In a report from the AlwaysOn Summit being held in Silicon Valley this week, InternetNews.com's Andy Patrizio highlights several startups presenting at the show that offer something more than the traditional application software categories. When most people think of SaaS, they think of familiar software from the on-premise world, such as CRM, ERP or personal productivity packages, and imagine the same applications delivered over the Web. But I've always felt that's missing the point of the Web environment, in which you can deliver so much more than the same old business software.
Andy's first example is ServiceChannel, which helps large companies manage relationships with local suppliers of cleaning, maintenance and other services: "National chains," he explains, "need someone to service their local stores and usually hire a local small business to do things like check the plumbing or clean the storefront glass." This is an area of mind-numbingly wasteful administrative activity that's truly ripe for automation. ServiceChannel's software automates processes around hiring and credentialling contractors, managing and validating the work as it's done, and then approving and paying invoices. It allows for compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley regulations and can integrate into ERP systems including Oracle and SAP.
Why I like this example is that it's more than just an application, it's a complete solution to a pain point for many businesses, both the large chains that are targetted as buyers but also the small businesses that act as their local contractors. It solves the problem by bringing together not only software but also a network infrastructure, using the Web to connect businesses that are currently wasting huge amounts of energy and time on manual processes that date from a pre-Web era. It has the potential once it gains momentum to act as a marketplace too, in which local contractors can offer their services to branches of several different chains.
This is so much more than taking sales automation or financials and delivering the self-same processes as a web-hosted, on-demand application. Instead, it's thinking about how to use the Web to link together processes or resourches that it's never previously been feasible or economic to join together. SaaS as we know it has focused too often on simply taking traditional applications and putting them online, but there's so much more potential to be realized from thinking beyond those old application paradigms and envisioning new possibilities enabled by the Web.