Cloud & SaaS Primer

Article Written by: Michael RosengartenSubmitted by: CALBO Innovative Practices Committee

We’re living in a unique time where our mobile phones are more powerful than our computers were ten years ago and the Internet in most of our homes is as fast as, for example, UC Berkeley’s Internet for their entire campus a decade ago. The realities of those facts has us living in a time where an increased number of companies are relying on the Internet to deliver their solutions. Many of the new software makers trying to sell you products will tout their savvy around topics like Cloud and SaaS. These two terms are nothing to shy away from and we’ll try to arm you with information for when you’re ready to explore new software solutions.

It’s worth noting, having spoken with dozens of building officials, this sentiment remains true: you know the problem you’re trying to solve the best and therefore you, the building official, should drive the acquisition of software solutions. Whether the product you buy is hosted in your data center or theirs, in the Cloud or not, what is important is that you lead the selection process and ultimately select the solution that works for your team and agency. Needs will vary based on your staff size and capabilities; some agencies have in-house programmers who can modify software or manage on-premise installations while others may prefer to outsource all of this and take advantage of externally hosted and managed solutions. As you evaluate options, we suggest spending time upfront learning about the vendor, their security policies, their data policies, and their customer service. Ask for reference customers and when possible pick up the phone and call an agency you know is a customer but wasn’t listed as a reference. Put the time in now so that you can live happily with your solution for years. Not all software is the same nor is it created equally therefore as you look to buy a solution for the next 5+ years make sure you and your team love it.

What is the Cloud?

Over the last decade a new technology has come out, which we call Cloud computing, that enables very scalable architecture for software. It’s paved the way for vendors to deliver software faster and more reliably than ever before. Not all vendors use the Cloud to deliver their software — some vendors host their software in their own data centers. When picking a SaaS vendor, make sure to understand if they’re utilizing the Cloud or not — it’s suggested to go with Cloud-first vendors. Cloud solutions also afford you the opportunity to connect multiple disparate software and services with each other more seamlessly. The most popular Cloud providers, that a vendor can use to deliver their services, are Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. Learn more about what the Cloud is here. 

What is SaaS?

Software as a Service (SaaS) is the name we give to software that is delivered over the Internet and managed by the vendor. There are pros and cons to SaaS but the pros are meaningful; access your software from anywhere, reduce your reliance on in-house or outsourced IT groups, and benefit from software updates more frequently. At the same time, vendors benefit greatly by delivering services over the Internet; while they have to ensure the software works in different web browsers, they don’t have to worry about their software running on your servers — which can be specific to every agency and cause unforeseen issues.

Software as a Service is no silver bullet. Every agency is different and will have its own requirements. SaaS is no better or worse than traditional on-premise software — the vendor is who you are ultimately picking when you buy software. A bad vendor will deliver poor quality software, implement it slowly, and ultimately leave you with a headache -whether it’s in-person or over the Internet. However, SaaS offers you and your department the opportunity to have a bigger role in finding and buying the best vendor and solution combination. When you opt for SaaS, you’re opting for a more direct relationship with the vendor as IT and other departments involvement is more in your control. We’ve put together a primer on SaaS advantages and disadvantages which you can read here. Do you have more to add to our list? Let us know.


For any questions regarding this article, please contact the Innovative Practices Committee