The idea of software as a service (SaaS) for the propane industry is quite simple. Let’s no longer burden the propane marketer with the operational challenges associated with servers, networks, virtual private networks, installations or data security concerns to run their back-office, routing, delivery and driver software.
Because we are shaking things up, let’s also no longer charge the propane marketer the traditional upfront capital expenditure of thousands of dollars for software licensing, equipment, training and support. Instead, let’s provide an all-in-one solution for back-office, routing, dispatch and driver applications with no training or support costs and allow the propane business to pay a monthly subscription for the services used. Because the monthly subscription can be accounted as an operating expense, there will be benefits for tax deductions. This will allow back-office and driver propane software to become affordable for any size propane business.
Sure, we all use a browser to interface with the internet. Some companies have smartly developed their back-office software to be used with a browser. The familiarity of the browser allows the user to quickly learn new software, resulting in reduced training costs.
Regardless, if the back-office propane software uses a browser or a custom-built interface, the software requires separate installations, resulting in high costs that are passed on to the propane marketer. If back-office software installations could be eliminated, no longer would a propane business need to be charged for installation, maintenance, troubleshooting, licensing or upgrades. By no longer requiring separate software installations, the propane software provider could quickly deploy feature enhancements without service disruptions for the staff at the propane company.
Of course, there is the important subject of data security. What about having all those defenses handled by a world-renowned data security service?
While this may sound like a back-office software “wish list” for a propane business, the technology that accomplishes all of this does exist, and it is known as “SaaS” or software as a service. SaaS is one of the three cloud computing models providing on-demand computer system resources that include software, databases, servers, storage and networks available over the internet. The word “cloud” is used by software companies, but if they require installs, their software is not offering the benefits of cloud computing.
While the acronym SaaS may be new to you, this technology has been in use for many years, and it is likely you have already been using software as a service. Google’s Gmail, Yahoo email, Quickbooks Online, Microsoft Office 365, Amazon and Facebook are all examples of SaaS. Government agencies, including the United States government, are replacing legacy software installations with SaaS.
By 2026, Gartner predicts “public cloud spending will exceed 45% of all enterprise IT spending, up from less than 17% in 2021.”
With SaaS cloud computing providing overwhelming benefits to the propane marketer, why is the industry still using the older back-office software requiring installations with capital, licensing, training and support costs? The answer is revealed when considering how technology advances have affected the development and deployment of software.
Before the internet, propane businesses purchased back-office propane software and a server. The software vendor would visit the propane company to install the software onto the server and onto office computers that would be used by the propane company staff. All staff training for the use of the software was done on-site.
As the internet became ubiquitous, the software vendor began using remote methods to install the software onto the on-site server and office computers, therefore no longer requiring the software vendor to visit the propane company. This was a step forward in reducing software deployment costs to the propane marketer.
As high-speed internet became widely available, operating systems advanced, and easy-to-use remote connection technologies surfaced, software vendors began offering to uninstall their propane software from the on-site server located at the propane business and instead install the same software onto a remote server (cloud) located elsewhere. This removed the burden from the propane business having to address on-site, server-related issues. The propane business office computers could then use remote connection software to login to the same propane software now installed on a remote server.
Regardless, if the office computer uses vendor software, remote connection software or a browser to connect to the propane back-office software, the required software installation slows new software enhancements and remains the barrier for reducing costs to the propane marketer.
The propane back-office software predominantly in use today was developed before the internet became common for business operations. The programming languages and associated technologies used to develop the software were not intended for use in a cloud computing environment, such as SaaS. As is happening in other industries, the attraction of SaaS to propane marketers will foster new software development replacing outdated software technologies. Allowing ease of use from anywhere, integration of outside services, rapid new feature deployment and no longer requiring large dollar outlays, the pay-as-you-go software service will become dominant.
In summary, the current back-office software suites in the propane industry have been able to adjust and offer internet-related services. However, the overwhelmingly attractive aspects for the propane marketer offered by cloud computing will make SaaS the future of propane software.