Why Continuous Deployment Maximizes SaaS Benefits

The reality is that the days of SaaS applications are coming to an end, and the age of the SaaS platform is on the rise. If you want your business to survive, transition to platforms via APIs — and do it quickly.

During the past few years, it seems like everything has moved to a SaaS, or software-as-a-service, model. It’s not surprising — in most cases, it no longer makes sense to sell software licenses or make software installable on premises. The benefits of SaaS simply outweigh any other model. Companies pay only for what they use, and there’s no complex hardware requiring IT expertise to install and maintain — only easy-to-use, Web-based interfaces. (And in this day and age, who doesn’t know how the Web works?) SaaS products easily scale with customers’ needs and facilitate painless upgrades, so users always have the “latest and greatest.” The bottom line: SaaS minimizes upfront costs and enables companies to go live quicker, keeping their attention focused on core competencies.

But we’ve arrived at a crossroad: SaaS applications without APIs no longer make a whole lot of sense. Since everything is moving to the cloud, and SaaS cannot be successfully customized for each customer by writing specific code, all cloud applications must become platforms to survive. The Web is designed to be interconnected, and SaaS platforms build on this foundation by providing deep integration with other platforms and the ability to control and extend applications with outside code. Salesforce.com is a great example of a developed ecosystem of integrated applications. The most effective SaaS platforms enable users to realize the full benefits of an offering while staying within interfaces familiar to them — rather than struggling to learn a new Web interface.

The Evolution of the Open Platform

Open source software became mainstream in the late 1990s and took the programming community by storm. But over time, the focus shifted from open source to open data, which enables users to extract and own data from their software applications.

Then came SaaS, taking things one step further. Burgeoning during the last several years, SaaS has served as a catalyst for the open platform, which combines open data with a set of APIs. With this powerful combination, users can download the data they need while integrating their platforms with other software applications. They can even leverage some of these apps to control what’s going on within their own platforms.

Why are open SaaS platforms so important to companies today? Once a business takes the leap of faith and builds a cloud platform, a new world of opportunity opens up — if the right strategy is implemented.

SaaS Strategy for Success

If you think you can succeed with SaaS using the same development strategy you use now with licensed on-premises software, think again. Making the jump to a SaaS platform is only the first step. You then must adapt your development practices to yield maximum benefit from this model.

First, it’s important to adopt a service-oriented architecture to easily scale your infrastructure as demand grows. Second, you must implement a continuous deployment model. Continuous deployment is a development process that includes continuous integration, full test automation and push-of-a-button deployment. With continuous deployment, companies are no longer at the mercy of versioned product releases — new features and updates can be deployed the second they are ready.

Why is this so important? Think about how the development cycle typically works: You deploy a new feature, determine how customers are reacting to it, fine-tune the functionality based on customer feedback and then release an updated version. And then you do it all over again (and again). If you work on a monthly release schedule, it can take half a year to finalize a new feature. If you use continuous deployment, you cut that process down to a matter of days — a major competitive differentiator.

This model is addictive for programmers because they receive instant gratification for their work (they see their code used immediately rather than months down the road), and customers are thrilled because they know their requests can be (and are) fulfilled quickly. With continuous deployment, you can build an advanced programming operation that truly transforms the way your company does business.

Now Is the Time to Make a Change

Open SaaS platforms are the wave of the future. Companies that pair this model with a service-oriented architecture and continuous deployment methodology will set themselves apart from the competition. With the new year approaching, now is the time to make a change. With the proven return on investment that SaaS provides, can you really afford not to use it? See you in the cloud.

Andrey Akselrod is the co-founder and CTO of Smartling. Prior to joining Smartling, Andrey served as the vice president of technology at SpaFinder, where he developed and maintained the company’s website and e-commerce platform in six languages. Previously, he held executive positions at RunTime Technologies and consulted for JPMorgan Chase, where he was responsible for e-commerce, digital asset management, data warehousing and other large-scale projects. He holds a B.S. in computer science from Brooklyn College.