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Build Your Own SaaS

Our guest today is Jakub Dziwisz, the CEO and founder of Orbify, a web-based SaaS solution for earth observation applications. Although he does not come from a GIS background, Jakub has always enjoyed problem-solving through technology. Originally, this consisted of being a software engineer focused on expanding people’s horizons and perspectives through the travel industry. Now, Orbify helps expand the geospatial capabilities of everyday people, solving not-so everyday problems. 

Why Merge GIS and SaaS?

First of all, what is Software as a Service (SaaS)? Well,

SaaS products are traditionally web-based software that greatly reduce the amount of time it takes for customers to get up and running with their own products by utilizing the SaaS product’s infrastructure.

Generally, these products follow a ‘pay only for what you use’ format, very similar to how some cell phone providers offer custom mobile data plans. 

SaaS products can be great for GIS because they leverage the SaaS provider’s hardware and software resources, allowing customer applications to live and run in the cloud. This lowers the barrier to entry in terms of resources for creating an application. Most SaaS products allow users to select their application’s function or design from a series of preset templates, or DIY in some other modular way. This also lowers the barrier by reducing the amount of time and expertise necessary to get started on a project. 

Another huge time saver with SaaS products is that, due to being web-based, there is no installation needed. Organization administrators can configure all their user settings on the backend, and easily regulate access to their application. This makes it a very popular platform with large companies who have a huge and constantly changing employment pool. 

Although the pay-as-you-go method has been popularized in cloud storage, and to a certain degree in the ArcGIS platform for some analysis using credits, SaaS providers that are creating infrastructure for GIS workflows are few and far between. 

The Need for SaaS in EOS: An Analogy

In the 1920s, Henry Ford introduced the world to the raw efficiency of the assembly line. Before this, the process of building a car was slow, and expensive. By introducing the assembly line, cars could now be built in a streamlined fashion which was faster and easier, ultimately making vehicles accessible to a much wider market. 

In the 1990s, it was customary to go to a travel agency if you needed to go on a trip. The travel agent would list for you the often limited available flights and fares, and you could take it or leave it. With the introduction of budget travel services like Expedia and Hotwire, consumers were provided with options to modify their plans to their needs. This resulted in a more competitive airline market, and democratized the space by putting the consumer in control of what they consumed.  

Finally, in 2007, Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone. People had been familiar with the telephone, even the cell phone, for decades. Similarly, they had been familiar with MP3 players for years. The idea, however, of being able to have both of these things in one changed how people judged the capabilities of technology. 

For decades, GIS users and earth scientists have been working across dozens of applications, tools, script, and data sources.

By bringing SaaS to this niche, geospatial data workflows can become faster, easier, and more accessible. As it succeeds and more players enter the space, consumers will find they have more competitive options, and that their needs and dollars are in control of what happens next, and they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what they want. 

Creating a SaaS User Experience

The best SaaS products are intuitive, and feel almost effortless to navigate. This is in stark contrast to the alternatives- environment-specific scripts, custom desktop installations, and coordinating and managing server resources. Planning and designing a great SaaS product is heavily dependent on knowing what your clients need, and what their customers want. 

In order to build an app, there are four main elements, data, functionality, the output, and the packaging/user interface.

Normally, it takes quite a lot of time, code, and infrastructure to build an application like this. It often even requires a full team of developers. Using SaaS software, something like this can be configured by only one developer, and relatively quickly. 

Let’s take a look at an example, using Orbify as our SaaS platform.

Orbify was developed with low tech skilled end users in mind, who need to solve a spatial question on a regular basis.

The Orbify platform is a bit complicated for someone with little technology experience to configure, so the most likely situation is that a developer has been contracted to build this application. Our end user in this case is an ecology graduate student who needs an application to monitor shipping vessel activity to better understand how this overlaps with known whale migration paths. 

A user-friendly experience is key to the speed here. This starts with the data aspect. An interface like Orbify comes packaged with access to a catalog of existing cloud data that the developer can connect to and use in their application.

As the source code is completely customizable, they have the flexibility to connect to their own data as well.

For our scenario, the developer is able to connect to hosted AIS ship tracking data, and import their own data for their whale migration paths. 

The functionality needed for our application is to visualize the ship and whale data in the context of time. This is easily accomplished in Orbify by selecting the ship tracking application template, and enabling the time slider. The output for this project is a map, which is accomplished through the template. Finally, the user interface will largely be directed by the template, but the developer can select from a number of existing no-code buttons and tools to include in the interface, and customize the look of the application as desired. 

In the end, our graduate student has a simple, custom application that was created with minimal man-hours, and will only be billed for what they use.

This scenario can be extended to all kinds of potential customers for whom the traditional custom application would be too expensive, farmers, foresters, firefighters, etc.

By reducing the barriers to entry for using custom GIS applications, more people can be exposed to the wonders of geospatial, and we can collectively work towards solving problems that weigh on everyone from the individual, to the global organization.