Features and Characteristics of Software as a Service (SaaS)

Updated Oct 18, 2022.
Features and Characteristics of Software as a Service (SaaS)

The SaaS industry, driven by cloud computing and other innovations, is evolving rapidly. Most businesses use SaaS apps to improve their business processes and provide better service to customers. SaaS providers offer support for multiple users.

Although Software as a Service applications come in different types, like Customer Relationship Management software, they share common features and functionalities.

This article will discuss 13 key features and characteristics of Software as a Service (SaaS).

Let’s get started. 

Features and Characteristics of Software as a Service (SaaS)

SaaS applications are gradually becoming on-demand service solutions for many companies. When pitching your SaaS application and the developmental process needed with companies, some unique characteristics make SaaS software applications complete. 

Although most Software as a Service software tools vary from each other in several aspects, there are some unique characteristics that they all have in common. 

1. Multi-Tenancy Model

Multi-tenancy is a unique software architecture that can serve multiple tenants through a single deployment. The cloud provider performs the following responsibilities such as power management, backups, security, and system maintenance for users.

As they are more generally known through this model, tenants or customers are afforded the remarkable ability to customize some unique parts of the service application. 

Usually, these customizations are per requirements as the customer decides what features and qualities they want in their service application. It is a popular trend among SaaS applications to be designed so that each storage area is segregated per customer. 

Segregation of the storage area is possible by combining different databases in a precise location or a single database, having different sachems or in the same database, and utilizing discriminators to distinguish them from each other.

A multi-tenant SaaS model allows tenants to sign in using their credentials and gain access to the service while enabling each tenant to authenticate their own identity against their access management system.

Single Tenant vs Multi Tenant
Source: DEV Community

2. Automated Provisioning

Automated provisioning makes it easier for users to access SaaS applications from anywhere they desire.

Most of the users of SaaS applications are B2B and B2C customers, as there is a high demand by their customers for web services that provide them access credentials.

CREST API from Microsoft is a famous example of a SaaS application that provides automated provisioning, as it is one of the key characteristics of every SaaS provider.

Usually, SaaS providers and Cloud Service Broker (CSB) platforms use automated provisioning to provide users access based on demand. 

The de-provisioning ability of SaaS apps is another important characteristic that allows enterprise users to remove their access when they decide not to use the Software as a Service application.

Take the example of Salesforce, a SaaS app that allows users who specialize in sales to manage their sales-related operations. By simply invoking the APIs of Salesforce, customers are provided with unique identification on Salesforce. 

Salesforce allows another set of APIs to be created for users under the one the initial customer created. The access credentials are shared from the first customer to the new user. 

The popular B2B SaaS company allows users to delete API when customers wish to discontinue their access to its software application. 

3. Single Sign-On

Typically, an enterprise software would opt for a single identity system as a means of authenticating the various systems that are to be used up by their users. 

A singular identity system is a single page that provides enterprises with login credentials and access to all SaaS applications provided to their various users. 

With this critical feature, SaaS applications are easily integrated with various identity management systems without requiring many changes. 

Another reason this feature benefits enterprises is that the overhead cost and maintenance incurred in storing and maintaining multiple credentials per system are very high. Opting for a singular identity system helps reduce costs for enterprises. 

Single sign-on for SaaS applications makes it easy to authenticate against the existing identity system to provide a once for all logging-in experience to its customers. 

Without SIngle Sign On SSO - with SSO
Source: RenovoData

Most SaaS applications are in the habit of using either SAML or OpenID type of impersonations to enable single sign-on for users of their platform.

Users can authenticate their current login system with a single sign-on feature and validate their system usage.

4. Subscription-Based Billing

SaaS applications are viable because they are subscription-based. The subscription-based feature implies that customers only need to buy the SaaS applications when required and can opt to cancel their access to the application when there is no longer a need. 

With the subscription-based model that SaaS applications operate on, the standard pricing charges are devoid of the complexity of licensing and upgrading costs. 

The subscription-based billing that SaaS applications adhere to utilizes a seat-based charging structure in which the overall cost to be paid is decided by the number of quantities purchased. 

Although some SaaS service providers offer their customers different subscription periods, either monthly, quarterly, half-yearly, or annually, a large bulk of SaaS service providers run a usage-based billing system. 

5. High Availability

SaaS applications are readily available to users through the internet. Multiple tenants sharing SaaS applications make the demand for these applications high. SaaS application providers must provide their customers a high degree of SLA (service-level agreement). 

Since most SaaS applications adopt a multiple-tenant approach, they need to be accessible around the clock without limitations or obstacles. 

SaaS apps should use expose management and API monitoring to check health and availability factors continuously.

6. Elastic Infrastructure

SaaS applications usage varies largely across different periods. With this factor in mind, SaaS application providers must incorporate the right public cloud infrastructure to expand or shrink the deployment resources. 

Most modern SaaS applications are now built in such a way that it is easy to identify and determine the behaviors of the service infrastructure. 

SaaS applications have the potential to stretch and contract their services and deploy flexible infrastructure based on the resource requirement. 

The accessibility of resources works alongside monitoring agents within the deployment resources and is closely linked with the respective management servers. 

Internal policies and procedures are also incorporated as an essential part of the core architecture to make it easy for the infrastructure resources to expand or shrink. Microarchitecture-based SaaS applications are classic examples. 

SaaS application software such as Kubernetes and Docker hosting platforms are efficient in controlling and managing the elasticity of SaaS applications.

Another method that some SaaS application providers opt for is to build a policy engine solely tasked with obtaining and reacting to an event which in turn allows the infrastructure resources to be expanded or shrunk. 

7. Data Security

Security is a crucial characteristic of SaaS. This characteristic secures users’ data and business information from unauthorized access or prevents it from being corrupted.

The uniqueness of Software as a Service is that they are designed to accommodate multi-tenants, making it more critical for the tight security of the data under their platform. 

Usually, some unique types of data for particular tenants are enabled with encrypted storage and are left out of the reach of other tenants as it is only accessible to a particular tenant. 

An essential part of SaaS applications is a good key management framework that can integrate well with other external key management frameworks. 

SaaS application providers can improve their data security and users' confidence in their platform by integrating with Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASB), a cloud services broker, which help further shore up data security. 

With influential role Based Access Controls, data security is further guaranteed. 

Cloud access security broker (CASB)
Source: Spiceworks

8. Application Security

Vulnerabilities are often experienced with any system and need to be addressed to shore up the system and instill confidence on the users' part.

Like any other system, SaaS applications need an adequate protection feature that protects their platform from factors that tend to leave them vulnerable to data breaches.  

OWASP or SAN-identified vulnerabilities are top of the list of vulnerabilities that most SaaS providers shore up their systems against due to the sensitive data they deal with on their platforms. 

OWASP Top 10 vulnerabilities for 2021
Source: Infosec Train

One of the best ways SaaS applications contain these vulnerabilities is by incorporating and enabling strong identity and access management controls in their platform. 

Here are some other areas that SaaS applications utilize to strengthen their application security further.

  • Strong session management prevents hackers and hijackers from taking control of users' sessions.
  • Identifying unauthorized sessions and protecting the application from multi-session.
  • Step-up authentication, including password, and lockout, restrict access to the application. 
  • Multi-factor authentication. 
  • Protection against DoS, DDoS, and buffer overflow attacks. 
  • Integration points open with CASB, which helps gain multiple customers' confidence. 

9. Rate Limiting

As is customary with all businesses, there is a list of customers categorized as essential and are provided preferential treatment. It is the same with SaaS applications and their users. 

With rate limiting, SaaS providers can provide good service to all categories of customers. This feature provides services to customers based on their needs and preferences. 

Rate limiting is an effective business strategy that allows for the number of business transactions to be technically limited for smooth business transactions. 

An enterprise organization can enable and configure the rate-limiting configuration that SaaS applications provide to help manage its user base. 

10. Audit

Most SaaS providers provide users with audit logs of their business transactions to help businesses devise a business strategy from their business intelligence plans. 

SaaS applications also need to comply with government regulations and internal policies in providing their service to their customers. 

11. Configuration and Customization

SaaS applications allow for traditional application configurations, one of the many distinctive characteristics of SaaS. 

With this feature, a single user can alter the configuration parameters that provide a unique feel and look to them based on their predetermined configuration parameters. 

Think of it as a set of page layouts where customers can customize individual elements but cannot alter the whole page layout.

12. Open Integration Protocols

SaaS applications offer APIs and integration protocols that operate effectively with the network of enterprise organizations to make up for their inability to access internal systems, including databases.

The development of mashups and lightweight applications came from the standardization of APIs and the widespread availability of SaaS apps.

Mashups are as practical as software, as they integrate well with things outside the organization's firewall.

One distinctive characteristic of mashups is that it enables the creation of compound services to combine data and various functionalities from different services.

13. Accelerated Feature Delivery

Unlike most traditional software, SaaS applications are updated frequently. This feature comes from its unique central hosting, lack of multiple backend versions, unique configuration, and provider access to the app. 

With the agile approach that Software as a Service is built on, SaaS applications are equipped to provide an accelerated delivery feature. 

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Anastasia Belyh

Editor at FounderJar

Anastasia has been a professional blogger and researcher since 2014. She loves to perform in-depth software reviews to help software buyers make informed decisions when choosing project management software, CRM tools, website builders, and everything around growing a startup business.

Anastasia worked in management consulting and tech startups, so she has lots of experience in helping professionals choosing the right business software.