It's no exaggeration to say that nearly everything we use or interact with as a consumer these days is either intrinsically connected to the web in some way, can be connected to the same web on demand, or is in the research and development stages leading there. In business, this is doubly true, especially where a certain trio of acronyms are concerned, making a splash in industry literature and blogs: SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS.
Poised to become as much a part of your fulfillment operations as the walls of your warehouse, the cost of the infrastructure, software, and platforms that will be your link to the Internet of Things (IoT)—both initial set up and maintenance costs—must be factored into your bottom line for accurate fulfillment cost-benefit analysis.
Breaking Down Uses, Sizes and Intentions
In a nutshell, in terms of cost, IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) demands more resources than PaaS (Platform as a Service), which in turn demands more than SaaS (Software as a Service). A simple analogy, similar to the one devised by Eric Naiburg of Inetu, provides a helpful illustration:
- SaaS is a car delivering a solution; without it people and items couldn't move. (Example: Gmail).
- PaaS is the road system that car drives on; without it, cars full of people and items couldn't go anywhere. (Example: Databases, Application Servers).
- IaaS is the ground that supports the road system and keeps it level; without it, roads couldn't be built and cars would have no purpose. (Example: Servers, Storage, VM Networks).
Some Examples of Services
Each of these aspects helps support and define the IoT by delivering data, offering resources and providing connectivity. Depending on the size, scope and needs of your particular business, you may use one or all of these approaches.
SaaS is the most familiar layer to nearly all businesses, and e-commerce, in particular, as a large portion of them use pre-made applications that information is simply plugged into. Consider consumer websites such as eBay, which gives users the power to offer an item for sale without needing to build a sales platform or infrastructure from scratch. Item specifics are pulled by an item name or url, a prompt is given to upload photographs or use a stock image, and even shipping is handled semi-automatically through pre-paid labels.
Specific SaaS applications such as the eBay mobile app and standalone listing manager software further underscore convenience and user-friendliness.
Alternately, PaaS gives users an initial support to build on. Wordpress, a blogging platform that is quickly becoming the PaaS-friendly site developer's go-to, is an excellent demonstration of this concept. Users can build a bare-bones blog using existing templates or incorporate their own coding and programming within the platform's parameters to create something wholly different, essentially unrecognizable as a Wordpress base product.
This site and technique has grown from one used by mostly small, independent businesses to one being actively embraced by some surprisingly large names like Forbes, The New York Times and UPS.
IaaS, on the other hand, focuses more on offering a true base of digital operations for businesses. Business giant Amazon is in the IaaS game, not as a consumer but as a provider through Amazon Web Services, which offers servers and data centers to its clients for a fee. Christine Burns of Network World notes that this is one of the most visible instances of IaaS offerings, even going so far as to call Amazon Web Services the "Gold Standard" in the industry.
For businesses, farming out this type of resource to bigger names like Amazon helps drive down fulfillment costs by freeing up valuable office "real estate" and intra-company personnel that would normally be needed or hired to upkeep servers.
Each of these three services are intrinsically connected to one another, and each is necessary to keep the Internet of Things a viable and versatile resource. As consumers demand more items, these unique tools actually help pull fulfillment costs down in a sort of inverse relationship. Simply put, they help increase efficiency and allocate resources more intelligently—and that's something that will always help drive business, regardless of trends.