“True SaaS” PLM – the devil is in details

“True SaaS” PLM – the devil is in details


My earlier attempt to compare PLM vendors and cloud services raised many comments online and offline. I want to thank everybody who commented and shared your insight – it helps me to build a next version of comparison table. Also, I can see an importance of open discussion for the future of cloud PLM industry.

One of the most debate topic is the definition of SaaS. The questions and opinions are keep coming. Can we qualify a particular solution as SaaS? What are characteristic of SaaS product from technological and business perspective? And finally… can we define what is “true SaaS”? I want to step back and talk about SaaS first. Below is the definition by Wikipedia. You can learn more here – Software as a Service.

Software as a service (SaaS; pronounced /sæs/ or /sɑːs/) is a software licensing and delivery model in which software is licensed on a subscription basis and is centrally hosted. It is sometimes referred to as “on-demand software”. SaaS is typically accessed by users using a thin client via a web browser.

This definition leaves a lot of flexibility and, of course, doesn’t reflect multiple aspects of product and technology – the core source of disagreement about what is “true SaaS”. I want to focus on some of them –  product portfolio, subscription business model, IaaS and hosting, product versions and releases, upgrades and thin/think client access.

1- Product portfolio. This is a question about cloud and on-prem portfolios. Do you believe company can be providing both traditional PLM software and cloud (SaaS) software. For large companies it is mostly part of their strategy. It is a tricky balancing act of selling existing products and moving into the future. For smaller companies, it is a question about their focus.

2- Subscription business model. Most of subscription-based products are tagged with a price per user / per month. Is it a model you want to follow? Do you expect paying monthly? Is it just a way to advertise the price? What is the additional cost associated with product deployment, operation, support and services.

3- IaaS and Hosting. There are multiple sources of infrastructure for cloud software these days. You can run it using services like AWS and Microsoft Azure. Alternatively, you can host it using variety of hosting providers. If your business is large enough, the question about company datacenter can come .

4- Product versions and release. An important question about availability of multiple versions and configuration of your products. The option to keep a single version of truth for your cloud product has lot of advantages. But at the same time, it can raise a concern from IT folks thinking about how to make cloud product compatible with other software running by a company.

5- Upgrades. The topic of software upgrades is painful. Who is responsible to upgrade your environment when product is moving to the next release? Cloud software vendors are traditionally responsible for infrastructure and upgrades. But some specific customizations and configurations can complicate things.

6- Thin vs. Thick clients. Do you think “cloud” is equal “browser”? For some people, the answer is clear yes. Do you think browser access is an ultimate characteristic of “true SaaS” software? You can decide what is important for you, but consider the implication of managing software installed on mobile devices, laptops and desktop computers.

What is my conclusion? The devil is in details and SaaS definition brings many questions. I’m working on a next version of PLM cloud services comparison between vendors. It is a competitive space and vendors will have to work to explain their products and technology. To say “cloud” is not enough. SaaS has no simple definition. To understand multiple characteristics of SaaS is important to take a right decision about what is a right solution for you. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PS. If you have specific questions, please reach me out via email – oleg [@] beyondplm [.] com

Image courtesy of Suat Eman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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  • Jeremy Wayne

    I absolutely HATE that software as a service! Everything we use in our business computers seems to be moving toward this, by the end of 2017. I did some calculations…In order to use all of the software that we now own, but must update, due to OS compatibility issues; we will be forced into an SaaS model, by everyone starting in December 2017. This will cost us a whopping $5,796, get this, YEARLY!

    When people hear “business”, they automatically think dollars, and LOTS of them. That just isn’t the case for the small business owner, just starting out. This is our first year in business, and we’ve done pretty well so far. However, we cannot foresee the future. What if we don’t make more than a thousand dollars a month next year? We still have to give ourselves a paycheck in order to pay personal bills. We still have to pay the bills at our shop, and the lease ALONE is $1,000 a month. We have a very forgiving lessor, probably forgiving enough to drop our lease while the going is rough, but the power company isn’t going to be so forgiving. Our total monthly business costs are in the neighborhood of 5k per month, including our paychecks (there are only 2 of us, and I’ve worked on a volunteer basis before). We’ve fought so hard to get this business going, only to have to shut down because we can’t afford the CAD subscription next year!!

    I can hear it now; “You should manage your business monies better.” No. This is not how it’s supposed to work! When you need a new software, you run to staples and pick it up, or go to the manufacturer’s website and purchase/download, not hock your car/house/child in order to pay for the next year’s service on a program that is VITAL to your business!

    There are some people that can’t understand how they EVER lived without SaaS: I can’t understand those people. How is it okay to GIVE money away on a monthly/yearly basis, where this wasn’t necessary 1 year ago? It is not okay in the very least! We are fighting to build a company that will go nowhere, when all of our money goes into subscriptions. How are we to ever expand (if we wanted to. Personally, I want to build a nice nest egg for retirement and let the kids have it later)? No nest egg, as there won’t be anything additional to transfer to a retirement account! We could sell our house and live at the shop, maybe? I DO spend a lot of time here, working on the computer side of things. Speaking of which; about 1/3 of our yearly subscription costs will come from the OFFICE alone. Several software programs that are a must for computer maintenance, are going the way of the subscription. Programs that we use, going subscription “dumb” are (and please tell me if I’m incorrect in thinking that these companies do not provide an outright purchase option)

    We should have a choice. Make those people happy, who LOVE giving their money away once a month/year, and then provide something for the rest of us (the majority), that purchase software and use it until the “wheels fall off”. It will rarely happen. Know why? There’s WAY more money in a company’s/CEO’s pocket, to collect monthly/yearly, versus every 6-10 years. Greed is the answer. GREED is in the details, right there in the devil’s pocket. That is all.

  • beyondplm

    Jeremy, thanks for the rant 🙂 ! Are you talking about specific type of software or just in general? If you’re small company or startup business, the modern trend of CAD vendors is to provide software for free. You can see Autodesk, Siemens PLM, Solidworks and Onshape are doing it.