A new version of SAAS for areas with internet connectivity challenges

I have been trying to appropriately classify software systems that I use in mHealth applications and finally found a term that helps understand a new class of applications for areas with internet connectivity challenges.

Offline-Enabled SAAS Web Applications
What do you think? Here’s my rationale. Offline-enabled means that the SAAS web app can function without an internet connection. Software as a service (SAAS) means that you pay-as-you-go for the software package as a fully supported service provided by the company. A web application is a piece of software that runs from the internet and doesn’t require local installation.

How is this possible?
New technologies in HTML5 and javascript allow for local storage on the device within the browser. Maybe they’re not new, but they’re more widely supported on mobile devices. PouchDB is a version of CouchDB that works in local storage and synchronizes to a web server. This technology is on the cutting edge of development and is incredibly exciting. These systems allow users to take the software offline and run it from the storage found on the phone.

Gmail is an offline-enabled web SAAS application. Google serves you ads instead of the pay-as-you-go model. Have you ever used the mobile version of Gmail? I prefer it to the native app on my Android device because I know it’s always up to date. Gmail mobile, just like the web app is a javascript application that runs on your phone or computer in your browser. Once loaded, only messages and search queries are transmitted from the Goolge servers. You can reply to messages, compose new messages and even browse old messages without an internet connection. Once connected, the app sends the messages. Everything else gets saved locally to your outbox.

The SAAS model is superior to the mobile app model because updates are controlled by the provider instead of approved by the user. An offline enabled SAAS web application that uses HTML5 local storage updates automatically when you connect to the internet and view the page.

Offline-Enabled SAAS Enterprise Solutions
We must take this a step further and discuss “Enterprise Solutions” to define a capability that exists for businesses working in areas with internet connectivity challenges. Enterprise solutions are complex solutions that address multiple needs toward an outcome. Examples of enterprise solutions in the mHealth field include managing mobile workers, communicating through multiple means as well as delivering the core functionality of offline mobile data collection. Ona.io is an example of an Offline-Enabled SAAS Enterprise Solution because they provide multi-modal data collection, embedded data views with aggregation and statistics to track the current status of each question of your project. Ona.io and it’s predecessor formhub are the early adoptors in this space because they provide the core functionality of data collection through a mobile app and an integreated offline-enabled web SAAS app through Enketo (see description of Enketo below).

Open Data Kit (ODK) is a do-it-yourself open source tool that serves the core functionality of offline mobile data collection that syncs to the server. However, the ODK tools only deploy as a mobile app. Enketo is a third party software system that connects to your DIY version of ODK and allows you to collect data from a computer. Enketo effectively extends the capability of ODK to a DIY multi-modal offline-enabled SAAS enterprise solution. Fortunately, these systems can be mixed and matched to meet the needs of your organization. For example, you can extend ODK further to add SMS integration or data analysis packages on the back end.

I believe Offline-Enabled SAAS Systems are the way of the future. I’ve provided a few examples of successful systems that meet this definition and hope others will emerge to meet the demands of the billions of people with internet connectivity challenges.


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