Software as a service (SaaS) has changed the way all modern businesses operate, yet the water industry has been slow to utilize SaaS solutions as a better means of collecting, managing, storing, and leveraging data.
However, utilities are now increasingly turning to SaaS products to help them relieve the multiple pressures on the industry and provide better solutions for clients.
Below, I share my thoughts on:
- What SaaS solutions mean for the water industry
- How utilities can benefit from SaaS solutions
- Why utilities are increasingly working with smaller SaaS providers
What is Software as a Service?
Software as a Service (SaaS) has become the primary method of deploying solutions to mobile devices and other platforms. These solutions can be accessed from any device with an internet connection and a web browser, which allows for the rapid development of new products and solutions that are needed in the market.
Today, users have become accustomed to mobile devices and apps that are always there and always ready to use — and that’s what they’re starting to expect from the solutions that they use within their respective industries.
SaaS and the water industry
The existence of SaaS as a delivery model also allows the software to be deployed in a much simpler way since products do not need to be installed, licenses don’t need to be managed, and new versions don’t need to be maintained.
With SaaS, the software is always present on any platform that the user wants to use. SaaS is uniquely important to the water industry for two reasons. The first is that the industry is facing tremendous challenges including water shortages, increased regulatory pressures, climate change, and the associated resilience needed.
Secondly, the fact is that the industry is risk-averse and unwilling to change quickly. Because of this, the water industry has been late to enter the SaaS market. However, the next generation of utility operators and managers have grown up with cell phones in their hands, and will expect their future solutions to run as SaaS.
Additionally, the water industry is unique because it provides services on which people rely to survive — both on the water distribution and collection system side. We provide people with water — without which they cannot live — or provide sanitation to eliminate pandemics.
For this reason, there is very little space for error, and the water industry has traditionally been very risk-averse. However, with the new pressures on the industry, we need to do more with less, and we need to adopt new solutions that can be developed and deployed quickly to provide solutions.
The benefits of SaaS for utilities
SaaS has a major advantage over traditional legacy software since it can focus on the solution and the client, whereas traditional software was a product and a tool that would be compared to other tools. In this way, the main drivers for product development were typically based on the competition in a bid to outplay each other. With SaaS, the drivers come from the client and the client’s needs.
The benefit of SaaS for smaller utilities is that SaaS can focus on clients and develop software solutions that are simple and easy to use. Traditional tools, such as hydraulic modeling software, require a significant level of expertise to use and operate because they offer a broad solution.
On the other hand, SaaS solutions are targeted exactly to client needs. A smaller utility that might not have the expertise to run full-blown hydraulic modeling software can still benefit from hydraulic modeling results.
Another benefit of SaaS deployment is that users can rapidly implement new solutions, update products, and provide different client experiences. Plus, users themselves are driving the development, and the software gets updated regularly and is deployed on client platforms without them even knowing. So next time you open Qatium, you might have new solutions to use!
Why utilities are turning to start-ups for SaaS
An interesting trend that I have noticed is that as water utilities are transitioning to SaaS solutions, they are also working with smaller start-up companies. The reason for this is that larger companies have a legacy of users and products that they have to maintain as they transition to SaaS solutions.
For example, I recently returned from WEFTEC where I talked to major hydraulic modeling software vendors. Speaking to one of these vendors, we discussed one of the algorithms that they use of which they have two alternatives. One is developed by them, and the other is a publicly available alternative — which is obviously superior.
However, most of their users are still using the inferior approach because it’s the default in the software and they don’t know what they are choosing.
For this reason, smaller start-ups that don’t have a legacy of old products or customers can provide perfect smaller solutions for smaller utilities. In fact, all utilities can benefit from the solutions provided by smaller SaaS companies since they are laser-focused on delivering easy-to-use solutions that meet client needs.
Saša Tomič is the Digital Water Lead at Burns & McDonnell and is one of many experts that we co-create with Qatium.