Software as a Service (SaaS) has been much heralded as a software delivery method that is set to revolutionise the way businesses operate. Often it is seen as being at the heart of business technology in the future. In the field service industry SaaS is already making a sizeable impression in the dynamics of the industry itself, moving the base of power away from enterprise level organisations who traditionally held the upper hand by utilising service technologies, which due to the often prohibitive costs aligned to on-premise solutions, were out of reach for their smaller competitors.
In this feature, we explore the rise of SaaS, why it is so suited to field service, the particular benefits for smaller companies and what its impact on the Field Service industry will be.
What is Software as a Service?
As a concept SaaS can actually trace it’s origins right back to the 1960’s when IBM and other mainframe providers established a service bureau business, sometimes referred to time-sharing or utility computing.
These services, which were designed for large organisations such as banks, would often include both database storage and computing power from worldwide data centres.
As we leap forward to the 1990’s when we saw the first real commercialisation and expansion of the Internet, we see the next precursor to SaaS, which was Application Service Providers (ASP’s). With the goal of reducing costs through central administration, ASPs began providing businesses with the service of hosting and managing specialised business applications.
SaaS is essentially extended from the concept of ASPs, but importantly harnesses the power of cloud infrastructure.
Indeed a common misconception is that SaaS and the Cloud are in fact one and the same however, this is not strictly correct.
SaaS is very simply, any software application that you operate which is not located on your premises. Whereas the cloud is the virtual infrastructure that the SaaS runs within, which in turn is housed on the vendor’s own data centres, or in many cases a data centre the vendor themselves ‘rents’ from an organisation such as Amazon Web Services.
Why field service is so suited to SaaS:
Whilst early applications of SaaS were predominantly either CRM or highly specific business niche products, it was only a matter of time before we saw a number of providers offering up SaaS solutions to the field service industry.
As SaaS systems are Internet based the ability to operate and access the software from various locations is a key fundamental inclusion of the system. Similarly as web protocols are becoming standardised, with the rise in device agnostic languages such as HTML 5 for example, SaaS solutions essentially allow users to access the entire application from any device - including smart phones and tablets.
It is this flexibility and mobility that SaaS solutions offer that make them such a perfect match for the field service industries and ideal for an organisation that operates a BYOD policy for it’s mobile workforce.
As such we have seen a number of vendors establish SaaS field service solutions. Including Tesseract Software, Connect2Field, Astea, ServiceMax, IFS and Click Software who all offer a variety of SaaS solutions to help field service companies improve the efficiency of their mobile workforces.
The benefits of SaaS to SMB’s
As well as the obvious benefits of having a central software solution that is accessible across numerous remote devices, that are specifically relevant to field service companies, SaaS solutions have more generic benefits also which are particularly beneficial to Smaller and Medium Sized Businesses (SMBs)
Perhaps the most obvious of these is the cost.
Whilst in the long term (i.e. across a three to five year period) a subscription model may actually prove to be more expensive, the ability to spread the costs (usually in either annual or monthly payments) is a particularly attractive route for smaller or even medium sized companies for whom cash flow remains an important factor.
Similarly the benefit of not having to have your IT team dedicate large amounts of their potentially limited resources on implementing, monitoring and maintaining a system is also particularly important for smaller sized companies.
With SaaS the software is maintained and updated by the provider reducing the burden on a companies IT significantly.
Another often cited benefit that is of particular importance to SMB’s is the lack of fixed term contract.
Often the service is provided on a rolling monthly basis or even a freemium model (where the basic functionality is provided for free and additional services are offered at a premium), which allows greater flexibility for a company to walk away.
Not being tied to a long contract for software that they may not necessarily need in a year or so’s time when their business needs change, is another attractive benefit for SMBs that SaaS offers.
What this means to the field service industry.
It has been suggested that the access to sophisticated service management solutions that were previously out of reach to non-enterprise level organisations, which SaaS delivers is potentially going to have a major impact on the dynamics of the industry.
For the first time, many smaller companies are now able to take advantage of the benefits of such systems including improving the efficiency of their mobile workforce, gaining visibility across their entire field service operation and reducing fuel costs.
Previously the cost of both implementing and maintaining an on premise field service management solution was simply too prohibitive for most smaller organisations, giving their larger competitors a clear advantage in terms of the level of service they could deliver and therefore the level of customer satisfaction they could achieve.
However, the introduction of SaaS solutions has levelled the playing field and perhaps even shifted the balance in favour of the smaller companies.
SMBs often have smaller overheads and can therefore gain greater profit margins for similar revenue levels . A result of this has led to reducing costs often being the traditional primary sales strategy adopted by SMBs when competing with larger companies , who are able to deliver superior service.
Today however, with companies of all sizes being able to offer similar levels of service through automating elements of their field service operation, smaller companies can take advantage of this ability to compete more fiercely on price whilst offering the same customer satisfaction levels as their bigger competitors. For perhaps the first time the power lies with smaller more agile companies.
The tables have turned slightly and it is largely down to the SaaS revolution.