To Infinity and Beyond: The Efflorescence of SaaS

VP of People, Opreto

7 minute read

There are many software systems that can help your business grow and succeed; many of these have undergone capitalization and become well-known Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings, while some are open source software systems you can freely download, modify and host yourself. It is increasingly rare to commission and run software systems built to your specifications by software artisans. You might be asking yourself whether to pay the subscription costs for a SaaS product, or if you’re better off putting in some development and deployment work to host and support your own in-house systems. Well, there is a secret benefit to using SaaS solutions that makes it more appealing for nearly any use case, with one glaring exception where it makes more sense to run your own servers.

All software systems cost money and time. The systems you choose to host yourself incur hosting fees, development and support costs, and often, at the small size of a boot-strapping startup, the time and energy of founders.

It is increasingly more efficient to employ Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions, to take advantage of the long tail of these solutions while they forge further into more and more targeted problem domains, driven by digital entrepreneurs seeking the Next Big Thing (and to secure the next seed round of funding or tranche of customers). The market demand for powerful software tools, combined with the organic capitalist incentives for neo-industrialist silicon barons, has fueled an immensely competitive and rapidly moving ecosystem of SaaS offerings. This competition for attention and active subs has inspired the creation of more and more specific and evolved tools that shortcut to best practices in a thousand niches - we are witnessing an efflorescence of SaaS that shows no sign of slowing, and pulls apart the gearworks of every industry to find problems to solve with software. These software systems are rapidly evolving, trying to out-compete each other, constantly adding functionality and polish through iterative development, and engaging in radical leaps of recombinant genetic fusion by acquiring smaller startups that have innovated in some direction and embodied some new facet or solution in the relevant problem domain.

Yesterday’s spreadsheets and on-premise HR software has become web-based Applicant Tracking Systems to help recruitment, and Human Resources Information Systems to help manage employees. Those then proliferated and evolved new features in competition with each other, and are becoming tomorrow’s Employee Experience (EX) platforms, employee background check services, employee onboarding systems, and omnibus systems that cover the entire employee lifecycle.

What AI-driven systems might come next, and what integrations will we see inside tomorrow’s metaverse? This is an evolutionary process: feature inheritance between software systems, and feature mutations created by competitive market forces, are creating a process of natural selection. The momentum of this process will not abate in 2023. The line only goes up.

This means your business in 2023, no matter what industry you are in, probably has a better set of tools available to it than the classic “Toss Everything into a Spreadsheet” approach. It also means that those tools will come embedded with the insights and best practices relevant to your industry, and that it is very likely that the latest and hottest new app will also be the one to have the most insights and the best best practices.

Try as many new applications and software systems relevant to your business domain as you can, as soon as you can.

The key is to realize that the investment in learning these technologies, as they emerge, pays off. Even though there is friction in learning new user interfaces, you are swallowing a trojan horse of better industry best practices when you do, and that those remain in your business processes even when you move on to the next software.

And just as it is easier to learn each new spoken (or programming) language after the first few, there is a much greater level of perspective gained when you can triangulate from multiple learned systems that operate in similar ways to target the same challenges. You may not understand BambooHR and all the things it makes radically easier until you have tried JazzHR and Zenefits as well. And if you ever decide its necessary to build out your own solutions on top of an open source stack like Odoo, you will have a good idea what functionalities you will need to develop (they’re the ones you’d badly miss when you cancel your BambooHR sub). When you truly master this approach, you will start to be able to pick out new features as they become centers of innovation (“hot”), and able to identify which things have become so concrete and well-understood that they are rock solid rules for your industry, and thus can easily follow you between systems.

The subscription model with comparatively small monthly costs offers a way to quickly deploy and test the various tools and determine their fit. Once you find the right tool, an entire role can be augmented to infinity and beyond. This is the obvious benefit of SaaS. But staying current with new systems, as they are released, has a long reach and acts as a constant engine of evolution and refinement on your business. This is a benefit that many do not perceive at first.

This will eat up some of your time, and of course there are situations where it is untenable. It is easiest and most consequential during the startup phases of a business, and becomes impractical later on to ask too many employees to train and re-train on new systems. But the benefit to staying on this wave of development is huge, so even if you aren’t deploying something company-wide each time, you should always have test deployments of new software systems. It is a powerful path to constant improvement for your business, and you may find something that is worth the time and trouble to migrate to and leaps your business forward or matures some critical aspect of it.

When to Actually Run Your Own Systems

Certain things should be self-hosted - things you want to keep private and off of hosting controlled by someone else; these are worth the additional expenditure of time and energy on the implementation and maintenance to run them. It is, however, complex and consequently often done poorly - which is why SaaS should typically be your first choice.

The decision to implement and integrate something on-premises, or even commission your own custom software system, should only be made when it is important to you to keep certain data or processes especially private. This may be for compliance reasons, such as privacy and confidentiality regulations in your industry and/or region, or because your upstreams require it in a complex supply chain. Any plan to host your own software on-premises should take into account how reliable the infrastructure needs to be, how secure it should be, how much it may need to scale, and how you will meet system performance and usability expectations for users of the system. When you decide to host your own software you take responsibility for all those things, in an ever-shifting and complex modern business landscape.

You may not have the internal capacity to do this yourself, or you may simply not want to - preferring to focus on your main line of business rather than become a software development company in addition to what you normally already do. You may have already taken a shot at solving it in-house or purchased a ready-made solution off the shelf from a large system vendor and found that you still have an ill fitting system. You may struggle with the difficulty of keeping the systems current with evolving expectations from users, changes in your industry’s landscape, rapid growth of your company, or emerging security threats. In these cases you should partner with an agile software development agency capable of delivering teams and software for you, and solving all your security, scalability and talent management obstacles for you. They will stay in lockstep with you, updating and evolving the software to meet new emergent needs as they arise for your business. A partnership with an external agile software team is a commensalist one, a long-term symbiotic interaction designed to last, and be forever nimble and responsive to your frontline business requirements. Any investment you put into an agile software development agency’s knowledge of the specifics of your business domain will persist as well, growing as the relationship does. This is the only proper way to host your own software on-premises if you do find yourself unable to adopt a SaaS solution.

Contact Opreto (or your local neighborhoud agile software development agency) if you find yourself unable to use an existing SaaS solution, as they can help you get to where you need to be. And stay tuned to this blog for future SaaS tool reviews as we discover and use them ourselves.