SaaS vs. Cloud – What’s the difference?

If you've been keeping up with the latest advances in online or web-based technologies, you have probably heard about SaaS (Software as a Service) and Cloud Computing. What's the difference? Or, rather, is there a difference?

Conceptually, you will find definitions for these two terms vary from web site to web site. One expert says one thing, another expert says another. To add to the confusion, you'll discover there is often a lot of overlap in these definitions. For the purposes of this web site, you can consider "cloud" just another word for the Web. The Internet and the Web are up there in the clouds, so to speak. Hence, "Cloud Computing." All of which means if you are using an online, web-based service or financial program, you're effectively using a cloud-based service.

So where does SaaS fit in? Any software company that offers their business and/or financial programs or services on demand through the Web can be considered Software as a Service. Contrast SaaS with traditional packaged desktop software products such as PowerPoint, Quickbooks, Excel or Word. In the old software model, you purchased a product and installed it on your computer. Of course, with on-site desktop software came the ongoing headache and hassle of installing and maintaining the product, getting updates, fixing bugs, purchasing upgrades, etc. In many cases, your firm might have to dedicate an IT or tech person to provide endless tech support for your on-site software. In addition, if you have 10, 20, 30 or more users in your firm, you would have to purchase a software license for each user or desktop. The costs can grow quickly!

SaaS or cloud-based services can eliminate or significantly reduce all of those problems for your firm and your clients. What's more, the program you access through the Web is always up to date because the provider can install updates on their own servers as often as needed. The SaaS provider takes care of security, software updates, etc. All you need is an Internet connection to start using a SaaS (or cloud-based) program.

Another thing to keep in mind with cloud or SaaS programs is that you don't own the software, you simply pay for the right to use it online for a given period of time. (Think "buy" versus "rent" as an analogy.) Cloud and SaaS solutions can be provided on a subscription or pay as you go service. They are usually scalable as well, which simply means as your business needs grow, the SaaS program can grow with your needs, too. It's all up to you, the provider of the service, and the contract you agree to.

How do you define SaaS and cloud-based programs? Do you disagree with the definitions described here? No matter how you define these terms, the key point to take away is that SaaS (or cloud computing) is transforming the way we interact and do business with our clients. And, ultimately, that's what truly matters most.

An online banking service tailored to the needs of accountants and bookkeepers? Yes!

Online banking has been around for years, mostly designed for the needs of consumers and small businesses. In fact, many major banks have offered bill payment services and other basic banking services long before there was an Internet. Do you remember Pronto or Bill Pay USA? Online banking has come a long way since then, especially as a powerful tool for accountants and bookkeepers to use to service their clients.

An excellent article on “Should Your Company Switch to Online Banking?” takes a fresh new look at online banking and why it just may be time for your firm to take another look at this convenient, time-saving service.

“As a small business owner, every day the office manager would bring me a stack of checks to sign,” says René Lacerte, founder and CEO of “Inevitably, I would have questions: Had the engineer approved this expense? When was the last time I paid this vendor — it seemed like I'd paid them just recently? Could I have more documentation about this invoice?” If that sounds like something you or your clients have experienced, take a few minutes now to read the full article.

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New ACH bill payment service from should have the banks worried!

If you hate giving away money to the banks, take a few minutes now to read this recent posting from ZDNet blogger Phil Wainewright. Phil's posting “ hits the banks when they're down” will have you and your clients cheering for Take a look. It's worth a read.

The link to Phil's post:

Tired of Endless Software Upgrades to Your Desktop Accounting Programs? So are we!

Many accounting firms face the same problem year in and year out: maintaining multiple versions of the same accounting software package in order to ensure they are always 100% in synch with their clients' financial data. I'm sure your firm has had to deal with this problem at one time or another. For example, client "A" uses an older version of QuickBooks. Client "B" uses the new version. Client "C" wants to upgrade or switch to another program. I don't know about you, but don't you wish all of your clients were standardized on the same version of the software program? One solution that can make our wish come true is moving our clients to a web-based SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) solution that typically requires zero upgrades and zero maintenance. That's why we are so excited about on-demand, web-based SaaS applications like Intacct and If you recently switched to a web-based solution, we'd love to know. What issues did you encounter making the switch? What are the benefits you enjoy? Would you recommend it to other CPAs? Please post your thoughts and experiences here.

We would also like to know what you think about maintaining multiple versions of the same program, as well as the endless software upgrade headache. We want to hear what you think. Please share your thoughts here.

Michael Murray, CFO,

Guest Blogger: Dan Druker from Intacct (9/1/09 - 9/7/09)

Great news! Our first guest blogger, Dan Druker from Intacct will be posting his thoughts on cloud computing and SaaS solutions starting September 1 through September 7, 2009. Please make time to read his posts and be ready to ask questions. Dan loves tough questions, so ask away. See you then.

C2B Blog Editor