SUSTAINABILITY SOFTWARE: Why We Like SaaS… (Part 1)

This article was written as an expansion of our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for your Business” published in July 2011.  If you’re looking for information on how to make your software selection, check out the full article.  If you just want to make sense of this particular topic, keep reading.  Whether you like this article or not, we want to hear from YOU so that we can continue to provide the best insight for YOU, our readers…

No we aren’t talking about Scandinavian Airlines or the British Special Air Services unit.  We’re not even talking about the SAS business analytics tool that you might be using for other analysis at your firm.  We’re talking about Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), which is one of the major trends sweeping the software industry over the last few years. 

SaaS has arisen alongside the overall trend of “cloud computing” in recent years because the whole idea is that you don’t necessarily have to have any software installed directly on your premises.  Instead, your software application will run on some remote centralized system sitting in your vendor’s data center and you’ll access it via your web browser.  This is in contrast to the common practice over the past 25 years where you would have been likely to purchase some shrink-wrapped software at a store (or more recently, download it from the vendor website) and then installed it on your local PC before using it.  The software and your data would have resided on your local hard drive or, if you remember them, floppy disks.  In the new modern age of cloud computing, we pop open a web browser, go to a website, log in and start using the software.  While that may sound a lot like what happened back in the heyday of the IBM mainframe back in the 1960’s and 1970’s with the ubiquitous “green screen” terminal, this isn’t just your father’s client-server world.

We encourage all of our readers to take the SaaS path in selecting sustainability software; because when we lay out the pros and cons of SaaS, we feel that they tip the scales firmly in that direction.  However, just because we like it, we still want YOU to do your diligence and make the right selection for your business.  After all, we don’t know all the specific details that make your situation unique. 

Today we’ll discuss some of the advantages you can expect to enjoy by selecting an SaaS provider.  On Thursday we’ll present some of the disadvantages and challenges presented by SaaS, and talk about some of the areas you’ll want to pay extra attention to. 

Advantages

The first category of advantages could be known as the “You don’t have tos”.  For example, you don’t need to buy any new hardware to run the system and you don’t have to go through a lengthy installation and implementation cycle on all the in-house computer equipment where you want to use the new software.   As an added bonus, you don’t need to upgrade all those laptops, PCs, etc. that your folks already have – they just need to have an Internet connection.  You also don’t have to ramp up any internal support staff for the tool, as the majority of effort will be handled by your vendor; this is especially helpful in that you don’t have to find someone who has that rare bit of niche expertise and knows that they can charge a lot for their time.  Last, but not least, you don’t have to worry about version control issues where different departments or individuals are out of sync because they’re running different versions of the software or have different software patches installed.  Since it all runs “in the cloud”, every time they log in, your folks will be using the same current software that everyone else is using.

This final “You don’t have to” leads us to the next major advantage: Centralization.  By utilizing a SaaS solution, not only do you keep all your versioning in synch, you also gain the benefit of having a system that is your “single source of the truth” for all of your sustainability data.  No more worrying about having the latest set of regional utility data downloaded at each of your workstations or displaying different and sometimes conflicting info because someone forgot to run an update.  It’s all there, handled quickly and easily by your vendor who is constantly working on updating and expanding their available data sets.  You should let them do the work instead of having your own folks do it - after all, it is a competitive advantage for them to have the “best data” in the industry. 

Another facet of centralization is that all of your users will be presented with a common and consistent user interface.  This streamlines your training, reporting, and other support needs as you don’t have to worry about the special needs of every distinct platform or interface.1 Centralized administration of your system also helps when you want to add/remove users, update permissions, update all of your company data, and roll out changes to the system.  All of these things are effectively “done once” and then are immediately available for your users.  A centralized reporting library also enables your users to more easily share and access reports developed by the vendor, as well as reports developed by each other (according to their permission level).

Cost is our final major category of advantage.  By going with a SaaS solution, you may be able to work out a subscription price that lowers your initial out-of-pocket costs.  The vendor support package may also be cheaper (or free) for you since you’ve signed up for their service, especially if you’ve locked in for a contract of a year or longer; if nothing else, at least try to negotiate on that topic.  The high availability / high performance aspects of the solution should be built in as well – as long as you’ve got a speedy and reliable Internet connection, you shouldn’t have to worry about response time or about your system being offline.  Similarly, your vendor is also on the hook for ensuring that they have the necessary backups and redundancy in place so you won’t lose data in the event of a server failure.  Carried internally at your firm, these infrastructure costs can add up quickly depending on your tolerance (or lack thereof) for “system issues”.  Finally, with a SaaS solution, you won’t be tempted to customize your internal software so much that when the time comes for a vendor upgrade, you basically have to start all over with a new implementation that costs a lot more than the subscription fee that you might have been paying.  As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, you get what you pay for – just be sure you know what you are getting and that you get everything that you pay for!

Note: Yes, the user interface might be slightly different if you go from PC to Mac to an iPad to an Android phone, but for now, we’re going to assume that you are accessing the software via a more traditional web browser regardless of the platform.  If you choose to use more specialized features of a tablet or smart phone, then you will lose some of the benefits, but hopefully the specialized features make up for it.

Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.