to be both competitive and profitable is stronger than ever.

    Certainly, we all need to work harder than ever before. But we also need to work smarter. Almost without exception, this means using the tools that are going to maximise efficiency at minimal cost. And, as software plays such a critical role in every kind of sector today, it’s here that this smart working can often begin.

    Software as a Service: an introduction

    The traditional model up until relatively recently for any business needing software for their operations has been to buy it and have it installed permanently on physical networks or individual PCs and other devices.

    However, with the emergence of cloud computing, another option has emerged – one that has been gaining increasing traction with businesses across a wide range of sectors. It’s been given the umbrella name of Software as a Service, or SaaS for short, and the principle behind it is a simple one.

    Instead of software that needs to be stored on a PC or networks, it’s held in the cloud and is accessed through an app via an internet browser.

    The types of applications that can be run using SaaS are almost limitless, ranging from managing documents and data to co-ordinating calendars and diaries across whole businesses. And, as we shall see that SaaS comes with many advantages, as long as you’re using the right SaaS.

    At Cefar we are highly experienced at ensuring this is exactly what our clients get when they commission us to create software for them. This is because we use our experience of working closely with businesses to really understand how they work – as well as the ways they’d like to work even more effectively.

    By providing bespoke SaaS for clients, we can tailor it to provide exactly the service that is needed. It may be a little more expensive than a ready-made solution. But the enhanced effectiveness and efficiency mean that it is an investment that is well worth making.

    So that’s the general background to Software as a Service, but what are its key advantages? Let’s take an overview.

    The business and practical benefits of SaaS

    Broadly speaking, there are six practical benefits that a business will enjoy when they invest in SaaS and the first of these is accessibility.

    Because all SaaS applications run through internet browsers it doesn’t matter which operating system is being used to access them. So they work just as well on Macs as well as on PCs. SaaS applications will also run perfectly on smartphones and other mobile devices.

    So this means that wherever your staff are, and whatever hardware they have at their disposal, they will be able to use the particular software. They simply need to have a connection to the internet available to them. In an era when remote working has suddenly become the norm, this can be enormously useful.

    The next point in favour of SaaS is the fact that it is very quick and easy to update while causing minimal disruption to you, the end user.

    This is because it is run in the cloud and so all updates become available immediately to users. Compare this to the alternative, on-premise software. Following any update, this can take some time to roll out thanks to the additional step of the testing needed to ensure that there are no glitches and that it is totally secure.

    With software updates often also being needed to make systems more secure, you have the added peace of mind that an extra element of protection has been applied remotely to keep you and your business data safe.

    Then there’s the potential saving on hardware to take into account. Often, when new software is introduced across a business this means that more servers and network switches might need to be bought to enable it to run.

    Obviously, this isn’t necessary at all when all the heavy lifting is being done up in the cloud. It also means that the sort of software that would only really be affordable for bigger businesses is made available for all. And, if and when more staff need access to the software, then it’s just a case of changing the billing plan to a different band if necessary.

    The next advantage is one that runs across pretty much all cloud computing and that’s data safety. With on-premise software this needs to be backed-up regularly as a protection in the event of a disaster of some kind occurring. While many businesses believe that this will never happen to them, there have been many instances of catastrophic failures and incidents like fires in server rooms.

    But, because the data is stored in the cloud, it’s guaranteed to be safe – and accessible whenever and wherever staff need to access it.

    Last, but not least, SaaS can be very useful for the data analytics that businesses of every kind rely on for planning for the future. The fact that everything is being run through a centralised platform means that information about usage and other analytics is available straight away. Then intelligence tools and other analytics devices can be deployed leading to increased efficiency in a business thanks to the lessons being learned.

    Some challenges

    Of course, it wouldn’t be accurate to state that SaaS comes without a distinct number of challenges and other considerations. These aren’t specific to SaaS, rather they arise in all forms of cloud computing because of its very nature.  However, when you weigh up the advantages of using the cloud-based solution, these are quite easy to accept.

    The first of these concerns security. As a great deal of data is being held in the cloud, there is always going to be the issue of how to keep it safe from hackers and other cyber criminals. Fortunately, putting the right safety measures in place including the most appropriate level of encryption standard can greatly limit the potential danger. With the correct SSL protocols as well as other verification checks for use, security shouldn’t be an issue.

    You also need to be sure about the all-round reliability of the cloud service provider. Because, if the cloud service you’re using goes down, even temporarily, it could spell significant problems for an organisation.

    That’s why at Cefar we only work with cloud service providers that we know that we can rely on and which have been offering an unbroken service for some time.

    There’s also the issue of performance. While on-premise software can be relied on to work quickly and efficiently, SaaS running through an app has an extra bridge to cross, even if it’s a virtual one. So a good provider should be able to run the software with a maximum 3 second load time – obviously also dependent on the download speed dictated by the internet connection at the time. It’s also important that long-term stability is guaranteed.

    Finally, there’s the small matter of scalability. You need to have the confidence that the cloud service will be able to cope if you find yourself needing to provide the SaaS to an ever-growing number of people. Again, this is simply a question of finding a provider with a good track record of being able to scale up their services to users as and when it has become necessary in the past.

    A step-by-step guide to developing SaaS

    While we’ve looked at the advantages and challenges of using SaaS, we’ve not really talked about how to ensure that any software that you commission really does end up being fit for purpose. Fortunately, creating SaaS that does its job perfectly is an area in which we excel.

    Like all the services that we offer to our clients, we’ve found that following a set process is the way to succeed – and in the case of SaaS, there are five distinct stages to follow.

    1. Map out the requirements

    It may sound obvious, but it’s vital all the same. To get the software that you need it’s vital to spend a considerable amount of time exploring and developing exactly what you need it to do.  It’s also important to consider deeply the needs and abilities of the end-users to ensure that the finished results are going to be fit for purpose. At this stage, it can even be a good idea to do a limited amount of “market research” into what users might want from the software.

    1. Put the team together

    Creating any kind of software is always going to be a team, not an individual, effort. At Cefar we will put together the most appropriate group of developers and other staff to create the very best finished result. We also generally ask our clients to put together their own work-group of relevant stakeholders who will be able to guide us through the process ensuring, above all, that their business and other objectives are on track to be met by the software that is created.

    1. Develop the software

    Then it’s time to start the hard work of actually creating the software. A complex process but one that should have been made easier thanks to taking the two preceding steps. During the creation we maintain close links with the client to keep them fully informed about the stage that we’ve reached and to clarify any questions we might have.

    By following a strict timetable, at this stage we are also able to give a fairly accurate estimate of exactly when the SaaS will be ready to be rolled out and released onto the cloud.

    1. Test the software

    In keeping with all software, then it’s time for beta testing to iron out any glitches and also to refine any processes or services that need it. Because the plan will be to deploy the software across a range of hardware and operating systems, this testing is going to have to be done across all of these too.

    Just as we researched the requirements at the first stage of the process, it’s also important to try out the (nearly) finished result on end users. Often they will be able to spot issues that others close to the project may have overlooked or even suggest minor improvements to make it even more user-friendly once it is eventually launched.

    1. Deployment

    When launch time does come around, it’s simply a case of loading the SaaS onto the chosen cloud service provider and rolling it out to whoever is going to be using it.

    It may well be that employees will need a certain amount of training in using the new software so this should also be factored into the launch programme. Ideally, the software will be simple and intuitive to use but, even so, some guidance may be necessary.

    Then it’s a question of monitoring how effective and successful it’s proving to be, often against a number of KPIs. As already mentioned, the fact that this is software stored on and deployed from the cloud means that making changes and improvements is relatively easy to do with minimal disruption to users.

    If what you’ve read here has set you thinking about exactly how SaaS could be used to make your business more efficient then we would be more than happy to go into the subject in more depth.

    We can show you case studies from our existing and past clients and discuss your precise needs and how we might be able to help with them

    We’ll also go into far greater detail about all aspects of SaaS than we have had the space to do here.

    So to arrange a convenient time for a meeting, with no obligation on your part, simply contact us. We hope that we’ll be hearing from you soon.