Maybe there’s a SaaS for that?

Writing a “ten construction IT trends” feature for a UK construction publication this week, I found myself reflecting again on tablet PCs (partly stimulated by the launch of Apple’s iPad), and on the rise and rise of smartphones. I found myself asking: why focus on downloading ‘apps for this and that’ when you might be able to access online services through the device’s web browser?

As a fan of Software-as-a-Service, SaaS, applications, I still tend to advocate using web-based applications where possible, but recognise that such tools aren’t always appropriate on-site, not least because reliable internet access isn’t always available. Construction projects can sometimes be in remote locations with no telecommunications infrastructure in place at the start of projects, and maybe only limited 3G capabilities (despite the efforts of specialist companies such as EMS – who demonstrated “internet access in a box” to the first Be2camp event 18 months ago). WiMax hasn’t (yet) provided the extended reach that we were anticipating four or five years ago, and wi-fi coverage remains very patchy even within buildings. But the situation is changing; network providers, building owners, transport undertakings, etc are providing more and better internet connection opportunities.

If this trend continues, why would should we continue the practice of loading more and more applications onto the hard-drives of our mobile devices? We could, instead, access services and data held “in the cloud” via a web browser, rather than delving into online application marketplaces such as those provided by Apple or for the Android operating system.

Certainly, mobile access is forecast to continue to grow, and even to outstrip web access via conventionally-networked desktop and laptop devices, and this will have a radical impact on how companies deliver technologies to end users and how it is funded. For instance, rather than paying to download an application, you might be charged per-use – perhaps via some kind of micro-payments system or against a pre-paid subscription.

(This theme is also touched on in a short Information Age article, drawing on research from mobile telecoms analyst ABI Research.)

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  1. Excellent and thought provoking post. You raise a very interesting facet of the SaaS argument.
    I have long been considering the “anticipated” migration to SaaS in the realm of CAD and other design-related software. While I maintain my stance that there are serious obstacles that these developers face in the way of broadband proliferation and bandwidth, mobile access may in fact skirt these issues. Of course, I do believe it will be a long while before any form of mobile access that is widely available can match hardline connections.
    – KFD –

  2. Thanks, Curt. I don’t under-estimate the bandwidth issues (and these are particularly acute for technologies that may need to be deployed in sub-optimum situations, eg: new-build projects in green-field sites), but when you look back at how far we have come in the past decade (from widespread use of dial-up internet to 63% UK household penetration of broadband) then it may simply be a matter of WHEN, not IF.

  3. Paul / Curt,
    I think that the rate of evolution of the wireless connectivity technologies are mostly underestimated. Technological innovation is growing exponentially and there are many of new technologies that I am confident will make ubiquitous wireless connectivity and unlimited bandwidth are reality much sooner than you think. That said “ubiquitous” is a dangerous word, the availability of connectivity in some of the remoter mine sites, for instance, will certainly lag behind what we enjoy in the city.

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