Small business owners rejoice: the latest approach to faster, cheaper business apps encourages developers to kick up their feet and lie back on a cloud.
Introducing application platform as a service (aPaaS), a cloud environment made to build, manage, and deliver business applications with less work. aPaaS is the answer to a number of longstanding app development pain points, but aPaaS must first be understood—what it is and why it matters—before its benefits can be realized in your business.
In this article we’ll define what is aPaaS, and review what modern benefits aPaaS stands to deliver to business application development in small businesses:
- What is aPaaS?
- What does aPaaS stand for?
- What is the difference: SaaS vs. IaaS vs. aPaaS?
- What benefit does aPaaS offer to small businesses?
- How do you build the business case for aPaaS?
What is aPaaS? A direct definition will tell you that aPaaS is a cloud service that provides a development environment to build and deliver business applications. aPaaS is characterized by low-code solutions, better scalability, and cloud services which build the business case for small business adoption. But you’ve probably got more questions, so let’s go back to basics.
You may be familiar with a few other distant relatives in the anything as a service (XaaS) family tree:
Like other members in the anything as a service (XaaS) dynasty, aPaaS inherits a barely pronounceable name in need of deciphering. Application platform as a service (aPaaS) is a development environment characterized by the following features:
- Rapid application development (RAD).
- Low-code tools which substantially cut the amount of coding knowledge necessary to build apps.
From a business perspective aPaaS does two things:
- Brings the demanding art of programming business applications down to earth—to be accomplished by non-developers.
- Reduces the risk of retread that application developers face with each project by allowing them to develop apps quickly and focus more on the creative aspects of app development.
aPaaS stands for application platform as a service:
- The “a” in aPaaS = application or business software
- PaaS = Platform as a service (PaaS). PaaS is a cloud environment that hosts things like integration software, business process management (BPM), data base services, and application development. PaaS delivers access to these services to your business from the cloud.
The difference between PaaS and aPaaS is slight, but here’s how you can separate the two:
PaaS encompasses all platform services (e.g., integrations, operating systems, programming language execution environments, application development, application deployment, and other platform services). It is best to think of PaaS as an umbrella term, parent of aPaaS. Microsoft Azure and Heroku are examples of PaaS solutions.
aPaaS is a subcategory of PaaS. aPaaS refers to PaaS solutions which exclusively offer cloud services to build apps, but do not offer other PaaS capabilities. Examples of aPaaS include OutSystems and Mendix.
This is changing as aPaaS solutions evolve. As Gartner explains, hype for aPaaS is beginning to blot out any reference to PaaS and its differences. People are no longer talking about PaaS, they’re talking about aPaaS.
SaaS is a software experience that is owned, delivered, and managed remotely by one or more providers.
IaaS, or infrastructure as a service, are networking (servers) and data storage (datacenter) solutions self-provisioned and managed over the internet via the cloud.
How aPaaS is like SaaS: It deploys with the trademark SaaS software experience. aPaaS tools and applications are hosted, managed, and uptime guaranteed by the provider, off-premises. SaaS benefits like subscription payment models, non-disruptive upgrades, and no license fees are also present with aPaaS.
How aPaaS is like IaaS: It provides cloud deployed infrastructure (servers, data centers) but also bridges access to business intelligence/analytics, content management, and application development tools.
Application development in small businesses has little resemblance to its younger days:
- The modern expectation for time-to-live (how quickly your dev team can get an application to market) is fast and getting faster.
- Today, there are more considerations and factors to bankrolling a successful app than ever before.
- Demand for mobile apps in particular is on the rise year over year—meeting Gartner predictions.
- Steep requirements for hard skills (like coding languages) are making talented developers more difficult to recruit for.
The net result is traditional app development needs to change and become more agile. To face these modern app development challenges and more, aPaaS is worth consideration.
According to Garter (available to clients), enterprise users “tend to describe the benefits of aPaaS in terms of productivity — including time to market — and operational agility — that is, the ability to respond to operational conditions such as increased users and data.”
For small businesses, the benefits of aPaaS are similar, and so I’ve broken down the top three major benefits aPaaS offers to small to mid-sized organizations below:
With aPaaS solutions, you don’t need be a veteran programmer to build business applications.
Low-code tools offered by an aPaaS development environment abstract away from code and offer tools to streamline application development. Low-code tools and aPaaS are giving rise to a new class of non-developers by trade, called citizen developers. Citizen developers create useful business apps without vast expertise and coding knowledge. In theory, assisted by low-code development tools, anyone can make a useful app.
aPaaS also offers opportunity to seasoned developers to create business applications faster, get them to market quicker, and without bogging down developers with repetitive tasks that stifle creativity. There is an opportunity to shrink the gargantuan task of app development—projects that typically take months or years to finish can be completed in weeks, even days.
Appian, a low-code app development product geared towards small businesses is one example of an aPaaS solution. There exist a variety of aPaaS options and providers offering varying features—several of Appian’s capabilities are previewed below:
On the Appian platform—a type of aPaaS solution—app development is streamlined with intuitive object search for quick, convenient reuse (top left) and publication tools (top right) including review of security and completeness of your application.
This is how it works: aPaaS provides the underlying infrastructure for app development projects. It’s like a template for apps; it writes, trials, and optimizes the foundation code for you. This means app developers don’t have to waste time creating this foundation from scratch.
They can immediately strike out at the differentiating part of the app’s code to make something new and solve a different range of business problems. The result is agility and opportunity for business growth.
What to tell your boss: With better productivity comes cost savings. According to Garter, claimed savings can be as high as 350 percent—mostly due to reduced time to market for business applications. aPaaS solutions have potential to bring app development into a modern era which prioritizes and rewards business agility.
IT departments deal with a lot. Extreme project load and/or a development backlog that extends into the distance. Often, developer’s ability to deal with production pressure and to build creative solutions is stretched to the point of collapse.
The ability for app development teams to scale its resource demands up or down depending on workload is a major benefit of aPaaS.
Low-code solutions make this possible by making every employee capable of coding—adding new meaning to the concept of all-hands projects. Citizen developers can step in to help alleviate some of the burden on more skilled developers. Developers are in turn freed up and redirected towards higher skill capped work.
What to tell your boss: Labor can be easily and precisely controlled and managed with aPaaS.
When demand is high, citizen developers can scale up and fill in for seasoned developers, avoiding the time/costs to train or onboard employees.
As the pendulum swings to the other side and workload lightens, citizen developers can scale down, avoiding experienced developer layoffs, project interruption, and improving team stability.
The inherited SaaS and IaaS natures of aPaaS opens up many opportunities. With the development platform provisioned, the expense of hosting infrastructure and complexity when managing it on-premises can all be offloaded to the cloud.
According to Gartner, since aPaaS can be offered through a subscription, this also gives way to benefits: “simplified budgeting and better visibility into the costs of application development, allowing more accurate project estimates.”
This allows app development teams to focus less on the logistics of running app development tools and services, and more on their main priority and purpose which is creating quality apps.
What to tell your boss: aPaaS calms the choppy waters of app development by offloading infrastructure and hardware headaches to the cloud.
Unpredictable delays during application development due to hardware (e.g., waiting for test servers) are less of a concern when the hardware and responsible parties are outside the organization.
Like any good SaaS product, downtime is less of a concern for aPaaS. Neither is interruption due to upgrades which happen with nearly zero disruption. The business can focus on building marketable, creative, problem solving apps and less on sharpening tools and system maintenance.
aPaaS solutions are an ally to help your small business transition to modern app development, where agile, adaptive tools, and citizen developers are the selected traits for competitive evolution.
The next step is to match these aPaaS benefits with your existing app development process workflows and business goals. How could an aPaaS foundation, low-code tools, and citizen developers improve your current methods of app development?
Finally, the most important action—if you do anything, do this: speak to the development team. Prioritize their pain points and use these as a compass to guide change.
Here are some useful links to help you along the way to better app development: