Should you go ahead and start transitioning your company to a hosted business management software model? Industry analysts predict that this model will outpace licensed stand-alone computing by 2011. Is this a good thing?
Corporations from Google to SAP are focusing all of their resources on online business solutions. While companies like Microsoft make a lot of their money from selling great business software suites to medium-sized organizations, it means that each desktop has an installation of Excel, Outlook, etc. Most workers need at least a word processing tool, a calendar, something for data analysis, and maybe some accounting software, client tracking or customer relationship management (crm) tool. But that ads up to a lot of licenses and a lot of duplication, both in terms of computer processing time and in terms of maintenance and support. Letting a third party deal with all of these problems lets you focus your time on actually using the applications in question, rather than looking after their care and feeding.
Even better, turning your software solutions over to a third party business management software provider allows users to share documents and collaborate on work without having to run a file server or worry about user management. Setting up and maintaining servers for email, timekeeping and file sharing might be expensive for you and I, but it’s quite affordable for IBM or Google – what’s another server warehouse to companies who have thousands already?
There are many cloud computing options out there, from the basic business software suites like Google’s mail, calendar, docs and spreadsheets. But those are quite basic, and don’t have the kind of comprehensive functionality that, for instance, Microsoft Office has. On the other hand, it’s free. But there are also solid, mid-range software like Business IT Online that provide scheduling and task management along with accounting and marketing tools. And then there are full-service online business management systems like HyperOffice and NetSuite, which provide end-to-end business services like CRM, accounting, product tracking and inventory, and marketing. But, of course, the price goes up with each user and each piece of functionality.
Another important consideration is how the licensing schemes are set up. Most software is one-off – you purchase it once, and then it belongs to your company. Support is typically a subscription model already, but mid-sized companies usually hire an IT staff who does that anyway. More comprehensive (and expensive) online business software systems are all run on a licensing model, and if you don’t want to change vendors you lose access to all of your company’s stored information – at least Word files or can be removed and run on another computer. Most allow information to be exported through the use of common data formats, but you lose functionality and the nice presentation bells and whistles when doing so.
Another drawback is that none of these business management software solutions are particularly industry-specific. Realistically, most companies still want to use common applications like PowerPoint, and want to be able to share documents securely – encryption and data security is often overlooked as an important consideration when moving to an online model. But with telecommunting and business travel, online software might just be the answer for companies who don’t or can’t provide remote access options to their company computer systems. SAP or other netware can do it for you.