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Software-as-a-Service is a full suite of options that you as the consumer can order along with a software application. You get maintenance and technical support in addition to the application itself. The key element in this arrangement is the network.
One of the not-so-well-disguised requirements of Software-as-a-Service is that, in order for the provider to offer such services as maintenance and technical support, the services must be provided over a network. It is entirely impractical for a company to devote time and energy to what amounts to electronic house calls; rather, the company does what needs to be done over a network. In most cases, this network is the Internet.
Users of Software-as-a-Service routinely log in to a network in order to use the software applications they have purchased. Therefore, these users are really only renting use of the applications. Software applications purchased as part of Software-as-a-Service are also rather generic. Custom applications can be and are designed specifically for users, but this necessitates customized maintenance and technical support as well, something most providers think twice before offering.
Users of applications that are part of Software-as-a-Service packages usually log on to use those applications in one of two ways. The first way is by contracting with an application service provider, which offers access to the applications via the Web; each user signs on to a Web network in order to use the applications, and the company pays a monthly fee for users of the applications. In the second way, called software on-demand, a company purchases one copy of an application that allows multiple users to connect at the same time; users still log on to the Web in order to use the application, but they log on in a different way and the company usually pays no fee, since the application has already been purchased.
One of the primary benefits a company gains by using Software-as-a-Service to solve their application needs is that the software provider is responsible for time and money spent on maintenance, tech support, and upgrades. The Software-as-a-Service provider might charge the consumer an upgrade fee, but the consumer doesn’t have to go through the process of buying the upgrade and installing it oneself. In the same way, the consumer does not have to worry about virus or other network-threatening difficulties. Because the company and its employees are doing nothing more than connecting to a network, they need not have any expectation of responsibility if something goes wrong with that network.
Software-as-a-Service can be an attractive option for businesses that want to minimize their software and service needs. Software-as-a-Service can also be an attractive option for employers who have telecommuters among their ranks. Because employees need only connect to the Internet in order to use the applications, they can work from anywhere as long as they have Internet access.