SaaS Software De-mystified
What is it with acronyms? We're quite fond of them here in the technology world, but we appreciate their meaning isn't always clear to restaurant and pub owners wanting to get on with the day job. So in this blog we are going to de-mystify one particular acronym you might have heard and give an overview of what lays beneath. So if the term “SaaS” makes you think of a crack military team abseiling from helicopters, you're probably going to find this blog helpful.
As a restaurant owner, the chances are that you have already bought, or have thought about getting, software for your business. It could be in the form of an epos system, restaurant management tool, reservations platform or accounting suite. It is also quite likely that you really don't care about how it works, you just want to get on and use it.
Buying technology for the first time or switching to a new provider is a great opportunity to examine your product options from a fresh perspective. Once you do start looking, you'll quickly see that there is a plethora of options available so it is important to understand not just what you're getting in terms of functionality, but with respect to scalability, security, reliability and overall fit-for-purpose. Enter Software-as-a-Service, or “SaaS”.
SaaS is a whole different concept to having software installed on your premises (in fact, you'll hear people referring to the old systems as “on-prem”). What is that difference? Quite simply, with on-premise systems you own the software outright – it's all on that little disc – and it is installed for you to do with as you please on your local computer under the desk.
The old days
We all remember the days when software was software: someone would come and do a three hour demonstration; you'd order it and pay an annual licence fee; someone from the software company would turn up some time later with a disc containing the software, install it on the reception PC; your staff would yawn their way through a training session and then you'd be up-sold a support package. Some time later the vendor would bring out an upgrade and install it by visiting your premises or logging in to your computer via a remote desktop session.
With SaaS, however, things are very different in that you do not own the software and actually the software itself isn't even within your building. What you're paying for is membership or a subscription to a web-based service where the software is actually whizzing away on a huge computer, quite possibly hundreds or even thousands of miles away. With SaaS, you're paying to use the system.
What you're buying into, as the name suggests, is a membership service which contains a number of elements all packaged together. While different vendors offer different options, the main characteristics are based around a monthly or annual subscription which will usually include access to the product via a web browser such as Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and of course telephone support.
You'll also get all the latest upgrades, so users will log into their restaurant reservations system to find it has been automatically upgraded with the functionality they have been waiting for, with no disc or engineer in sight. Just be aware, however, that what you see is what you get and it is the same for all users of the software worldwide – there's no point calling the software company telling them you'd like a colour changed or button moved, like the old days, because it just won't happen unless enough subscribers say the same thing.
When you access your restaurant software on a web-browser, there are a number of key benefits over traditional on-premise systems. Number one is portability: the system can be accessed anywhere the internet is available, on any device including desktop PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Doesn't that open up a world of new possibilities for improving your working practices?
All software systems have at their heart a repository for your data (things like customer information, transactions, menus, prices, bookings – in fact anything which “goes in”) which acts as the engine of your system. On-premise systems will store this data on a computer within your premises, very often the same PC on which the software is installed. SaaS systems take a very different approach, sending your data to a remote repository, or server, via your internet connection.
To confuse things further, you may come across systems which are offered as SaaS but are in fact a hybrid. In such cases the licensing model is often subscription-based and your data stored in the cloud, but you still have the physical software installed on your local computers.
At this stage we have to look at the thorny issue of system robustness and continuity. Many business owners initially feel uncomfortable having their data stored anywhere other than on-site. After all, if it is close to hand it is safer, in case of an emergency, right? Well, that's really not the case these days and in reality data is far, far safer stored off-site. We all remember those situations where the PC crashed, lost its data and took an age to rectify by changing the hard drive or entire PC. In many instances the data was lost for good, causing untold inconvenience and stress.
SaaS systems use super-robust technical underpinnings which are monitored 24/7. Levels of in-built resilience are significantly greater than can be achieved using the on-premise model, and back-ups run constantly so data can be retrieved if there is a problem. Likewise, the major data storage companies (such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure) contracted to host data by SaaS restaurant booking systems vendors spend billions on giving their platforms Fort Knox-like levels of robustness and building-in automatic fail-over protocols.
This means that if their servers fail in, say, Cardiff your system is instantaneously re-routed to a back-up system in Canberra, Chennai or Cape Town to name but a few, often without you even noticing. Most restaurant owners using SaaS systems would probably agree that down time is less and service resumption faster than with an on-premise system.
The same for everyone
We won't get too bogged down in technical talk here, but just be aware that with SaaS systems the “it's the same for everyone” rule applies. If the system fails at the vendor's end due to a technical fault, it won't be available to any customers during that time, meaning that when it's down, it's down and you just have to wait it out. The good news is that behind the scenes there will be a team of hugely skilled technical people putting things right, very often before you even knew there was an issue. That's part of the 24/7 support included in the subscription - support isn't all about telephones.
While we are discussing data, the subject of information security should be understood. With SaaS, your data is off-site on a super computer, making it more vulnerable to hackers and thieves, right? Actually, no. Those multi-billion dollar budgets are put to good use supporting the best cyber security experts in the business who constantly battle the bad guys on your behalf. Your information is guarded by multiple layers of security and encrypted using algorithms which could have come from NASA.
Sure, there have been some very high profile data breaches in the past and we're sure there will be more, but on balance we'd much rather have our data locked away in a twenty-first century vault than on a PC under the beer taps.
Pricing & value
Pricing has evolved, too. Economies of scale brought about by lower variable costs on the part of the software vendors means that SaaS is generally cheaper than on-premise alternatives. The move away from remote installation, training and upgrading has meant a significant reduction in their costs and this is reflected in the price: gone are the days when restaurants would pay thousands of pounds for a system and then pay more for add-ons and a telephone support contract.
SaaS products tend to offer better value than on-premise systems, but owners used to having a lot of personal contact with their providers will need to become accustomed to a slightly different support model. It can take a bit of getting used to for restaurant owners more familiar with calling their favourite support agent and having a chat, but as a busy restaurateur you'll quickly begin to appreciate this more rounded approach by the vendors. Remember, SaaS relies on very robust technical underpinnings which, ultimately, will negate the need for 24/7 technical telephone support and replace it with customer services.
The slight loss of the personal touch is replaced by 24/7 availability of customer service agents (often brought about by “follow the sun” teams, i.e. by having teams available in different time zones, so that, for example, the team in daytime Australia can support you at three in the UK morning) whereby you can choose how you want to interact with them.
A key point here is that those people are there to help you get the best from your system, show you how to do things and work through any issues. What they cannot do is fix things, because that's handled by the boffins who run the infrastructure we mentioned earlier.
Online chat, blogs, support forums, videos and web-based training all fall into this mix, so there really is something for everyone. All that said, there are some excellent examples of SaaS companies who get the balance between quick-fire, self-help oriented support and personalisation exactly right.
Changing to a SaaS-based restaurant system can feel like a big step, because pretty much everything about this model is different to the old “disc and pc” arrangements many are familiar with. From the support mechanisms through to where your data is stored, how you access it and who actually owns the software, SaaS is unlike traditional legacy software.
That can take some getting used to, but in our experience restaurateurs opting for a SaaS-based system get a better deal, ultimately enjoying a safer, more robust, innovative, portable and usually cheaper solution - all without a helicopter in sight.
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favouritetable is the leading technology provider for food an drink businesses in the UK. For over a decade, favouritetable has provided world-class and easy-to-use systems to enable restaurants, pubs, bars and other businesses to maximise their revenue.
Favouritetable provides reservation software, pre-booking modules, take-away backed by a full manager portal and a host of restaurant-centric features. We're passionate about restaurants, which is why we have developed the best value full-function restaurant software on the market.
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