5 changes companies will see after moving to SaaS

A move to Software-as-a-Service not only streamlines software access, but also transforms networks and changes hardware lifecycle patterns. Here are the five improvements you should expect to see.

Photo of Google Slide displayed on a Chromebook with the 5 bullet points listed in the article
Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

A move to the cloud can take time: One of my clients has done so over almost a decade. They started with Salesforce in 2009. Five years later, they embraced G Suite (known as Google Apps at the time). In 2016, we added Virtru to the mix to encrypt email communications with clients. The organization adopted a cloud-based electronic health record system in 2017. Now, nearly a decade later, they rely on just a few remaining installed applications that handle specialized tasks.

But their switch to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) affected other IT spending, too. The specific expenditure changes vary from organization to organization, but every organization that I've seen shift to SaaS also has experienced the following five changes.

1. Improved networks

Not surprising, more people expect faster internet connections these days. Even many of the small businesses I work with have connections that deliver 250Mbps down and 75Mbps (or more) up.

But the more interesting shift in network spending has been in infrastructure. Most organizations I work with today have reliable 802.11n or 802.11ac WiFi networks. That simply wasn't the case a decade ago. More recently, I'm seeing mid-size and larger organizations start to deploy wireless mesh devices.

2. Fewer computer upgrades

Years ago, I would advise clients to purchase a desktop or laptop with the expectation that they would retire it from use after three or five years. In most cases, we also planned to make significant upgrades to the hardware at the midpoint of the device's life. Typically, we used to add RAM or replace a hard drive.

Today, organizations are less likely to plan to replace parts. For most standard office uses, five year old desktops deliver perfectly adequate performance. I no longer hear people complain that systems are too slow, although I do hear people ask for faster internet sites and apps. (Hence, item #1 above!) The days of upgrades for anything other than high-end graphics, data, or processor-intensive uses are over.

3. More "plug-in and use" systems

More companies choose so-called "sealed" systems that lack easy-to-upgrade parts. Some large companies continue to deploy standardized drive images — loaded with a custom-configured operating system and a specific set of applications. But increasingly, I see organizations choose off-the-shelf sealed devices, such as all-in-one desktops or non-user-configurable laptops. Centralized management tools that allow configuration changes to be easily pushed to devices over fast networks have reduced the need to handle systems before deployment.

Similarly, as organizations move to SaaS, I've seen many try Chromebooks. The client that moved to the cloud over the past decade also started to experiment with Chromebooks in 2015. Now, about 20% of the team uses a Chromebook as their primary device. Device maintenance time plummets.

4. Longer device lifecycles

I've noticed the average age of desktops and laptops in organizations that have moved to SaaS has increased. Since SaaS depends mostly on browser and network performance, the need to replace devices has decreased. Systems often remain deployed until the device fails or can no longer receives updates. (For some organizations I work with, the end of system or security updates for a smartphone determines when the device will be replaced.) With SaaS, critical data doesn't reside solely on the device, so there's little to lose when a system fails.

5. More attention to peripherals

Peripherals remain a challenge. Lots of traditional IT configurations have printer, scanner, or copier solutions that depend on locally installed Windows software or a Windows server. Organizations can find alternatives for these types of peripherals, but it can take more effort than usual.

Some sectors and applications still present significant problems. For example, some medical diagnostics equipment presumes a conventional Windows operating system setup. Some specialized accessibility accessories don't offer cloud-friendly configuration: A Braille device at one organization I work with only works with Windows. And many healthcare organizations, such as hospitals, still presume a Windows setup — and don't offer support for connections from a Chromebook.

A Positive Change

A decade ago, when I would suggest a cloud solution, I often encountered resistance. Today, that resistance is almost entirely gone. Now, I see that organizations that have "gone cloud" and replace hardware less often than they used to.

What desktop or laptop purchasing changes have you noticed? How have hardware life cycles changed at an organization you know that has mostly moved to SaaS? Have their networks improved, too? Let me know what you've experienced — either in the comments or on Twitter (@awolber).

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About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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