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SaaS Is BigóBut Its Future Is Bigger
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By Morris Panner

Beyond SaaS: Using On-Demand Apps to Optimize Business Processes

One of the misconceptions about software-as-a-service (SaaS) is that itís all about software. Granted, on-demand online applications are the foundation of SaaS, but not all software is delivered equally.

A new generation of SaaS vendors has emerged, and its mission is much more ambitious than simply delivering software over the Internet. Instead, next-generation SaaS vendors seek to leverage their large customer base to create virtual global enterprises, making the efficiencies of scale available to their entire customer base.

The goal is to create an application ecosphere, one that links business applications with business processes. These business-automation SaaS providers offer more than software: They give startup, small and other businesses a set of automated processes that fundamentally change how common business problems are tackled.

Remember, technology doesnít solve business problems. Technology is a tool. In the small and medium-size business world, technology too often becomes the underlying problem. Itís unwieldy, time-consuming and distracting. Rather than focusing on core business objectives, many SMBs find theyíve become slaves to technology. Of course, this happens in large enterprises too, but they have large IT staffs. SMBs donít.

Most businesses turn to SaaS for one of two reasons. Either budgets are tight and they canít afford to purchase the software outright or they donít have the IT infrastructure in place to support it. Those are perfectly legitimate reasons. However, even more compelling reasons to choose the SaaS model often are overlooked or misunderstood.

First, the business-focused SaaS model changes the nature of IT, shifting the focus from the application to the end user. Rather than having data locked into application silos, SaaS vendors utilize open-source software and common application programming interfaces (APIs) to make data easily accessible across the organization. What is the best way to access data? Which application best serves your needs? How can a particular application help you do other parts of your job?

When SaaS providers free this data, they also shield end users from complicated application interfaces. Instead, users access information through a convenient interface that allows them to accomplish multiple goals without having to shift applications and learn a variety of programs.

Extended further, this changes the nature of IT, transforming it from an information technology support department to a business-optimization unit. Instead of working with users to fix problems, IT (or in this case SaaS customer service) works with end users to optimize their workflows.

Thatís a lot more than just software coming in over the Internet.

Once SaaS is viewed holistically, disparate applications can be synchronized and centrally managed because business-automation SaaS platforms look at data as data, not as something trapped in an application. Thus, data is managed via a common platform and available to whomever needs it from whatever application best suits their needs.

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Morris Panner is the CEO of OpenAir.
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