How Does Software-as-a-Service Benefit Manufacturers – Automation World

Remember when you used to buy a
license for Microsoft Office 97, then
three years later buy an upgrade for
Office 2000, then Office XP? Not anymore!
Most users have migrated to Office365 and are
paying a yearly subscription for the software,
and in return they do not need to worry about
individual upgrades. They are always on the latest
version of the platform. Most modern software,
from Office365 to Facebook to Zoom,
has migrated to this software-as-a-service
(SaaS) licensing and delivery model.

While business and commercial software has
already made the transition to SaaS, these models
are just now starting to pick up momentum
in the manufacturing world. Adoption has been
slower in automation and manufacturing for
legitimate reasons: frequent software updates
for complex and interconnected systems can
introduce significant downtime risks, a reliance
on internet connectivity can prove a challenge
for industrial networks and IT teams, it can
be difficult to balance operational and capital
expenses, and storing significant product and
manufacturing data in the cloud introduces new
security concerns.

Software providers are continuing to move
towards SaaS models for developing, delivering,
and monetizing their work, and that trend
is breaking into the manufacturing space. Many
traditional manufacturing software providers
are offering SaaS and subscription options, and
some new players may not offer classic licensing
models at all.

SaaS is not just some scheme to put more
money in the pockets of software providers.
There is real value to be gained by manufacturers
who learn when, where, and how to embrace
this new paradigm.

Keeping software up to date is more important
now than it has ever been. Not necessarily
to get access to all the latest features, but to
make sure the software is fully patched and
resistant to cybersecurity risks. Most cyberthreats
to manufacturers take advantage of
known security flaws that have been addressed
through patches and software updates. Without
SaaS it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to
obtain the proper licenses for any software
upgrades, maintain service and support agreements
with software vendors, and plan and
install any patches. In a SaaS model, manufacturers
always have access to the latest software
and the vendor is responsible for software
updates, allowing the manufacturer to focus
more on planning and supporting the change.
Essentially, SaaS is making it easier for us to do
what we should be doing anyways. Planning and
supporting these software upgrades is no simple
feat, especially in regulated industries like
life sciences where change control processes
are so important. Sharing the responsibility
with a SaaS provider simplifies the process and
reduces overall risk.

Another significant benefit of manufacturing
software hosted in the cloud and delivered
through a SaaS model is simplified infrastructure
and scalability. Most manufacturing plants
built over the past 40 years have their own
industrial data center onsite, where corporate
IT teams own and manage the significant server
and network infrastructure to run an entire
manufacturing operation. This was and still is
done out of necessity, as there are some applications
where it remains best practice to host
on-premises. However, if and where there are
opportunities to host applications in the cloud,
there may be opportunities for significant cost
savings. Cloud-hosting leads to less IT overhead
and less physical infrastructure on site that
is difficult to procure and maintain. This also
makes cloud-hosted SaaS applications easier
to scale, especially for multi-site applications.

SaaS and cloud-hosted software are not
silver bullets to solve all our manufacturing
problems, but they do help us better focus
on them. Manufacturers do not need to be in
the business of negotiating one-time license
costs, managing all aspects of every software
upgrade, or procuring and maintaining expensive
server infrastructure. Every hour and dollar
spent patching software, procuring servers, and
installing upgrades is effort we are not spending
on continuous improvement programs, training,
and optimizing our operations. When we
use SaaS applications, we get tangible benefits
like up-to-date software and no-hassle hosting,
but we also get our time back to focus on what
matters most: manufacturing!

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