Should you go ahead and move your company to a hosted business management software model? Industry analysts predict this model will surpass licensed standalone computing by 2011. Is that a good thing?
Companies from Google to SAP focus all of their resources on online business solutions. While companies like Microsoft make big bucks selling great business software suites to midsize businesses, it means that Excel, Outlook, etc. are installed on every desktop. Most employees will need at least a word processor, calendar, data analysis tool, and perhaps accounting software, client tracking, or customer relationship management (crm) tool. However, this leads to a large number of licenses and duplicates, both in terms of the processing time of the computer and in terms of maintenance and support. If you let a third party deal with all of these issues, you can focus on actually using the apps in question rather than worrying about maintaining and feeding them.
When you outsource your software solutions to a third party enterprise management software provider, users can share documents and collaborate at work without running a file server or worrying about user management. Setting up and maintaining servers for email, timing, and file sharing may be expensive for you and me, but is quite affordable for IBM or Google – what’s another server warehouse for companies that already have thousands?
There are many cloud computing options, from basic business software suites like Gmail, Calendar, Documents and Spreadsheets. However, these are quite simple and do not have the extensive functions that Microsoft Office, for example, offers. On the other hand, it’s free. But there is also solid mid-range software such as Business IT Online, which offers accounting and marketing tools as well as planning and task management. And then there are full-service online business management systems like HyperOffice and NetSuite that provide end-to-end business services like CRM, accounting, product tracking and inventory, and marketing. But of course the price increases with every user and every functionality.
Another important aspect is setting up the licensing systems. Most software is one-off – you buy it once and then it belongs to your company. Support is usually already a subscription model, but midsize businesses typically hire IT staff to do so anyway. More comprehensive (and expensive) online business software systems all run on a licensing model. If you don’t want to switch providers, you’ll lose access to all of your company’s stored information – at least Word files – or you can be removed and run on another computer. In most cases, information can be exported using common data formats. In doing so, however, you lose the functionality and the beautiful presentation functions.
Another disadvantage is that none of these business management software solutions are particularly industry-specific. Realistically, most businesses want to continue using popular applications like PowerPoint and securely share documents. Encryption and data security are often overlooked as important considerations when moving to an online model. For telecommunications and business travel, online software may be the answer for businesses that cannot or cannot provide remote access options for their corporate computing systems. SAP or other Netware can do this for you.