Software as a Service (SaaS) is a business model that provides users with everything they need, including the infrastructure, software, support and ongoing maintenance on a monthly basis, often times for less than what desktop software makers will charge for an annual maintenance and support agreement—all delivered through an Internet browser.
It’s a model that BuildingReports, Suwanee, Ga., has been perfecting for some time—10 years—logging 30,000 users of its Web-based Inspection Reporting Service. Designed for service and maintenance, systems integrators are finding this model helps reduce overhead and improves efficiencies for scheduling service and inspections, adding a much-needed guided course in recurring monthly revenue.
The benefits of a Web-based operating structure are many, especially as the industry continues to move more fully into networking and virtual services. The Web-based operating structure allows BuildingReports to cost effectively scale the system to its users, effectively spreading out the expense of operating the network among all of its members worldwide, according to Brett Brewster, president and chief executive officer of BuildingReports.com. As the membership base grows, the cost is further reduced with increased usage resulting in lower pricing.
The differences between traditional desktop software and Web-based services are best understood using the mobile phone industry as a comparison. Imagine if the process of purchasing a new phone also required the purchase of the software needed to make the phone work. Instead of using a carrier’s existing wireless infrastructure as you would today, you have to install and maintain the servers, switches and wireless network needed to make calls, send e-mail or text messages. “When people buy a mobile phone, they expect it to ‘just work’ without having to provide and maintain the entire network infrastructure that makes it work,” said Brewster. “This is precisely what the Software as a Service business model provides; usage on demand at greatly reduced cost.” With this model, service companies only pay for what they use, another similarity to the mobile phone analogy.
SaaS: Future of the industry
“Companies don’t want to spend $10,000 to $20,000 or more for software and new servers to maintain, they just want to replace their paper systems with digital forms technology,” he continued. According to Brewster, the initial cost and return on investment are the main reasons why BuildingReports inspection technology is “used by more professionals in the fire and security industry than any other solution.” The company added new users at a rate of over 800 per month in 2009. “In addition, existing members of BuildingReports increased their usage of the network by over 30 percent during the past year, reflecting sharper focus by system integrators on increasing their revenue from service and inspection agreements during a tough economic climate.”
BuildingReports ScanSeries members have the ability of providing a bar-code based technology to their customers that gathers specific information on every device installed in the building. Scanning the bar code provides verification of the inspection and ensures no devices are missed. The completed inspection can be uploaded wirelessly and reports are available instantly online.
The bar code based inspections allows member companies the ability to search and identify fire and security products installed in buildings that are currently under product recall by the manufacturer. If any recalls are found, a link to additional information is provided for the user. If problems are discovered during the inspection, BuildingReports can search for relevant references from codes and standards organizations such as NFPA and OSHA to validate the need for required repairs. Both services are popular with building owners and property managers because they provide the transparency and governance needed to reduce liability and ensure that systems are maintained according to code.
“Our members are taking full advantage of having a unique service to offer building owners and property managers that completely differentiates them from their competitors. Instead of printing inspection reports, they create a user ID and password for their customers to log in online and view, distribute, or print their own reports anytime they want. Web-based reporting also enables a more interactive style of report, giving the customer the ability to click on links to get more information. This differentiation from other service providers gives our members the best opportunity at winning the customer’s business,” said Brewster.
The key word for system integrators to focus on when considering SaaS is the service. “The main reasons users adopt technology is the ease of use and the service they receive whenever they have a question or problem. It is an ongoing relationship with the customer, in real time. You have to provide great support and service on an ongoing basis, because your customers only pay for what they use each month. The SaaS business model is only successful if it consistently provides good service and support after the sale,” Brewster said.
The trend towards this new business model is widely reflected in the software industry as a whole. Since BuildingReports launched their service in 2000, Web-based services have exploded and are on a quick pace to replace the outdated desktop software distribution model. Companies like Google and Microsoft have begun providing Web-based versions of traditional desktop software such as e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets and mapping applications.
The most obvious benefit of Web-based services is the instant distribution of new features and updates via the browser. Traditional desktop software upgrades require more effort for companies to deploy, and can be costly in some cases. Users may even be required to pay for an upgrade of their software simply because they chose to get the latest version of Windows, or moved to a Mac or Linux machine.
In celebration of their 10-year anniversary, BuildingReports already released several reporting features that utilize the latest Web 2.0 tools used on the most popular Websites on the Internet. The new features were provided free to all members.
“We wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to thank our members for their support the past 10 years,” said Jason Kronz, co-founder and chief technology officer. “We also wanted to give our users the familiar look and feel of online social networking sites they use every day, like Facebook or MySpace. We are very happy to have our members be the first in the industry to provide this innovative technology to their customers,” he said.