What does SaaS have to do with MaaS?

March 11, 2019
Understanding the difference between the two is a key step to harnessing their potential in the mass transit market to deliver optimized systems.

MaaS and SaaS: is this an odd case of rhyming buzzwords (with a somewhat comical effect), a rhyme that has no real impact on mass transit agencies or operators? Should you care about the interplay of MaaS and SaaS?

In this article, I’ll argue you should care quite a lot, and that, in fact, both terms will end up impacting the future of mass transit and its technology (and business) infrastructure.

What I’ll argue is that MaaS - whatever form it will eventually take, from scooters to buses and trains - will be based on cloud-native infrastructure (or, in other words, applications that are based on the same infrastructure as SaaS). I will then argue that mass transit operators need to upgrade their core technology infrastructure to cloud-native applications, so that they can modernize and remain competitive and, most importantly, so that they can take part in the future of MaaS.

MaaS? SaaS?

Let’s begin with definitions:

  • According to the MaaS Alliance, Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is the integration of various forms of transport services into a single mobility service accessible on demand.
  • According to Wikipedia, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is a method of software delivery and licensing in which software is accessed online via a subscription, rather than bought and installed on individual computers.

This raises the question again: how does the seamless provision of mobility services tie into a new way of delivering software? To begin making the point, let’s examine the commonality of both terms - providing a technology-driven service, on the cloud.

The importance of cloud-native

Let’s imagine you've traveled back in time, to the 1980s. You’re asked to explain Gmail. Will you say “this software is on the cloud”? If you say that, no one will understand, since “the cloud” wouldn’t mean anything to the person with whom you are speaking. Now, think of how you’d explain using “the cloud” for applications as opposed to the desktop software the 1980s person is using. Whatever explanation you’d use, the person you’ll be talking to will think your powers of explanation are quite cloudy.

On the other hand, if you were to imagine planning a MaaS offering (even a simple one, covering bus, shared scooters and ride-hailing), it would be immediately evident you need “the cloud”. Passengers would use apps to indicate demand and reserve scooters, rides, etc. Scooter, bus and ride operators would need input from the app in order to better plan their resources, locate their assets and schedule their operations. It cannot work any other way. It certainly can’t work like today’s old-fashioned mass transit scheduling or planning - in a discrete silo, on someone’s on-premise computer, with no connectivity to the internet, other sites and apps.

Cloud-native isn’t just important for reasons of connecting passengers and mobility. Cloud native apps are typically faster and powerful. And any mobility service needs that muscle to process massive data and be able to make decisions required to make MaaS work well.

The modernization of mass transit through SaaS

If you've read the article up until now, it becomes obvious that the next technology generation for mass transit has to be delivered by a cloud-native platform. This is especially true given that mass transit planning and scheduling means heavy lifting. Optimization algorithms are notoriously slow and cloud-native apps can make them faster.

Yet, today, scheduling software is either desktop-based or client-server based, approaches that are fairly old-fashioned compared to the prevalence and success of SaaS offerings. This has a real impact on mass transit - with slow optimizations that are the opposite of business agility. Modern SaaS systems offer better scheduling, with speed and advanced technology. But more importantly, they set the groundwork to allow mass transit to modernize and fit in with the age of MaaS.

Because future MaaS platforms connect many services into one cohesive service for the passenger, “classic” mass transit needs to seamlessly integrate with MaaS, on the operational and technology side. Moreover, if we were to add a demand-responsive element to mass transit, it could not happen if mass transit were separated technologically from the MaaS platform.

What can MaaS SaaS do?

Let's think about SaaS as being the backend of transit, an intelligent engine that powers the entire mass transit operation. The MaaS part is the passenger-facing offering that offers passengers ability to purchase a subscription that bundles all mobility solutions.

The promise of MaaS SaaS is the ability to optimize all modes of transportation to meet demand; offering the right vehicle at the right time. MaaS offers the user all available options, with AI-based MaaS Saas (enough buzz words?) we can change the type of mobility options available based on the demand, offering different mobility options for different times of day, different users and other variables.

Amos Haggiag is the CEO and Founder of Optibus.