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By Jeff Wing
October 24, 2016
The digital workplace arrived with a bang, and with it a flood of software “point solutions” that promised to revitalize outdated office practices. Overnight, hundreds of retail software vendors arose to meet the sudden demand for project management software solutions. These vendors rushed very specific software products to market, each of which addressed a singular problem in the office.
A construction office manager might purchase one software solution for document management, one for estimating, and yet another one for managing inspections. The problem soon became the sheer number of software products needed to capably manage a single project. And all these single-solution products had to be installed and maintained on an expensive new machine that would require its own highly-paid babysitter: the office server.
A problem soon became apparent. Because these office products were competitive innovations in a hotly contested software marketplace, they simply wouldn’t work together. Aspirin sales spiked.
It simply was not in the interest of the software makers to create products that integrated well with competitors’ products (it actually was very much in their strategic interest to create such cross-cooperative software, but many developers wouldn’t realize this until it was too late). Now, in order to manage a project the office manager would need a whole flock of individual apps, each one addressing its particular facet of the complex construction project.
Because none of the products could be joined together to share vital project information, that data would have to be laboriously copied from one “solution” to the next. For some offices, it was around this time the notion of a sheet of paper and a pencil began to inspire a deeply felt nostalgia for a simpler time. Little did anyone know that this much-desired simpler time lay not behind them, but ahead.
As frustration mounted in the workplace and the non computer-literate (that is, most people) found themselves working harder to get all their software products on the same page, some developers began to innovate ways to create that page.
What if all the separate solutions (bookkeeping, estimating, drawings, RFIs, daily log, punch list, etc.) could be brought together into one platform?
The innovators now charged with simplifying the point solution approach saw ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) as a good starting point. ERP had been used to transform the manufacturing sector of the 1990s by integrating core business processes in a single software suite. ERP had joined together various commercially available point solutions through a common interface. SaaS had a new approach. The new one-stop solution would develop its own software tools and unite them in a common platform. Wow. The various solutions would not only exist as a single software package, they would be organically integrated through their sharing of the same Application Programming Interface (API).
Short version: These point solutions would be a family that shared the same digital DNA.
Now all the business process solutions would communicate seamlessly, and otherwise perform their individual and interlocking functions like high-tech peas in a pod. OkY, fine idea; but the stressed office manager would still be asked to deal with software and hardware and server issues to get the thing up and running, right? Or would have to (again) beg the indulgence of the all-powerful and easily annoyed IT team to help see the changes through. Right?
Wrong. This grouped software solution would not be offered as a complex, headachey new tech learning curve, but as a service. Now, a single software company would not only create the digital solution for your many business processes, the same company would actually handle the software and the hardware hassles.
Excuse me? How?
By running all this terrific productivity-boosting software off their own servers, the software provider would deal with both the software maintenance and the hardware hiccups, all in a secure and redundant (massively backed up) environment the client wouldn’t need to touch with a ten foot pole. Or a pole of any length. The software in this new model would be pure solution; less a piece of software than a healthy slice of blue ribbon service.
In keeping with the boldness of the new idea, this software super-solution would be given a swaggering new acronym; Software as a Service. Yeah, that’s right. SaaS. The fun was just beginning.
In Part 2 of our NextGen SaaS series, we’ll explore the rise of the SaaS model and its adoption by industry.
Next Generation SaaS
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