Packaged for Delivery

With creative, customized applications, these entrepreneurial users are building their own SaaS systems.

Just when you thought you had a grip on your techie acronyms, along comes another one that experts predict spells the future of software development. The good news is that this one has the potential to build new business opportunities, too.

Platform as a service, or PaaS, is essentially a virtual tool bag with all the high-tech gadgetry you need to build, test and deploy custom software for every imaginable application. Rather than buying and installing application building blocks on their own hardware, PaaS users tap into Web-based integrated development environments such as .Net or Java to quickly build exactly what they want. And in some cases, they in turn sell what they build or outsource it to other companies.

"Think of PaaS as a sandbox where you can build an application that, once built, you can also run on the same [Web-based] platform," says Kevin Weiss, CEO of Author Solutions Inc., a $100 million publishing company that tapped PaaS to build what he calls "a full-scale publishing ERP system" in a span of just four months.

"PaaS is where and how you build the application; SaaS is what you've got when you're done with it," Weiss explains.

The company hired Appirio Inc., a San Mateo, Calif.-based systems integrator, to develop its Gemini custom-publishing system on Force.com, Salesforce.com Inc.'s PaaS offering. Author Solutions uses the Gemini software to track all content, including the millions of edits it makes to the thousands of manuscripts it publishes each year.

"Gemini includes content management and an extensive workflow system with an enormous number of triggers along the way because there's a lot of tracking back and forth between authors and our publishing experts," Weiss explains.

The system, which has been up and running for almost a year, has allowed Author Solutions to execute its own business plans much faster and more cheaply, and to take on outsourced work from other companies -- thus generating new revenue.

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