We’ve all heard it by now: Security as a Service, or SaaS, as it’s commonly known. And we probably all have ideas about what it means and what it will do for our customers. In this economy, end users need to make sure that every solution they propose and every dollar they spend brings value to their organization. SaaS has that potential, and, as integrators, we need to have a full understanding of what exactly is SaaS, how it compares to the application service provider model (ASP) and how we can migrate our current traditional alarm management services offered through our central stations. And, most importantly, what is the value to the end user?

What is SaaS?

SaaS has roots in the IT industry. If you have a Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo e-mail account, you use SaaS. If you use SalesForce.com at work, you use SaaS. When software patches are pushed to you from a manufacturer, you are using SaaS. Simply put, it’s a business model in which the software application is hosted off-site (or on-site and remotely administered), but offers end users complete control of the software and their data. It is a model attractive to end users who want the control, but do not want to or cannot manage their own technology and who appreciate the value of a scalable cost structure. With the proliferation of IP-enabled products, hardware that can segment data, and, frankly, the Internet, SaaS is a natural evolution of the value-added services we can provide our customers.

How does SaaS compare to Alarm Management…

Traditional alarm management doesn’t compare to SaaS.  The service offering is different; the value proposition is different; the provider back-office is different. What is interesting and very compelling is the ability to leverage an existing infrastructure (i.e. a central station and the Internet) and offer additional hosted and managed services for our customers.

…and ASP?

With the Application Service Provider model, the end user may have a dedicated server either on or off site. But that server still needs to be maintained and serviced, resulting in little benefit to the end user since he/she is not only paying for a provider to host the server, but also for the routine maintenance. The ASP model was built around the premise of hosting Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) product. The architecture difference with SaaS is that it was designed to be hosted by a third party provider. 
Because of the down economy, we have seen a shift from capital expense to an operating expense focus. SaaS has become an increasingly popular option as end users begin to realize the cost savings realized when outsourcing technology associated with an on-demand, pay-as-you-go structure.

What are the benefits for End Users…

The SaaS model solves these issues and more for end users. It allows for scalable, on-demand services without the capital expense of purchasing sophisticated software or hardware and the operating expense of maintaining the system.
An example to illustrate the cost effectiveness of SaaS is traditional software licensing, which can be costly. The SaaS model allows for on-demand licensing, which then becomes a variable expense, rather than a fixed cost at the time of purchase. It also enables licensing only the amount of software needed versus the more traditional license structures. SaaS also enables end users to share licenses across the organization and even between organizations, reducing the cost of acquiring license for every device. Maintenance of the system is transparent and perpetual in nature.
As illustrated above, SaaS allows end users flexibility, lower total cost of ownership, ease of use, streamlined operations and more.

…and Integrators?

Because security technology has emerged to combat the new threats that end users face, so, too, has the need for complex and sophisticated integration. End users want their security processes to be streamlined, their staff focused on core competencies rather than up-keep of the security system, and, of course, to reduce costs wherever possible. As integrators, SaaS allows us to provide this and much more to end users.
Traditionally, integrators have not focused on recurring monthly revenue (RMR) opportunities. As capital budgets are tightened, new installation projects will decrease, and integrators must focus on providing value-added services. SaaS enables us to generate RMR, demonstrate our value and help end users show their management that Security is focused on the financial health of the organization.