Why SaaS is important

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications are being delivered with unprecedented features, scalability and reliability. World-class, mission-critical applications, even in the banking and financial spaces, are delivering on-demand benefits to organisations globally.

Goldman Sachs reported in their SaaS Survey of February 2010 that SaaS moved from 37th to 18th in its IT Spending Survey in just five short months. Gartner projects that the SaaS market will grow at a rate 2.5 times faster than overall IT spending. Here are a few reasons why this is so:

Security. With state-of-the-art physical security and systems redundancy, the world-class hosting facilities available nowadays provide exceptionally robust, reliable systems environments that will meet the most stringent requirements. In addition, data centres are continuously monitored (24 x 7) by both automated tools and trained operations personnel. The hosting centres used by superior SaaS providers far outclass the meagre efforts of even the largest law firm.

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). In addition to the actual physical security and continuity of the computer hardware, law firms must be aware of their clients’ data being zapped around the world. So, select a SaaS supplier that provides secure communications on the internet by using cryptographic protocols. The most trusted certification available throughout the world is probably Verisign – used by 97 of the world’s 100 largest SSL-using banks and over 93 per cent of Fortune 500 companies. For SaaS suppliers based outside the European Union, clients should obtain contractual reassurance that the Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC) is being followed.

Latest technologiesRIA. Rich Internet Applications (RIA) are web applications that have the rich features and functionality of traditional desktop applications. The very latest development technology provides a beautiful user experience not obtainable using only the HTML solutions delivered by standard browser-based web applications. Yet all of this can be delivered to users without any client software deployment – running seamlessly within the browser. The three most common RIA platforms are Adobe Flash (99 per cent market penetration), Java (80 per cent) and Microsoft Silverlight (54 per cent). The importance of this interface is that if lawyers and secretaries are to operate systems themselves with little or no training (nobody taught ME how to use Amazon or eBay) then simplicity is the key.

Anytime, anywhere. Because the service is provided via a web browser, users can access the service from anywhere that there is an internet connection and with fast low-cost broadband becoming more widespread, this will only increase the use of SaaS.

No obligation. Nothing keeps a supplier on their toes like knowing that you, as a client, are not locked-in. Therefore choose SaaS contracts that are cancellable with no long-term commitments.

Cost. If like most companies, 40 per cent of your IT budget is tied up maintaining your current hardware and software infrastructure, it is hard to find the resources-time and money-to deliver innovative applications to your users. SaaS is a way out of this dilemma.

No hardware. Not only do you avoid the investment and maintenance, but you get a level of hardware sophistication and redundancy that you are unlikely to afford yourself.

No software. There are no complex license agreements or expensive support. All upgrades are included in the SaaS subscription at no additional charge.

No administration. Your internal staff do not have to become experts on yet another application. Let the SaaS supplier run the application, tune the database, manage the security, worry about performance, handle the upgrades, worry about load balancing, and deal with systems’ integration.

New types of software

Many types of applications lend themselves to the SaaS model, particularly where collaboration is required from users, often in different locations. These include Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Human Resource (HR), Expense/Purchase Invoice Management, Content Management and Document Management.

An example is the UK pharmacy retailer Boots with stores across the country. By using SaaS from Salesforce.com their HR team can provide personalized case management for line managers who need to respond to employee issues, for example on performance and disciplinary matters. General HR policy information is available to employees covering issues such as absenteeism, holidays and maternity leave.

In a similar way, SaaS is an ideal vehicle for CRM since it enables dispersed users to create, update, maintain and refer to contact details and to use this pooled information to manage their relationships with them. I and my colleagues at Chrome River Technologies use the CRM service from Zoho. There is, however, a wide choice of other CRM suppliers available – just Google search “CRM SaaS”.

The Chrome River online service to law firms covers expenses and purchase ledger invoice automation. This provides cost control by introducing better standardized enforcement of spend policies and visibility by automated routing and approval. The service is used by 50,000 users in firms of all sizes ranging from 10 lawyers – to half of the AMLAW top 20.

What is becoming clear is that Software-as-a-Service is not just a different computer method of delivering what law firms have traditionally done for over 30 years – such as Practice Management (PMS), but is a way of doing things you would not have been able to do before.

Harry Townsend is Director UK Region for Chrome River Technologies.

Email harry.townsend@chromeriver.com.

Note. There is a major section on Delia’s website relating to hosted systems and outsourcing – see www.venables.co.uk/outsourcing.htm.