It may have been popularised by the term “Software as a Service” and adopted by companies such as Uber, but what does buying something “as a service” mean and how can it benefit your business?
Providing things as a service really isn’t anything new. The concept has been around for many years, in fact renting is a simplistic form of obtaining something as a service. The tenant gets a home, and typically some form of maintenance agreement and this is provided at a fraction of the total cost of the property and usually with far greater flexibility (the ability to rent for 6 months for example) than buying the property. Of course this is a familiar concept, but it wasn't until more recently that other types of service were recognised and could be provided.
One of the most famous “as a service” companies today is Uber, who provide TaaS (Transportation as a Service). The logistics required in putting customer and driver together in a way that is cost effective made a service such as Uber impossible before two technologies came together; the internet (to provide near-instant communication between large parts of the world) and the smartphone, which provides ubiquitous access to the internet via user-friendly apps.
Why businesses should use services
Whilst services like Uber can be useful in a business setting, they are not targeted at businesses specifically, but there are many services that businesses have traditionally had to do for themselves that are now being provided as a service, allowing businesses to focus on their core services.
In a business setting, I would define "as a service" services as:
Something that provides a function to a business that typically isn’t the business’ core offering and that offers flexibility, expertise, cost reductions or other benefits over in-house provision of the same functions.
Let’s examine some examples of services and explore the benefits that they typically offer:
Software as a Service
Software as a Service (SaaS) is one of the "as a service" services that are most popular. It provides access to a software product on a more flexible basis than might be possible with a more traditional approach to buying and installing the software on your own computer or business servers.
Microsoft’s Office 365 or Google’s G-Suite are examples of such a service. They provide subscribers with a variety of services including email, spam monitoring, office software (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or their Google equivalents for example). Services like these provide the ability to change the number of users as the organisation needs, often services to be switched on and off as required. These are provided conveniently via a web page (unlike buying boxed software that requires a trip to a store).
Those are the benefits that most subscribers will sign-up for, but inherent in the provision of this service is the understanding that Microsoft and Google offer additional benefits such as enhanced security and service levels which will typically exceed those available to a business who is running their own email and installing their own software.
Data Protection Officer as a service
With the requirements of the GDPR coming into effect in May 2018 many companies are considering if they need to hire a Data Protection Officer (DPO). Whilst many companies will require a DPO, not all of them will require one full-time. Using a DPO service provider provides businesses with the ability to flex-up and flex-down the involvement of their DPO in alignment with their business needs, and without having to divert external (and potentially inexperienced) staff to the role.
Similarly, to the SaaS example, using a DPO service offers enhanced benefits such as being able to have more or less of a DPO when needed as well as the reassurance that the service utilises people with the right skills and experience, not someone within the team who happened to have some availability when the GDPR planning meeting was held.
Assistant as a service
In larger organisations PAs (personal Assistants) or EAs (Executive Assistants) are quite common. Typically such a person will support one or more busy people, magnifying the capacity and capabilities of the person they’re supporting by ensuring that arrangements are made and that things run more smoothly. In smaller organisations, where PAs and EAs are less common and are seen as harder to justify, this is exactly the gap that an assistant service can fill. Assistant services are usually provided on a part-time basis allowing the assistant to help when and where required.
A benefit of using an assistant service, is that it can be costly to replicate an assistant service that can "follow the sun". This is particularly useful for organisations that operate in many time zones, or have people who are travelling in different parts of the world and need access to an assistant in the middle of the UK night.
In part 2 of this series, we look at how you should go about selecting a service and the changes that you may have to make the best use of services. Take a look here!
Darren Wray is the CEO of Fifth Step, an organisation that has provided services for IT Leadership, Change Management, Resiliency and Data Protection since 2011. He is also a proud member of IoD Advance - you can connect with him through the Advance App or find him on LinkedIn.
Learn more about IoD Advance and the opportunities to connect, share, and learn alongside like-minded business leaders