Software as a Service (Saas), a model of delivering software applications to customers over the Internet, has today reached and inflection point and is poised for a powerful take off. By 2010, Gartner predicts around 30 percent of new License purchases (In APAC excluding Japan) will be in form of Saas, or delivered through the Saas model. In a recent survey of 1,017 technology decision – makers, Forrester found that worldwide adoption of Saas in large enterprises is now at 16%, up to 33% from the previous year’s 12% Coming into the Picture is the enterprise resource planning (ERP) on a Saas model. It is becoming the next big thing in enterprise software and offers enterprises of all sizes a viable, scalable and flexible model that will take them to the next level in terms of technology.
How does it work? They go by different names- managed software services, software as a service (Saas), cloud computing or the older, application service provider (ASP), But the basic business model is the same. With SasS, you do not buy, install or run the application at your end, all that is taken care of by the vendor at his data center. As there is no installation, there is no need to buy expensive hardware either. You pay on a per-use basis (times number of users, messages, documents, etc.), usually every month, in advance. Depending on the service, there may be a setup and configuration fee. For some services, customization is also possible, that at times could end up being higher than the annual fee. In most cases, it is as simple as going to their website and signing up. You pay with a credit card, configure the service yourselves and you are ready to go. And in most cases, you get a free trial period, which I would strongly advice you to use to get a feel of what can be done and more importantly, what cannot be done.
If your organization runs on a smallest to Medium network, then someone has the added headache of ensuring that everything is up and running; that everyone’s mail is synchronizing and everything from printer toner to bandwidth is available. Good network monitoring tools are few and far in betwen and are costly; way to costly for a medium or even many large businesses to implement them on priority.
You can have taks sent in as email by anyone who knows your Milk Account email id or have them added to your calendar. The basic plan is free, while the pro account costs US$ 25 per year.
Web Analytics Google Analytics is free and many websites use it, Google Analytics is easy to set up and you can be up and active in minutes literally. the service gives you an overview of the visitors to your site and you can drill down to get more details, including where the visitors came from, what lead them there, what browser they were using, what screen resolution and so on. IT also gives you a map with drill down, which shows you where your visitors are coming from. Google Analytics tracks pages at the page level. If you want to go even finer, like, where in a page users are concentrating, then you need something more. And that is where ClickDensity comes in. ClickDensity does clickmaps, heat maps and hover maps. All of these help you track where on a page users are clicking. With ClickDensity, you have plans ranging from a starter pack of US$ 5 all the way to a premium pack at US$ 400. The key difference between the different plans is the number of clicks stord to create the maps and the number of sites tracked.
If you have one or more servers or sites up on the net and you are managing them on your own, It isimportant that you be alerted when any of them go down or otherwise become inaccessible from any corner of the world . Server monitoring services do exactly this at specified intervals from locations across the world and alert you over SMS, email and other services when problems arise. Pingdom offers a number of reports including uptime and response time along with monitoring. Pingdom offers nine different checks including HTTP, TCP, Ping, DNS, UDP, SMTP, POP3 and IMAP checks and you can set up different checks to alert different people. You can be alerted, both, when a service comes down and when it comes back up. You can also set up the check interval to vary from one minute to sixty minutes. They also have a check location in Mumbai. Pingdom offers two plans, Basic and Business at US$ 9.95 and US$ 39.95 per month respectively. We use Pingdom to monitor all servers and services that we run and I must confes to an occasional false positive that has made us wake up and get connected in the deep night. Host Tracker offers many more plans, has more monitoring points and is cheaper but offers only basic HTTP tests.
Before you choose a provider, there are some points to keep in mind that will ensure a better experience as you go along. Almost all SaaS vendors will give you a free trial, usually of thirty days or of a limited number of users. In fact, many, like sproutit and 01.com offer a mandatory free trial period of 30 days, during which you can delete your account without being charged. It is a good idea to use the trial to check out how the service works, and to find out what is missing. If a service provider does not have an upfront free trail offer, ask. you will most likely get one.
Let’s take the example of Sproutit, which provides a shared mailromm service and charges US$ 0.05 for every message sent or received above plan limit. so, if you sign up for a personal plan with them (US$ 9 for 500 messages in and out ) and just happen to do 900 messages instead, you would end up paying US$ 29 as against the US$ 19 that you would have paid with the next higher plan that covers 1000 messages. So with all SaaS signups, it is important that you choose the right plan and monitor your usage as you go along and adjust plans if required.
An SLA sets out what level of service availability is being promised and what make good you will get in case the stated service level is not met. Yawn! Who wants to read boring legalese? However, you will be surprised. Let me give you one recent example. I was negotiating with a leading regional data center for managing emails. Somewhere buried in the middle of the proposal was the SLA and in it were a few gems. How about “Intermittent downtime for a period of less than ten minutes will not be counted towards any downtime periods” or “There will be no more than twelve hours of scheduled downtime in a calendar month.” Give me a break. Schelduled downtime of up to 12 hours a month for an email service? And if the mail is down for nine minutes after every two minutes, that will be fine? Wait. That is not all. “All burnouts are exclueded and shall be charged on actual.” Excuse me! You burn your equipment for whatever reason and then want to charge the customers for it? Obviously, this service provider has some serious rework pending on their SLA contains. Give it a look once over before you sign on. At least the known devil is better than the unkown angel !
Many SaaS services run on a sign-on-and -start model. But many like email services have set up fees. But you also come across some fees that are let’s say, unexpected. Take the case of LuitDox, a document management offering. You need to pay them in advance, either for six months or for a year. That may be okay. But every time you make a payment, there is a processing fee of $35! Salesforce.com will have their partners do some customization of the site to meet your exact requirements. But most customization quotes I have come across have been equal if not more than the annual charge for a small organization.
One of the problems with opting for multiple SaaS providers is the lack of integration across vendors. Your users will have to login to each of the services separately, using separate pass words and possibly user names. And you would have to create, delete and otherwise administer users at each service separately. It would have been nice if all services could acept logins using some thing like OpenID or and LDAP- based directory service like the Windows Active Directory Services (ADS), Until that happens, we are left with having to manage a different user name and password at each vendor. When you leave a service that you were using (and paying for), ensure that you have confirmation from them that your account has indeed been terminated and that you will no longer becharged. Else, you may have the unpleasant experience of your credit card being charged even when you are no longer using the service. Finally, if you cannot find a hosted model, can you make your selected vendor offer a pay-as-you-use model? We were negotiating for the implementation of a new HR system. And the final question we had of the short listed vendor was whether he would implement it at a data center of his choice and manage it for us, against monthly payments instead of an up-front payment plus annual maintenance charges. The first reaction was one of incredulity. But a month of cajoling with an assurance of a three year contract and a year’s payment as advance cheques helped them to agree to the deal. For us, a huge one-time payment got converted into more comfortable monthly payouts, and we did not have to bother about having to manage the backend.
Finally, if you cannot find a hosted model, can you make your selected vendor offer a pay-as-you-use model? We were negotiating for the implementation of a new HR system. And the final question we had of the short listed vendor was whether he would implement it at a data center of his choice and manage it for us, against monthly payments instead of an up-front payment plus annual maintenance charges.