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Oct 02 2009

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SaaS as a software protection strategy

Reading WorldCAD Access and The CAD Industry blogs this morning, I learned about the latest developments in a court case brought by Autodesk to stop an eBay trader, Tim Vernor, from selling second-hand CAD software. Ignoring the complex issues relating to copyright, it occurred to me that other software vendors are already side-stepping such issues by delivering their software as a service.

Instead of distributing disks or enabling software downloads to users’ local machines, hosting the application ‘in the cloud’ and allowing users to access the solution and its related data via the internet effectively prevents any end-user from gaining access to the underlying software code. This wasn’t a vendor benefit that I had previously identified as inherent to the SaaS model, but alongside the other advantages of SaaS – faster development and testing, easier deployment, quicker upgrades or patching, economies of scale, more efficient support, etc – perhaps protection of the vendor’s intellectual property should also be another reason to embrace the SaaS approach.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2009/10/saas-as-a-software-protection-strategy/

6 comments

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  1. Jonathan Yeandle

    Hello Paul,
    I can see the attraction of SaaS to the CAD vendor, but then if they could possibly get away with it they would take the cash and deliver nothing at all.
    As a CAD user, and to feel comfortable in my business, I need to know that if I purchase a tool during a period of plenty, then the supplier can’t just whip it away from me when I need to reduce overheads and concentrate on the business in hand (design).
    Kind regards,
    Jonathan

  2. W

    Yes this is true, but vendors are in business because of customers, not the other way around. This particular case gives no benefit to the customer. In general all the other points really just benefit the vendor as well because at the end of the day is the customer getting any more for their money? Not really, the vendor in most cases is cutting costs and charging same as before. They also are generally not very good at deployment and forcing the customer to use one method of deployment is also vendor centric.

  3. Paul Wilkinson

    SaaS solutions are normally delivered with a service level agreement that ensures minimum levels of availability, speed, etc, and you have a more predictable expenditure on your application through fixed monthly subscription payments. I liken SaaS to other services that I might require for my business (office, electricity, broadband) and account for it in the same way. Total cost of ownership, through good times and not, will be lower than for on-premise software (despite what the SaaS-bashers tell you!).
    I think we are still some way from CAD/BIM being offered on a SaaS basis, though. But it will come – the latest ArchiCAD 13 has some powerful model sharing attributes that could be adopted by other vendors looking to exploit that opportunity.

  4. Paul Wilkinson

    Yes, I know this particular benefit is all about the vendor, but I don’t think the other benefits “just” benefit the vendor too. Many vendors take these benefits and use them to offer better solutions with a much improved level of customer service at a lower cost than conventional software (TCO is frequently much lower than for on-premise solutions, especially when you factor in upgrades, in-house hardware and support costs, etc).
    Remember, nobody is “forcing” a customer to buy a particular solution. If the customer objects to SaaS deployment they can always take their money to competitors who offer locally hosted solutions – that is a virtue of the free market.

  5. Simon Fox

    Sure we get the extra protection to our IPR by running a SaaS operation and this is to everyone’s benefit – no one wins if our software gets ripped off.
    In addition, I agree with Paul Wilkinson; the SaaS model has the potential to benefit both customer and vendor.
    In our case, we provide highly customised SaaS solutions to our corporate customers as extensions to their in-house ERP.
    By deploying a single product from our own hosting centre configured to customer needs means we are able to provide and maintain such customers with custom applications very rapidly (i.e. a few days) and at prices many times less than conventional software.
    Furthermore, the customer has no additional overhead for in-house deployment, no new servers to buy or maintain and no software to integrate.
    All of this is backed up by rigorous security and SLA’s so that customers have exactly the same surety as they would normally have – possibly more when you count off-site backup and Disaster Recovery thrown in for free.
    Lastly, if there ever is a problem or the customer wants amended or enhanced functionality we can implement this in a few hours – no matter where they are and without needing a series of site visits.

  6. W

    I have this discussion quite a bit, and SaaS is fine when done right. SaaS is effectivley the software vendors attempt (no disrespect to the good ones) at expanding revenue through taking up sales/services from partners Being a service provider, I’m ok with this when done right and the customer wins. What we find most though is traditional software vendors (who may have a great app that you need) cutting corners, as they really know very little about managing a hosted platform or multi tenant environment or sometimes even selling or sevicing their own product. this situation is not uncommon, and where a lot of deals go bad and sour the business. Although all this is partly a side spin, back to the original point of the article, I do think SaaS will protect vendors in the case outlined, but I don’t think the other “benefits” can be coupled with that as a rule. SaaS will however definitley take away their options as a rule from what otherwise might be the right features of software they need. IE, If they have no choice but to use SaaS if it’s they only model for a specified app on a project (no free market there), then they are forced to inherit a long list of issues that they might already gave answers for. Many pros/cons. The jury is still out on accomodating both and probably will be for a long time.

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