I enjoy reading Dharmesh Shah’s incredible blog OnStartups. One of his recent posts, “Startups: Should You Offer a Hosted and Non-Hosted Version?,” got me thinking more about this subject.
Dharmesh’s opinion on this is that ideally startups should not offer two different types of their product, and to focus on a hosted solution. I couldn’t agree more. At Blue Sky Factory, we made a conscious decision to offer Publicaster as a hosted solution from day one, or as the model has become known SaaS (Software as a Service), delivery. For a variety of reason’s that Dharmesh points out in his blog post, companies should think hard about rolling their apps out solely as hosted solutions. The financial implications alone are enough to support this decision.
Here are a few other considerations in supporting why offering your product as a hosted solution is also a no brainer from the users / buyers perspective:
Accessibility: Hosted solutions are generally accessible 24/7 - 365 from any web connected computer on the planet. The pure convenience and access is a big plus for purchasing a hosted over installed application. You don’t need to always have your laptop with you to log in. In many cases, companies are now offering mobile versions of their software as well. Think of accessing your data from a phone, PDA or Blackberry device, thats access.
Infrastructure: Using a hosted solution, there is no hardware or software costs involved in using the solution. Most web based applications only require you to have a relatively recent operating system and possibly a plug in or two to run efficiently within a browser environment. This will continue to get easier and easier and more user friendly as time goes on.
Feature Updates and New Releases: Lets face it, software updates for installed products are a pain. They generally require to you take action to download the latest updates. Although sometimes they are automated, they require you to reboot, or sometimes take other action. With a hosted solution, you get all of the benefits of continuous releases, and feature updates without taking action. At Blue Sky, we are big on updates and features that generally result from user feedback and requests. When requests are made for features that can benefit all users, we build them out and release them. These enhancements to our application require no action on the part of our users other than to take the time to understand how they work.
Integration: Depending on what kind of product your subscribing to, one of your requirements may be the need to integrate with other internal systems that you have in place. Most providers of SaaS, offer Web Services or API (Application Programming Interfaces), that offer the ability for the users technical or IT staff to integrate the desired portions of the application data into their own systems. For example, many of our clients have their own internal CRM system that they use to house their customer data. Instead of manually uploading customer lists and updates to Publicaster while preparing to send an email marketing campaign, our clients who choose to, can access Publicasters API and synch their email list up with their CRM system. From there they can segment, and slice and dice their list how they want using Publicaster.
For now, and into the future, I see the SaaS model of delivering software as the way to go. The benefits for the company releasing the product and for the users of the product are far too great. Of course, there will always be hold outs on this type of service delivery, but those concerns about the SaaS model generally stem from data security fears. These are understandable concerns, especially when you get into customers, sales and personal information. Most SaaS vendors will have appropriate data back up and security measures in place and can provide with you the required documentation if requested.
Both hosted and installed software solutions have their own set of challenges to do and do right. At Blue Sky, we learn new things every day around how to make our product, quicker, more efficient, secure and scalable. For now, and well into the future we will continue to deliver Publicaster as a hosted solution for both the benefit of our clients and our company.