Ten SaaS companies to watch

These companies show what software as a service is all about


These days, companies are applying the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model to just about everything, from core business functions including IT, to industry-specific processes. This list compiled with the help of SaaS trend watchers and users provides a representative look at what types of software you'll find offered in the cloud.

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Antenna Mobility Platform

Antenna sits at the intersection of two of today's biggest enterprise IT focal points: cloud computing and mobility. "With things getting pushed into the cloud in terms of where they're hosted, and the devices that we're using to access those applications increasingly being smartphones or tablets vs laptops or desktops, a huge trend right now is enterprise mobility in the cloud. I'd even say that's near the top of most CIOs' to do lists," says Justin Perreault, general partner of Commonwealth Capital Ventures, an Antenna backer. That puts Antenna in a good spot. It offers mobile SaaS software as well as an on-demand software platform for building, deploying and managing mobile applications in the cloud.

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Pipeline Accelerator

Despite some initial skepticism that business intelligence was too complex to tackle from a SaaS perspective, enterprise interest in BI as a service is taking off, says Jeff Kaplan, managing director of ThinkStrategies, which compiles the SaaS Showplace of providers. Among many interesting BI SaaS providers, Cloud9 is representative of those focused on moving capabilities to the edge of a company. "BI used to be this thing cloistered in the corporate headquarters because it was so complex that the information could only be filtered out to the field," Kaplan says. "What SaaS in general and Cloud9 in particular have done is make BI more readily available at the field level so frontline workers can take advantage of it and make better decisions."

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CVM Supplier Central

While ERP and traditional supply chain software has been slow to move into the SaaS model, some segments are slicing off and moving more quickly to the cloud, notes Liz Herbert, a principal analyst with Forrester Research. Supply risk and performance management, a category that includes CVM as well as companies like Achilles and Aravo Solutions, is among them. ThinkStrategies' Kaplan calls out such supply chain SaaS activity as the evolution of the extranet model that sprang to life in the dot com era. "The reality of extranets is taking shape as SaaS-based supply chain solutions," he says. "CVM is interesting in that it created a software capability that ties multiple companies together so they can track their merchandise among themselves and use the web to make that happen," he adds.

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Exoprise is among a number of SaaS providers helping companies make sense of all the stuff they have out in the cloud. The idea is to give IT professionals a way to "seize the benefits of the cloud quickly and confidently," as Exoprise founder and CEO Jason Lieblich put it at the company's March launch. ThinkStrategies' Kaplan says he likes what he sees of the company's strategy so far: "It's starting by letting you take an inventory of email usage so you can determine which of a growing array of web-based or cloud email services might be the best fit for your company. But really it's setting up to do the same thing for any migration to the cloud."

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Collaboration is a leading SaaS segment, with lots of activity and interest in tools that have a Facebook-like look and feel. However, Kaplan says, GageIn has caught his eye with its content-driven approach. "So if you've got interesting content you build a network of relationships around that content instead of the more traditional Facebook-like approach of building around people," he says. The question is whether GageIn, available in beta now, has legs. "My guess is that it'll be acquired in the next 12 to 18 months and folded into another platform," Kaplan says.

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Host Analytics CPM

Getting a tighter handle on spending is at the top of any financial or business leader's wish list. Host Analytics offers software aimed at improving budgeting, forecasting and other money matters. At Schumacher Group, for example, Host Analytics has slashed the annual budgeting process from three to four months to a month or so, says Doug Menefee, CIO at the emergency management firm. "Our 100 to 125 budgeting managers would do everything in Excel files, like they do in most organisations. [Finance] would blast out a template, managers would populate their line items and send to a centralized resource. They'd be married up to create a giant Excel file, which would be reviewed and sent back out for another pass," he describes. "Now managers access and update their chart of accounts in real time... and the finance and accounting departments see the impact on EBITDA, revenue and those types of things right away."

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Traditional on-premises document management deployments outnumber SaaS instances, especially within large enterprises, Forrester's Herbert says. But in the right instances, the benefits of on-demand document management can be unbeatable. Anthony Mashkovich, IT director at Miramax says he's found that to be the case. Following the December 2010 sale from Walt Disney Studios to investors, Miramax has had to morph from a virtual to a physical company and among other tasks find a home for some 150,000 documents. "This was a large undertaking, but we needed to do something super fast while still fitting all our criteria. Going the traditional route of EMC Documentum wasn't an option. We had no infrastructure, and the cost would have been too high," he says. "KnowledgeTree quickly stood out as the best choice, doing everything that a traditional Documentum system does but in the cloud and at a great price."

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LiveOps Contact Center Application Suite

LiveOps represents another aspect of the evolving cloud model in that it couples SaaS with business process outsourcing (BPO). In other words, Kaplan says, it'll host the contact centre applications in its cloud and provide the helpdesk or service desk personnel as well. "The demarcation between SaaS and BPO is blurring, and a lot of BPO folks, especially in India, are hurrying to get into SaaS. They're doing so because they can no longer afford the labor arbitrage associated with the traditional business, companies stealing people back and forth and then having to deal with the customer satisfaction issues that go along with that," he says. "Why not offer a SaaS solution that automates the process anyways?"

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Reval is a great example of how the SaaS model is penetrating into critical business areas, in this case finance, at even the largest of companies, says Commonwealth's Perreault. "Corporations of all sorts all do hedging of various types. If you're doing business around the world, you're hedging currencies and interest rates. If you're a manufacturer, you're hedging the commodity costs of your inputs: aluminium and natural gas if you're GM, grain and other agricultural commodities if you're Anheuser Busch," he says. Reval lets financial officers get control and more effectively perform their hedging operations in corporate treasuries. Oftentimes, they're bringing in Reval to replace decades old systems or manual "two guys sitting in the corner with the world's most complex spreadsheet" processes. "There's so little innovation in some legacy functions, and this is just one example where SaaS brings much needed newer functionality," he adds.

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Taleo Enterprise

Among all of the various SaaS categories, human resources management is "a very hot space," says Forrester's Herbert. Since HR software touches so many users, SaaS brings clear benefits such as ease of use and accessibility of the technology, she says. As discussed in Forrester's recent report, "How SaaS Will Change Technology Sourcing Strategy," Herbert says she expects recruiting and talent management SaaS offerings from companies such as Taleo to dominate this HR software area in the next three years.

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