Software as a Service (SaaS) and the Cloud

Avue has been providing production-level, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS, or cloud) computing to the Federal HR community since 2001.  Over the last ten years, clients have received the benefits of increasingly more sophisticated technologies that have been deployed in the Avue platform and infrastructure upgrades that address increases in usage (high levels of concurrent users), more SaaS-oriented technology upgrades (such as SOA and other services), as well as increases in cyber-security requirements and NIST/FISMA  standards.

By eliminating the need to install and run the application on the customer’s own data center, SaaS alleviates the customer’s burden of software maintenance, ongoing operation, and support.

The distinction between SaaS and other applications delivered over the Internet is that SaaS solutions are developed specifically to leverage web technologies such as the browser, thereby making them web-native. The data design and architecture of SaaS applications are specifically built with a “multi-tenant” backend, thus enabling multiple customers or users to access a shared platform and application functionality.  This enables the SaaS solution, unlike the client-server or application service provider) to leverage enormous economies of scale in the deployment, management, support through the entire software lifecycle.

Another departure from traditional IT business models is that SaaS providers, instead of adopting the usual software licensing model, generally charge on a subscription basis for access to a service that includes, at a minimum, hosting of the software as well as access to its feature functionality.  In the Federal Government sector the SaaS business model results in funding for the service being classified as “Operations and Maintenance” (O&M) funds rather than “Development, Modernization, and Enhancement” (DME) funding.

Avue is offered as an unlimited concurrent user subscription, per-seat licensing fees or volume pricing based on estimated usage.  Unlimited concurrent usage is critical to Federal agencies because many HCM functions are highly seasonal and peaks in concurrent users vary substantially.  For example, consider the following peak usage drivers: Surge hiring for seasonal or temporary employees;

• Surge hiring following a long period under a Continuing Resolution or budget-imposed hiring freeze;
• Performance management cycles such as plan acknowledgement, mid-year ratings, and end of year appraisals;
• Open season for health benefits elections; and
• Mass personnel action processing following a reorganization or workforce reshaping activity.

But not all SaaS offerings are created equal.  SaaS architectures are generally classified as belonging to one of four “maturity levels,” whose key attributes are configurability, multi-tenant efficiency, and scalability. Avue’s SaaS platform is rated at a Level 4 Maturity Level.  Each level is distinguished from the previous one by the addition of one of those three attributes.

For Federal agencies, Avue is one of the few available HCM SaaS providers and is the only Level 4 provider. Avue retains responsibility for all matters related to the typical software development lifecycle plus access to the platform and application, service level agreement adherence, and other associated services. In addition, Avue is unique in the professional services it provides its clients on an unlimited basis as part of the fixed price subscription. Avue services include:

• all help desk services,
• user account and role management,
• online tutorials and instruction,
• usability analysis and improvements,
• concierge services for higher-end users,
• onsite training, manager briefings, employee town hall meetings, and in-depth classroom training for staff professionals, and
professional services ranging from consulting, change management, HR service delivery, special projects, position management, classification studies, climate surveys, and pre-DEU audit preparation.Everything is provided on demand.

In a true “game-changer” for the reach and power of a SaaS platform, during the past year Avue has also added “virtualization” to its multi-tenancy, as depicted to the right.

One of the principal benefits of virtualization is that it can increase the system’s capacity without additional programming and combining multi-tenancy and virtualization provides still greater flexibility so that we can further tune the system for optimal performance.

Virtualization is a framework for dividing the resources of a computer into multiple execution environments. Avue uses virtualization to create multiple “virtual” entities within the construct of a primary customer — such as having each customer’s business units partitioned while retaining enterprise (customer-wide) view, reporting, and data roll-up.  Site virtualization allows individual components within an agency or Department to have business processes that are uniquely tailored to each component’s business or operational needs.  At the same time, data is tracked in a consistent manner to allow higher levels of the organization and oversight parties to have an apples-to-apples view of the component’s operations.  For example, the requirement to report against OPM’s 80-Day Hiring Model can be accommodated even when business processes vary widely by tracking the same business events, i.e., the job posting event, regardless of where in the business process that event occurs and reporting cycle time on the basis of these commonly tracked metrics.

As is evident above, Avue meets the Office of Management and Budget’s “Future First” strategy and design principles which “There are a number of general design principles that apply to Future First architectural designs for shared IT services, including:

• Multiple consumers for each service, with minimal customization;
• Process standardization (commercial product/workflow adoption);
• Web-based solutions with standardized application interfaces;
• Object reuse, machine-readable data, and XML data formats;
• Cloud-based application hosting and virtualization of servers;
• Security controls and continuous monitoring of service operations;
• Configuration management and version control.”