Cloud based software applications on demand

Software as a Service Business Model Pattern

Software As A Service Business Model Pattern Featured Image

The Software as a Service business model pattern is a method of delivering software applications over the internet, with customers accessing the software on a subscription basis. This model has revolutionized the way businesses and individuals consume software, providing a more flexible, scalable, and cost-effective alternative to traditional software licensing.

What is the Software as a Service?

Software as a Service is a cloud-based software delivery method where a software vendor hosts and maintains the application, making it available to customers over the internet. Instead of purchasing and installing software on their own computers or servers, customers access the software via a web browser, typically paying a recurring subscription fee based on usage or the level of service required. This model eliminates the need for customers to manage software updates, maintenance, and infrastructure, as the vendor takes responsibility for these tasks.

History of the Software as a Service Business Model

The concept of Software as a Service business model pattern can be traced back to the 1960s when IBM and other mainframe providers offered time-sharing services. However, the modern SaaS model began to take shape in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the advent of the internet and web-based applications. Here are some major milestones in the history of SaaS:

  • 1999: launches its customer relationship management (CRM) software as a web-based service, becoming a pioneer in the SaaS industry.
  • 2006: Amazon Web Services (AWS) introduces Amazon S3 and Amazon EC2, providing cloud-based storage and computing services that laid the foundation for many SaaS applications.
  • 2010: Microsoft launches Office 365, a SaaS version of its popular productivity suite, marking a significant shift in the company’s strategy.
  • 2011: Adobe Creative Cloud is introduced, offering a subscription-based model for its creative software suite, signaling a move away from traditional perpetual licensing.

Software as a Service, Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

Within the broader spectrum of cloud computing, SaaS aligns with Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), each layer offering distinct services and support levels to businesses and developers.

  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): PaaS provides a framework for developers to build, test, deploy, and manage applications without the complexity of building and maintaining the underlying infrastructure typically required for development. This model supports the rapid development of applications, offering a suite of development tools hosted on the provider’s infrastructure. PaaS is integral to SaaS development, as it offers a scalable and flexible environment that SaaS providers can leverage to create and expand their applications.
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): IaaS delivers fundamental compute, storage, and networking resources on a pay-as-you-go basis, offering high flexibility and scalability. It serves as the foundational layer in the cloud service model, upon which PaaS and SaaS are built. IaaS allows SaaS providers to access virtualised hardware resources over the internet, enabling them to deploy and manage their applications with greater efficiency and less physical infrastructure investment.

Why Adopt The Software as a Service business model pattern

The Software as a Service business model pattern has gained immense popularity due to several economic and management theories and concepts that underpin its success:

  1. Economies of Scale: SaaS providers can achieve significant economies of scale by serving a large number of customers from a centralized infrastructure. As the customer base grows, the cost per customer decreases, allowing SaaS companies to offer competitive pricing and reinvest in product development and innovation.
  2. Network Effects: Many SaaS applications benefit from network effects, where the value of the service increases as more users adopt it. This is particularly evident in collaboration and communication tools, where a larger user base leads to more opportunities for interaction and value creation.
  3. Subscription-based Revenue: SaaS companies typically charge customers on a recurring subscription basis, which provides a predictable and stable revenue stream. This allows for better financial planning and reduces the risk associated with one-time sales.
  4. Agile Development: SaaS enables agile software development practices, as providers can continuously update and improve their applications based on customer feedback and market demands. This iterative approach leads to faster innovation and better alignment with customer needs.
  5. Lower Barriers to Entry: SaaS lowers the barriers to entry for customers, as they can access powerful software tools without significant upfront investments in hardware, software licenses, or IT expertise. This democratization of technology has enabled small businesses and startups to compete more effectively with larger enterprises.
  6. Scalability and Flexibility: SaaS applications are designed to be easily scalable, allowing customers to quickly adjust their usage based on changing business needs. This flexibility is particularly valuable in dynamic markets where agility is a key competitive advantage.
  7. Focus on Core Competencies: By outsourcing software management to SaaS providers, businesses can focus on their core competencies and strategic initiatives rather than devoting resources to non-core activities like software maintenance and updates.

The SaaS model has been widely adopted across various industries, from customer relationship management (Salesforce) and team collaboration (Slack) to creative design (Adobe Creative Cloud) and accounting (QuickBooks Online). The success of these companies demonstrates the power of the SaaS model in delivering value to customers while generating recurring revenue for providers.

However, the SaaS model also presents challenges, such as ensuring data security and privacy, managing customer churn, and differentiating in an increasingly crowded market. To succeed, SaaS companies must continually innovate, provide exceptional customer support, and build strong brand loyalty.

The Impact on the Business Model

Software As A Service Business Model Pattern Canvas

The Software as a Service business model significantly impacts several aspects of the business model canvas:

  1. Value Proposition: SaaS offers customers a more flexible, scalable, and cost-effective way to access software, with reduced upfront costs and minimal IT infrastructure requirements.
  2. Revenue Streams: SaaS companies generate recurring revenue through subscription fees, which provides a more predictable and stable income compared to traditional software licensing.
  3. Key Activities: SaaS providers focus on developing, hosting, maintaining, and updating the software application, as well as providing customer support and ensuring data security.
  4. Key Resources: The most critical resources for SaaS companies are their software application, cloud infrastructure, and human capital, including skilled developers and customer support staff.
  5. Customer Relationships: SaaS companies maintain ongoing relationships with customers through the continuous delivery of value, regular updates, and responsive customer support.

Trigger Questions

  1. How can we differentiate our SaaS offering from competitors to attract and retain customers?
  2. What pricing model (e.g., per-user, usage-based, or tiered) would best suit our target customers?
  3. How can we ensure data security and privacy for our customers in a SaaS environment?
  4. What level of customization and integration capabilities should we offer to meet customer needs?
  5. How will we handle customer support and maintain high levels of service availability?

What are Examples of Software as a Service?

These following examples demonstrate the versatility of the Software as a Service business model pattern and its applicability across different sectors, including enterprise software, cloud storage, video conferencing, creative tools, healthcare, and e-commerce. By showcasing the wide range of companies and industries that have successfully adopted the SaaS model, readers can better understand its potential and consider how it might be applied to their own businesses or sectors.

Salesforce (CRM and Enterprise Software)

  • Offers a wide range of cloud-based software solutions for customer relationship management, sales, marketing, and customer service.
  • Provides a customizable platform that allows businesses to build and integrate their own applications.
  • Serves a diverse customer base, from small businesses to large enterprises, across various industries.

Dropbox (Cloud Storage and File Sharing)

  • Dropbox rovides cloud storage and file synchronization services for individuals and businesses.
  • Offers a user-friendly interface and seamless integration across multiple devices and platforms.
  • Serves a large and diverse user base, from individual consumers to teams and organizations of all sizes.

Zoom (Video Conferencing and Collaboration)

  • Offers cloud-based video conferencing, online meetings, and collaboration tools.
  • Provides a high-quality, reliable, and easy-to-use platform for remote communication and teamwork.
  • Serves a wide range of customers, from educational institutions to businesses and government agencies.

Adobe Creative Cloud (Creative Software and Design Tools)

  • Provides a suite of creative software applications, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, on a subscription basis.
  • Offers a continuously updated and accessible platform for creative professionals and enthusiasts.
  • Serves a global customer base in the creative industry, including graphic designers, photographers, and video editors.

Teladoc Health (Telemedicine and Virtual Healthcare)

  • Offers a platform for virtual medical consultations, connecting patients with licensed healthcare professionals.
  • Provides a convenient and accessible alternative to traditional in-person medical visits.
  • Serves a growing customer base of individuals, employers, health plans, and health systems, particularly in light of the increasing demand for remote healthcare services.

Shopify (E-commerce and Retail)

  • Provides a cloud-based platform for businesses to create and manage online stores.
  • Offers a range of tools and features for inventory management, payment processing, shipping, and marketing.
  • Serves a diverse customer base of small and medium-sized businesses, entrepreneurs, and online retailers across various industries.


The Software as a Service business model pattern has transformed how businesses and individuals access and use software applications. By delivering software over the internet on a subscription basis, SaaS companies provide a more flexible, scalable, and cost-effective alternative to traditional software licensing. This business model model has gained widespread adoption across various sectors, from enterprise software and cloud storage to video conferencing, creative tools, healthcare, and e-commerce.

The SaaS model shares similarities with other business model patterns, such as the platform business model and the subscription business model. Like the platform business model, SaaS companies often create value by facilitating interactions between different user groups, such as customers and third-party developers who build applications on the SaaS platform. This network effect can lead to increased value for all participants as the platform grows.

Similarly, the Software as a Service business model is closely related to the subscription business model, as customers typically pay a recurring fee to access the software. This subscription-based approach provides SaaS companies with a predictable and stable revenue stream, while customers benefit from a more affordable and flexible way to use the software without significant upfront costs or long-term commitments.

However, the SaaS model is distinct in its focus on delivering software applications through the cloud, which enables continuous updates, remote access, and scalability. This cloud-based delivery method is the key differentiating factor that sets SaaS apart from other subscription-based models that may involve physical products or services.

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