10 Software as a service (SaaS) companies to watch

Some familiar, some not, 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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1. Company Name: Antenna Software

Headquarters: Jersey City, N.J.

What it offers: Mobile SaaS software and Antenna Mobility Platform (AMP) for building, deploying and managing mobile applications.

Why it's worth watching: 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.

How it works: The Antenna Mobility Platform comprises five interconnected components: AMP Gateway, which routes and manages all transactions between the backend systems and the mobile applications; AMP Studio, a "build-once, deploy on any device" development environment; AMP Enterprise Connect, for bridging between host systems and the AMP Gateway; AMP device-side client software; and AMP Management Center, a role-based Web management application.

Where it resides: In the Antenna Mobile Cloud, a platform-as-a-service environment within Antenna's data centers, which the company says it runs as carrier-class network operations centers.

How much it costs: Mobile SaaS software pricing is an annual subscription fee per device for employee-facing applications and Websites, and an annual subscription price based on a range of expected users or usage for consumer-facing applications and Websites.

Who's using it: Coca-Cola Enterprises, Hologic, E-Trade and Pitney Bowes, among others

2. Company name: Cloud9 Analytics

Headquarters: Redwood City, Calif.

What it offers: Pipeline Accelerator, real-time sales forecasting and pipeline management SaaS for line-of-business managers

Why it's worth watching: 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."

How it works: Cloud9 says it has deconstructed the traditional data warehouse infrastructure and processes and instead uses a technique it calls versioned replication. With this approach, Cloud9 makes no upfront assumptions about how warehoused data will eventually be used. Instead, it manages the warehouse separately from the solutions being built on it, thus turning the data warehouse tier into the system of record of historical truth. The automated data warehouse technology comprises a replication service and proprietary data management technology called versioned database. It offers a number of advantages over a traditional relational database, such as the ability to ensure that changes are cumulative rather than destructive, the company says. Cloud9 provides proprietary and industry-standard interfaces to the database technology.

Where it resides: Internal data center

How much it costs: Varies by deployment

Who's using it: Dow Jones, Schneider Electric, Thermo-Fisher Scientific and Thomson Reuters, among others

How to become SaaS savvy

3. Company Name: CVM Solutions

Headquarters: Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.

What it offers: CVM Supplier Central, supplier risk and performance management SaaS.

Why it's worth watching? 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.

How it works: Built on the Force.com application development platform, Supplier Central provides supplier management in three steps. First, it provides the ability for users to "clean" supplier information by consolidating silos of supplier data, standardizing names and information, eliminating duplication, and establishing family linkage and supplier groups. Next, it allows users to centralize and standardize information, automate manual processes, empower suppliers through online portals and survey suppliers for prequalification. Finally, with an eye toward supplier intelligence, users can use the software to monitor compliance and risk programs, track standard metrics, examine supplier performance, and automate corrective action plans and risk mitigation, CVM Solutions describes.

Where it resides? Force.com infrastructure

How much it costs: Pricing scales based on usage and product functionality required, but a company spokesman says customers can get started with CVM Supplier Central for less than $50,000 per year

Who's using it: Booz Allen Hamilton, Colgate-Palmolive, Delta Air Lines, ExxonMobil and Wal-Mart, among others

4. Company Name: Exoprise Systems

Headquarters: Waltham, Mass.

What it offers: CloudReady, a SaaS application suite for evaluating the readiness of on-premises systems, orchestrating cloud migrations and providing real-time performance monitoring for cloud-based applications.

Why it's worth watching: 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 e-mail usage so you can determine which of a growing array of Web-based or cloud e-mail 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."

How it works: In a five-step process, users first tap into the CloudReady service and download ExoShell, a secure Web service application that lets Exoprise analyze the enterprise infrastructure without need for complex database and Web servers. They then configure, adjust and schedule their assessments. At the appointed time, ExoShell scans the messaging environment, gathering information on cost, reliability and end-user usage that it then securely uploads to CloudReady for analysis. Finally, users can use the customizable analysis results to help determine the right cloud offering for their organizations, Exoprise says.

Where it resides: Rackspace hosted data center.

How much it costs: Per-mailbox pricing for CloudReady Insight, available now, with pricing bands between $10 and $2 per mailbox, depending on the size of the total assessment; free trial available. CloudReady Monitor, in beta, also is available for free trial. (The third piece of the suite, CloudReady Control, is slated for availability later this year.)

Who's using it: A mix of commercial, government and education institutions have run assessments, ExoPrise says, but has no names to share at this time.

5. Company Name: GageIn

Headquarters: Santa Clara, Calif.

What it offers: GageIn, content-driven business information networking and employee collaboration.

Why it's worth watching: 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.

How it works: GageIn aggregates information about a company from corporate Web sites, news outlets, social content sites and other such sources. Users configure agents and keywords to receive alerts on business events such as new product announcements, mergers and acquisitions and leadership changes at companies of their choosing. Networking and social tools connect users and facilitate communications with an external business network and collaboration with colleagues. It runs on a proprietary J2EE-based platform that can directly and automatically convert business requirements into data access, business logic and user interface workflow modules, the company says.

Where it resides: Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).

How much it costs: Free public beta; following mid-summer general availability, the basic service will be available for free to individuals who follow five or fewer companies and for a fee for those who want to follow more than five companies. Enterprise customers - GageIn's target market - will receive additional features; pricing not yet disclosed.

Who's using it: Individual business users and unnamed companies participating in limited group tests and moving toward full-scale adoption, GageIn says.

6. Company Name: Host Analytics

Headquarters: Redwood City, Calif.

What it offers: Host Analytics CPM, corporate performance management SaaS suite

Why it's worth watching: 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 Lafayette, La., emergency management firm. "Our 100 to 125 budgeting managers would do everything in Excel files, like they do in most organizations. [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."

How it works: Host Analytics, created using Microsoft's SQL Server database, OLAP engine and application development tools, tightly integrates with Excel. Users make updates and run queries from an Excel-like browser interface. All applications use a single database model, which enables integration and sharing across the suite. In addition, Host Analytics can interface with any general ledger or other source system for automated loads from operational systems. An integrated OLAP/Relational architecture handles budgeting and multidimensional reporting, the company says.

Where it resides: Private cloud at Xiolink hosting facility.

How much it costs: $250 per user, per month

Who's using it: Aon, Otis Spunkmeyer, Proctor & Gamble and Schumacher Group, among others

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7. Company Name: KnowledgeTree

Headquarters: Raleigh, N.C.

What it offers: KnowledgeTree, open-source document management SaaS.

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