PaaS vs SaaS – How your cloud strategy can play a role in delivering CX

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PaaS vs SaaS – How your cloud strategy can play a role in delivering CX

by Anne Norman


As a marketer, delivering the smart, connected experiences your customers want requires anticipating their needs in real time. These connected experiences ensure that an end-to-end journey is cohesive and seamless — so that each interaction builds upon the last, informed by customer data and intelligence, from behavior and intent.
While the vision for this level of engagement may be in-place, the reality is that a connected Martech stack is needed to provide the functionality to develop and activate these types of experiences. Two key considerations for scaling an organization’s marchitecture are a DXP (Digital Experience Platform) and the approach to connecting older legacy systems to newer platforms and ongoing maintenance.
As part of conversations with potential clients that are involved with or considering a technology transition, it’s not uncommon to hear comments like:
  • We need to improve the digital experience for my customers, but I know the technologies and systems in place are not allowing me to do that.
  • Will our platforms grow with us and support the experiences we're trying to create?
  • As we look to embrace a composable future, will our marchitecture support a seamless customer experience?

 While technologies alone will not drive world-class relationships with your customers, having a better understanding of where your organization is at with its technology enablement can help provide a roadmap to a strong Martech starting point – upon which your organization can deliver more connected customer experiences.  

The foundational cloud model of your Martech platforms may seem like an unlikely place for marketers to begin mapping their CX, but it's a key piece to set the stage for building end-to-end connected experiences. Making the selection between a PaaS (Platform as a Service) or SaaS (Software as a Service) solution not only impacts capability, but also determines how seamless the integration may be between platforms and the value it drives for your business long-term.

PaaS is a cloud computing model that provides customers a complete cloud platform—hardware, software, and infrastructure—for developing, running, and managing applications without the cost, complexity, and inflexibility that often comes with building and maintaining that platform on-premises.

SaaS is a way of delivering applications over the Internet—as a service. Instead of installing and maintaining software, you simplyaccess it via the Internet, freeing yourself from complex software and hardware management. 

Start with the end in mind

At Horizontal, we embrace an experience-forward philosophy that puts users and their needs at the center of how we design and build digital experiences. When evaluating potential directions to start building or evolving your marchitecture, it's critical to identify technology platforms that align back-of-house operations and how your business will properly support the experiences your customers engage with regularly. Marketers, CX leaders, digital professionals, and everyone involved with ensuring successful business outcomes for their organization have a slew of technology options to choose from. 

As you and your IT team work to identify a roadmap to attain the ideal approach to modernizing your organization’s technology, it’s important to consider composable solutions that allow the ability to ‘pick-and-choose’ different technology platforms for specialized capabilities as there's no one-size-fits-all approach. Listed below are some key factors to keep in mind that can help guide the decision-making process when selecting the right cloud foundation optimize your CX capability. 

Customization versus configuration

Central to figuring out which technology path is best for your business is understanding how unique and proprietary your experience will need to be to engage your customers and support the business. 

If you’re creating an experience that’s highly unique or creating a digital product that will essentially be the basis of your business, then a PaaS solution may be the best fit. As a highly scalable, cloud-based solution with the capability to support the development, testing and hosting in the same environment, PaaS solutions are ideal for providing the ability to fully customize your digital experience to fit your unique business needs.  

If your organization is looking for standard business capabilities that platform providers have widely available (CRM functionality for example), then a SaaS solution may be the best fit. With no need to download, install or upgrade software, SaaS solutions offer out-of-the-box business capability that you can configure to your business needs. Also, since SaaS solutions are scalable and customizable, these solutions often provide the quickest way to get your experience to market.

Additionally, SaaS-based technology solutions are on the path to becoming the default software-delivery model with an increase from 6% of enterprise software revenues in 2010 to 29% in 2018. Given that the recent growth of remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic an, the shift to SaaS models is only continuing to accelerate.

 | McKinsey

The economic realities 

While delivering meaningful customer experiences is critical in the decision-making process, the cost of doing business is also a key decision factor. Some things to keep in mind include how your organization will provide ongoing support and optimization, the speed to market to drive maximum ROI and how your experience will competitively differentiate.

It’s also important to consider the operational realities of the employee experience can be just as important as the customer experience and they are often overlooked. As you evaluate cloud service models, it will be important to identify areas where even modest technology restructuring can improve efficiency and the customer experience.  

PaaS Considerations

  • Can be highly scalable and easily support multi-tenant
  • Offers the ability for maximum customization 


  • More costly to maintain over time
  • Requires in-house technical resources or vendor reliance  

SaaS Considerations 

  • Offers ease of set up and ongoing maintenance
  • Includes best-of-breed functionality and responsiveness for packaged business capability
  • On-going support in updates is owned by the software provider  


  • May lack end-to-end seamlessness across the full customer journey
  • Tends to lack overall control which reduces competitive digital differentiation 

Ultimately, it’s important to choose a cloud service model depending on your business requirements and the number of tasks you want to perform yourself or delegate to a separate partner or service provider.  

Embracing a composable future
Depending on the business capability, most organizations have several business platforms that make up their full MarTech stack. So, why not have a mix of both? While your approach may vary, you aren’t “stuck” choosing one model over the other as brands and organizations ‘pick-and-choose’ different technology platforms to support the specialized capabilities needed to support the experience and business needs.  

In the early days of CMS, content management – combined with web experience management – was the standard, giving the power to marketers to create and manage content across experiences as well as providing advance marketing features like personalization and analytics.  

In the past 10+ years, Digital Experience Platforms (DXPs) have emerged as an integral part of a MarTech stack and provide a fully integrated set of core functionality to support the composition, management, delivery and optimization of contextualized digital experiences. Today, DXPs are available in two ways: Monolithic and Composable.  

A monolithic, or traditional, DXP provides all digital marketing capabilities in a single architecture – with the main benefit, and why many brands choose this solution, is simplicity. A monolithic DXP is an enterprise system that reduces the need for internal users and administrators to switch from system to system to manage an end-to-end digital experience. 

A composable solution allows you to build your own DXP by integrating multiple capabilities from different platforms. This means that you can choose the solutions that are best for you and your brand, enabling your organization to build a ‘best-in-breed’ approach to your tech stack – one that is tailored to the nuances of the business while meeting the needs of your customer experience. 

Plus, choosing a composable solution also means that you don’t have to go “all-in” from the onset. If existing components of your marketing stack are working well for you and fit within your strategy, then keep them! You only have to implement what you need to fill the gaps.  

To help determine the progression of a DXP for your organization, the following outlines three categories that cover the situation for most brands: 

1. Monolithic Invested

  • Currently driving value/ROI
  • Existing Paas MarTech footprint

2. Composable Curious

  • Interested in maturing the end-to-end CX
  • MarTech includes both PaaS and SaaS solutions

3. Composable Ready

  • Truly integrated CX across end-to-end journey
  • SaaS leverages the full capabilities of the cloud, beyond storage and hosting, including elastic scaling of highly available resources.
Your plans for ongoing optimization and support matter – including how capabilities may be provided by multiple solutions to make up your MarTech stack. The possibility to use a variety of tools from your preferred vendors allows for considerable flexibility while helping you reach and adapt faster to change.  

Once you have modernized your applications for better business value, it's time to look at gaining efficiencies to help reduce the dependency on technology and IT teams in maintaining these marketing platforms. This can be addressed by the adoption of SaaS solutions into your marchitecture that allow you to integrate with your existing business applications.  

Switching to managed solutions provides not only hosting but also monitoring, alerting and corrective actions that are carried out by an outside partner. The idea is not replacing your IT with an external partner, but to optimize the IT focus on delivering business value that your organization creates rather than on maintaining servers and applications. 

Final thoughts on CX technology

Hopefully, you’re seeing parallels for your organization in terms of how you’re thinking about evolving, maturing and/or even modernizing your Martech stack. You might also notice some alignment with ways to progress your organization’s hosting model and DXP maturation.  

The good news is that there’s no right or wrong answer – only what’s right for you and your organization. With the right approach, the right team and a great consulting partner, the journey your organization takes can:

  • Meet the demands of your customers and business today
  • Lay the foundation for future maturity and evolution of your DXP
  • Fiscally plan budgets that align to current CapEx parameters while considering long-term growth and scale investments

Regardless of where your starting line is, your process must begin with the intersection of your company’s objectives and customer needs. From there, it’s about determining the business capabilities you need to achieve them.

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