For many construction, architecture and engineering companies software-as-a-service (SaaS) is already part of the daily routine. A company that uses a Web-based accounting package, does payroll online using an online payroll service or has meetings using one of the popular online meeting sites is using SaaS.

(For a simply clear description of SaaS and how it relates to end users and the other key acronyms, PaaS and IaaS, see Sinclair Schuller’s article, “Demystifying The Cloud: Where Do SaaS, PaaS and Other Acronyms Fit In?”)

 

While the lines can blur these days with it sometimes being difficult to determine a SaaS from a PaaS, in its simplest form SaaS is software you use and pay for only when you need it. Not surprisingly, those in the business of providing SaaS view it, and the larger cloud as dynamic entities.

“As these conversations continue…and this architecture evolves I’ve noticed the language of the developers, the chief technology officers and even the marketing people is switching very much away from geek speak to discussions almost about biological systems,” explains Roman Bukary, head of manufacturing and wholesale/distribution industry marketing for NetSuite, Inc. “In essence we’re creating interconnected systems all of which have multiple redundancy so you can get very flexible connections between them.”

“That’s the promise of cloud computing,” says Larry Goldenhersh, founder and CEO of Enviance, a SaaS provider of environmental enterprise resource planning. “It used to be called utility computing where you buy the amount of computing power you need. So if you’re a little company and you only need 20 seats, you only buy 20 seats. If you are Bechtel, and you’re building nuclear power plants and dams and you have thousands of people then (the software) scales to that.”

SaaS Software

The software of SaaS physically resides on a provider’s servers and you use it by connecting to the Internet. You never take possession of software, and you don’t physically store it on your hard drive or server. You may however, store small snippets of code that help you to interact with the SaaS provider. Unlike the mainframes of yesteryear, today’s SaaS offerings put much more power into the hands of the subscriber.

“Today’s SaaS vendors…are much more intelligent in their designs,” says Bukary. “So in the best of SaaS applications you can write your own extensions and you can add third party products that are pre-certified to run on that platform, even though they may not necessarily run on that platform out of the box. Today’s best SaaS players allow you to run your own custom code. So it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. You use it as a service, or as a utility while you retain all the flexibility you previously had with software on your premises.”

Many SaaS vendors deliver their solutions via Web browser, while others use virtualization technology where the user connects directly to the vendor’s server. These connections can even be made with computers having no hard drives or operating systems, drastically reducing the cost of computing at the user level.

“What virtualization technologies do is they present you the application in its native format but just remotely,” explains R. Byron Attridge, Jr. systems executive vice president at ClubDrive Systems, Inc., a SaaS vendor using virtualization technology. “Using a Web browser to access the application is not virtualization. When you virtualize an application you’re presenting that application through thin client technology of some sort that rides on the local device you are using, like your PC. The PC acts like a TV screen more than a computing device.”

SaaS For Free

If you’ve never used SaaS and are curious about how it feels to use it, Bukary recommends trying out some free offerings. Basecamp is a project management offering with a free plan that you can use for one project at a time with unlimited users. This could work very well for simple projects like single room remodels, or building a garage. Companies that have on-going projects that overlap with other projects can reduce communications errors, increase the availability of crews and materials and make better use of resources by using one of the paid versions of Basecamp, or some other online project management SaaS offering.

Another option for trying out the cloud is to use LinkedIn to locate partners, team members, or even to identify potential customers so you can pre-sell the build.

“Dip your toe into it. It’s not as scary as you think,” Bukary says. “You don’t install anything and you don’t have to buy anything. You don’t need to even own a computer, or have one with a lot of computing power. You can access them from your iPhone or other smart phone.”

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