Reading the announcement of Stratacache’s launch of a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering on November 7th 2008, I can’t help but think of President Graves’ words on commencement day in 1980 at the College of William and Mary, “welcome to the society of educated men and women”. Although I risk dating myself with that reference, I pleased to point out that Real Digital Media first offered our SaaS NEOCAST platform as early as 2003. So indeed, welcome Stratacache, to the society of educated men and women. And thank you, Stratacache, for adding a modicum of validation to the SaaS model for managing digital signage networks. Having the self-anointed consolidators of the industry change business models is indeed instructive for us all.

Of all the drivers of the SaaS model, perhaps the key one for digital signage networks is the hesitance on the part of corporate buyers to invest in the resources, equipment and specialized skill sets to deploy and manage a network. For many entrepreneurial enterprises, the hesitance is replaced by financial inability. The SaaS model lends itself quite readily to meeting the scaling demands of each, allowing those interested in digital signage to test the concept while focusing investment on execution rather than backend infrastructure. It has always been our view to enable customers to grow into an enterprise model, rather than burden them with one from the outset. Clearly, the marketplace has spoken, and to Stratacache’s credit, they have listened. Their announcement of the move, however, presented them with the challenge of making the decision sound like original thinking while not abandoning their installed base.

A quote from within the press release manages to trash the legacy model installed worldwide, while also being somewhat presumptive: “Offering ActiVia for Media as a SaaS solution provides significant benefits and efficiencies without the complexity ordinarily associated with launching a digital signage network,” said Louie Hollmeyer, STRATACACHE VP of Marketing. “This option facilitates a quicker time-to-market, reduces deployment costs, and eliminates maintenance and software upgrade fees. We are launching this service to fill the void that will be left by several current digital signage SaaS offerings leaving the marketplace.”

Mr. Hollmeyer’s comments fall short of an apology to current users for the longer time-to-market, increased deployment costs and costly maintenance and software upgrade fees that have been absorbed by ActiVia customers to date. But the company’s move to SaaS sure feels like a Board-level strategy reached after assessing the marketplace and failed pursuits carefully. While Hollmeyer smugly suggests that the ActiVia SaaS offering is an altruistic effort to proactively fill a need in the market left by SaaS solutions that he expects to fail, it looks a whole lot more like a first step in addressing an overly complex and costly legacy architecture borne of the company’s roots in software (not media) distribution.

We’d be remiss to not point out that the “complexity ordinarily associated with launching a digital signage network” that Hollmeyer refers to is a function not just of the backend management application, but also of required layers (strata, if you please) of hardware and software required in the field by certain solution providers. A SaaS backend offering is most simple and cost effective when married with a purpose-built appliance with embedded software in the field.

SaaS back end applications require reliable and redundant servers in state of the art facilities. Without doubt, Stratacache will make the appropriate investments to incorporate that into their offering. It is important to remember that secure, scalable and redundant data centers are a necessary, but not sufficient price of entry as a SaaS offering. The devil is always in the details, which is to say it is the software and its functionality, ease of use and extensibility that matter most. We trust that Stratacache will have a competitive offering, and we welcome them to the core of the digital signage marketplace, where customers and users are the final arbiters.