Information technology has had to develop fast to keep pace with our 21st-century working practices. It’s not just that we expect uninterrupted access to the internet wherever we are in the world; we also want instant access to all our corporate documents and data – and we don’t want to negotiate cumbersome hard drives or remote server access to get it.
But until relatively recently, it was difficult and indeed expensive for companies to guarantee their employees secure or even instant access to their company files while on the move or at home.
All that changed in the late 1990s, however, with the launch of Salesforce.com, the now ubiquitous web-hosted customer relationship management (CRM) system. By allowing company sales teams to access and update client data while on the move, Salesforce.com not only provided the missing link for information access, it also changed the way that businesses thought about and used technology on the internet.
Businesses began to recognise that data no longer needed to be tied to computer desktops or work servers; instead, they saw that resources, software and information could be made available through the web, a practice that has since become known as ‘cloud computing’.
Software as a service
By tapping into the ‘cloud’, Software as a Service models, such as Salesforce.com, have thrived. Their proposition is simple: rather than require companies to overload their long-suffering servers with new applications or potentially harmful requests for off-site document access, they bypass company servers completely by hosting the system and the data they contain in secure off-site locations – and providing access to it via the web. That allows stored data to be accessed from anywhere, at any time, by any authorised user, so long as they can connect to the internet.
Thanks to the ease with which it can be installed and implemented, Software as a Service (SaaS) technology has extended into many different areas of corporate and personal information management. Many IT departments have adopted SaaS technology to run corporate email and calendar functions; finance departments regularly manage and monitor company accounts remotely using systems such as Sage; and it is now widely considered best practice to back-up all company data onto third-party systems in order to guard against the threat of loss or theft.
Software developers have been investing heavily in this technology too. The Google Apps software suite, which includes the hugely popular consumer email application Gmail, is based on a SaaS model. So too is WebEx, the provider of online meeting and web conferencing facilities. Microsoft has entered the SaaS market with its Business Productivity Online Suite, the web-hosted version of the software giant’s Office applications.
The flexibility and capabilities of the SaaS model have already been applied to the professional service industries, including those available to the legal sector. Tried-and-trusted SaaS applications now exist that provide web-based case analysis and evidence management, legal practice management, and electronic and document discovery – as well as intellectual property (IP) management.
However, less than a decade ago, no bespoke SaaS management system existed to enable IP professionals to harness this growing technology. CPA Global set about rectifying this with the launch of FoundationIP in the US in 2002. Owing to its success, the service has now been extended to Europe, enabling companies there to benefit from improved IP management, increased access and flexible working systems.
What is FoundationIP?
Designed to meet the needs of IP professionals, both in-house and in private practice, FoundationIP provides an online environment in which to manage IP portfolio information and activities by authorised stakeholders. Special features that have been tailored specifically for IP professionals include substantive legal updates to ensure that key renewals deadlines are better monitored or managed internally; access rights to enable authorised third parties, such as external counsel or agents, to input information on the owner’s behalf; and a reporting function that provides management teams with the ability to audit their complete IP portfolios at the touch of a button.
Like other SaaS applications, the key here is speed of access, cost and scalability of use. As with all SaaS models, FoundationIP is a hosted service, meaning that it avoids the front-loaded costs of traditional software models, which have to be bought, installed and maintained on a company’s premises. Instead, the software operates on a system that is already running and fully tested, which means that FoundationIP can be deployed quickly too. All you need is a username and password, and you can log in to the software interface.
In addition, SaaS applications are generally available for a monthly subscription fee, so that companies are able to project and control outgoing costs. FoundationIP operates on the same premise. Companies pay only for what they use and are able to scale up and down as their business evolves. In return for the subscription fee, the SaaS vendor will be responsible for all the software infrastructure and security support services, as well as future upgrades.
Entering the cloud
Experts are predicting that the current economic climate is likely to drive further growth in this sector, particularly in Europe. Market research firm IDC has projected that the annual growth rate for SaaS in Europe will be 25% by 2012, commenting that the recession is encouraging more businesses to choose subscription-based software services over the more costly in-house installations. It found that the technology is already being widely embraced, particularly in sales functions – for example, CRM systems.
However, SaaS is by nature ‘location-free’. The software is provided and accessed independent of the user’s location or time zone. This breaks down the barriers installed by most on-site software services and facilitates interaction between company offices, irrespective of where they are. The inherent convenience of Saas can’t help but drive its growth throughout Europe – and beyond.
It has to. As our working practices continue to evolve in line with our business needs, it is going to become even more important for us to work on the move or at home. There’s nothing more frustrating for IP professionals than not being able to access key data when they need it.
Software as a Service: benefits in brief
● Low cost of entry
● Easy and quick ramp-up of use (think ‘turning on the light switch’ instead of building a generator to power the bulb)
● Access remotely (anywhere, anytime)
● Back-up and disaster recovery now the provider’s responsibility
● Collaboration with inside/ outside parties
Steve Schley is director of sales, Northern Europe, at CPA Global. For more information on FoundationIP or the SaaS model, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
To download the free webinar ‘IP in the cloud: an industry perspective on how cloud computing is changing the way IP is managed’, click here