Web-to-Print: SaaS vs. Licensed

When choosing to enter Web-to-Print for your business, one must choose to either rent the software solution or purchase the solution outright. There are certainly many reasons to get involved with this Internet-based application, and sometimes your choice to enter this arena is not necessarily a choice, but a customer driven force.

When faced with the decision to make the leap, you should evaluate the different solutions in the marketplace. Also look internally to identify your resources, capital, and time before signing on the line. There are three main aspects when looking at these two different models of software solutions: costs, functions, and infrastructure.


When evaluating different solutions, the largest component of the solution will be cost driven. How much is the solution? What, if any, are the fees associated with the solution? Are there specific costs for things like template building, credit card acceptance, uploading user data?

The cost questions differ between models as well. For example, in the SaaS (Software as a Service) model, you should expect startup fees as well as monthly fees to keep the service. In the licensed model, you will have one time purchase costs as well as an annual maintenance fee, but you would not have any monthly fees. The other difference is that the SaaS model will be significantly lower in initial cost than the licensed software.


In addition to the costs, the functions may differ between solutions and, more importantly, the ability to customize the solution will differ greatly. Standard Web-to-print functions are the basic things that all solutions should provide. Among the features to expect are online storefront (the ability to support templates and online ordering), users, groups, approval rules, PDF output, online proofing, reporting, and administration. Further advanced features like Web-based design tools, image libraries, variable print, personalized URLs (PURLs), and GURLs will most likely have an impact of the level of cost for the solution. They will also affect the resource requirement on your business to be able to support those levels of functions.

Most solution providers modularize their additional features, which results in higher costs, but also increases the benefit you can provide to your client.


Infrastructure plays a major role in the SaaS vs. licensed decision because this encompasses the entirety of your existing business, from hardware to software to personnel. In the SaaS model, the level of hardware and software is minimal due to the fact that you are not hosting the solution within your facility. The solution provider is maintaining all the necessary hardware and software, which is why you are paying a monthly fee.

In the licensed model, you must provide your own server hardware, server software, database software, software licenses, Internet connection (something worthy of hosting an Internet-based app), and redundancy.

Personnel requirements do not differ much between the models and you can use existing people within your organization to fill the required roles. Graphics skill, customer service, and sales are all the required roles that play a part in both models. A dedicated IT employee would be optional if you chose SaaS. The licensed model, however, demands that type of employee.

So why would you spend that kind of money on a licensed solution? The answer is customization. While the SaaS model is certainly appealing from the cost standpoint, the ability to customize the solution to exactly meet your customer's expectations is limited. With the licensed model you can make custom modifications without having to apply those modifications to all customers as you would have to do with the SaaS model.

In my office, we were driven towards a licensed software model for this exact reason. A client wanted a specific function that wasn't available on the SaaS model. After we decided to go the licensed route, a whole world of customization opportunity opened and we can now offer very advanced custom solutions.

In closing, make sure you fully evaluate the many solutions and chose wisely between the SaaS and licensed models. Map out your business process and workflow so you can be prepared to change the way you do business. Identify your internal resources and plan properly to ensure greater success. Utilize the potential solution providers and let them create a great solution. Pick the right fit for your business and reap the great rewards Web-to-Print brings.

Mike Caruso is senior director of Information Technology at Sir Speedy, Scottsdale. He specializes in technical information about software and Internet applications. Contact Mike at mcaruso@sirspeedyscottsdale.com or 480/496-2185.