To begin with, I’d like to say that I find it rather strange when I come across seasoned IT professionals in Pakistan who are clueless when it comes to SaaS or cloud computing – some are even unsure about how these terms are related, or if they are related at all.
I will give you a very simple explanation of what SaaS is.
Software As A Service (SaaS)
Even those people who have no idea of what SaaS is, usually know what the acronym stands for. Basically, SaaS or software-as-a-service, is just a fancy name for a lot of software technology we are already familiar with and use everyday, for example, google docs.
Let me explain.
Traditionally, the idea of software has always been a program that is installed and executed on your personal computer – like MS Word, Counter Strike, an MP3 player etc. Within this model,the data, the code, and the execution was on the computer’s hardware.
With the SaaS model, the software is not installed on your computer, its data is not on your hard disk, and its execution is not on your computer’s processor. Instead, all of this is happening at a remote network location on another computer, and you are accessing the input/output capabilities of the program through the Internet, using your web browser. This model has become a possibility with ever-increasing internet speeds and very powerful web browsers. The model is reminiscent of the “terminal and mainframe” days of computer networks when the actual computer was too big and too expensive to have as a personal device, and users had “terminals”, input/output devices (monitors and keyboards) to access the mainframe over the network.
If you have a bit of a computer science background, the following image is a good summary of SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS. With its help, are you able to identify how Google Docs is a SaaS entity and Microsoft Word 2003 for example, an “on-premises” option?
The term “other manages” is probably the key term in the picture – and with SaaS, you can see that the entire burden of the execution of the program and the resources necessary to run the software, is on a third party. Taking forward the Google Docs example, this third party is Google. The Google Docs software is running on Google’s servers, the data is hosted on their hard drives, and all the hardware/software/OS needed to manage the successful execution of Google Docs is also Google’s responsibility. Pretty neat right? And this entire infrastructure that makes Google Docs a reality -the servers, hard drives, data bases, networking equipment – all of this constitutes the “cloud” of computing power, giving rise to the term cloud computing. Thus, SaaS and cloud computing are terms that are closely related – SaaS is made possible by the cloud computing model.
That is the beauty and allure of SaaS – no entries in the “you manage” category. No deployment, no maintenance, no need to buy extra hardware, and no worries about down time. Businesses that traditionally bought custom made on-premises software, are beginning to see the advantages of choosing SaaS – but not in Pakistan, and that brings us to our main concern here, the state of SaaS business products in Pakistan.
What’s happening in Pakistan when it comes to SaaS Business Tools?
To put into perspective how far behind Pakistan is when it comes to SaaS business tools, its important to have a quick glance on how Europe and the US is progressing in this domain.
SaaS products have almost replaced every major aspect of a business that was traditionally served by on-premises software. The reason is simple. The products are targeted, cost much less than a from-scratch-customized-solution, there are no setup delays, there is no infrastructure to install, and there is no maintenance. A very sweet deal.
Some of examples of SaaS products that are helping businesses in the US and elsewhere include
3. MailChimp: Almost every business needs the power of email to reach its customers – MailChimp is a SaaS product that has revolutionized the entire flow of designing, managing, tracking, and executing email marketing campaigns and more. It is helping businesses of all sizes.
4. Slack: A SaaS product that has aimed to address the need of a reliable, productivity boosting, efficient, and beautiful software solution for team communication within companies. People from NASA use it, and people working on a university project use it too.
From all of the above examples, the theme is clear: the products are designed to address the need of almost every kind of business, they are business tools, and come with all the advantages of cloud computing.
Now the problem with Pakistan, is that while tech companies here are using such SaaS products to drive their businesses, they are not making much headway when it comes to building SaaS products, especially for the millions of small businesses in Pakistan which include barbers, retailers, doctors, schools, and more. While a small percentage of such businesses have the resources and English literacy to either use international SaaS products or get custom software solutions built, the majority are businesses which can not afford these options. They are people who are not well versed in English either. They are computer literate enough to understand they need software solutions, but nobody has told them that SaaS solutions (with Urdu support) targeted for Pakistani small businesses are their way out – because nobody has made them.
I foresee a major revolution in terms of SaaS product design that is targeted for this major business segment – with support for Urdu, with prices that reflect the Pakistani market, with payment methods that are relevant, with design/UX/tutorials that help with the on-boarding of such local businesses, and all in all, products just made for here.
ClubInternet, a startup from Pakistan, is doing a wonderful job getting literate people computer/Internet literate, through specially designed tools that guide them through the process of simple UI tasks they have never executed before – like searching on Google, for example. I believe that is a great step in the direction of empowering these literate people and introducing them to the world of smart phones and software, an initiative that would most definitely help us in our vision to create SaaS products for such individuals which represent a huge majority of Pakistanis. Time to step out of our little bubble.
It is bound to happen ultimately, it must, it is a harrowing gap in the tech trends of Pakistan. We are years behind in almost everything, we do not have an excuse to be behind in SaaS technology – SaaS products made by Pakistan, for Pakistan!