As manufacturers intensify their efforts to reduce costs while improving quality, productivity and traceability (data), the need to quickly implement purpose-built software solutions that not only solve problems, but that also comply with corporate regulations and strategies becomes critical. With the advent of cloud computing, many companies are considering this approach as a cost-effective alternative to the high upfront investment, including ongoing maintenance and hardware costs, that are common for locally hosted solutions. That being said, for Manufacturers facing complex regulatory requirements like ITAR (International Traffic And Arms Regulations), this may not be allowable. It’s this complexity that has led leading solution developers like VKS (Visual Knowledge Share) to offer their powerful solutions in both cloud and locally hosted configurations.
If you are looking for information on why SaaS may be right for you, read on
In the “old days” of software, companies large and small required expensive server infrastructure to manage and run the various software applications critical to business operations, meaning along with the high upfront investment in the software itself, companies spent big on hardware, redundancy and maintenance. Along with the expense, came limited ability for remote access, so many times the people interested in the information needed to be in the same building, or network to access the information. In this article, we’ll take a look at how computing has changed with SaaS, and determine if it is a good option for your organization. Define SaaS Approach
Saas, or Software as a Service changes that model completely. Wikipedia defines Software as a Service (SaaS) as “… a software licensing and delivery model in which software is licensed on a subscription basis and is centrally hosted.”
The SaaS (cloud) software model essentially provides access to applications, data and computing capacity over the internet, instead of your company’s network or even your own personal computer, therefore millions of users can access an application centrally hosted, through their own personal portal. So, assuming everyone reading this post, appropriately written using Google Docs, has at least some understanding of the cloud, we’ll transition to some basic thoughts on pros/cons.
(in case you don’t know, Google Docs is SaaS!)
Understand the benefits
Moving critical software to the cloud can generate significant savings for your organization from a multiple sources. Eliminating the upfront investment for the purchase and installation of server infrastructure is obvious, but when maintenance costs including software and system upgrades are included, the savings can be huge.
In addition to the concrete savings the SaaS model provides, many application providers operate under a subscription, or pay-as-you-go model, meaning users pay for the capabilities they need on a recurring, often monthly basis. In terms of risk, under the SaaS model, small and growing enterprises can more easily leverage SaaS software solutions to compete in the marketplace without risking significant investment. And, in a world where time is money, the simplicity of implementation for SaaS solutions, which can be as simple as a URL and login credentials, can be quite appealing.
In many use cases, the ability to easily scale departmentally, across a facility or even to multiple facilities is critical, and could be prohibitively expensive and complicated with on-premise solutions. SaaS solutions, by design, are web and often browser based providing users access to the utility from anywhere that has an internet connection. Additionally, the ability to flex between different levels of software capabilities and user licenses provide an effective, quick and cost effective way to deploy scalable software solutions.
Data drives an increasing amount of decision making in business, which means we need purpose built software applications that can easily and automatically share collected data across platforms. SaaS applications leverage APIs (Application Program Interface) which are sets of requirements that determine how applications communicate with each other. You likely use APIs daily without even knowing it. A great, simple example is using an application like Yelp to search for restaurants near you. Yelp will plot the results on Google Maps rather than creating their own map tool. Using the Google Maps API, Yelp can pass the information it wants to plot to a Google Maps function that can be displayed in the Yelp application.
Understand the drawbacks / risks
By far, the biggest concern I hear from customers and prospects is the security risk associated with SaaS, and the concern is clear. Rather than controlling your data locally, by your organization, SaaS data is stored offsite by a vendor. The result is a compromise between the benefits noted earlier, and the risk (or perceived risk) associated with relying on others to secure and backup your data. For this reason, it is imperative that your IT team fully qualify any provider to ensure adequate data security protocols are being followed and adequate redundancies are in place.
Dependency is about availability, and even with the best SaaS providers, outages will occur. These outages can have many causes, some unscheduled, and other scheduled in the event of upgrades and enhancements to hardware or the application itself. Customers can be left without access to important applications during these outages so it’s important to understand their methodology for notifying you of scheduled downtime.
Access to your data in the cloud remotely is a huge benefit, but many times internet access on-premise can be a limiting factor. In the example of a manufacturing plant, office areas typically have great WiFi coverage, but this coverage wanes as you venture out to the shop floor. If access to the application or the data requires wireless access, this could become a serious inconvenience and limitation. Solving this could require minor infrastructure improvements to limited areas, or in extreme cases costly and extensive changes to the facility.
Organizations have a lot of different reasons for choosing a specific model for implementing software solutions which is why at VKS, we offer both approaches. The key to success here is understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each approach and determining which approach provides the best balance of capability, risk and ROI to give your organization the biggest competitive advantage for the best price possible.