Choosing software for your organization is a lot like choosing where
to set up your office. What type of office
space, how large, with what features, in what price range — that all
depends on the needs of your particular organization. Basically,
you have two choices: you can buy your own office building, however
modest, or you can rent space in someone else’s building.
And it’s the
same with software.
But which is the better choice for your organization — self-installed software or a hosted package?
Remember when it was all so straightforward? Software came on a disk,
packed up in a box with its user manual and warranty card. You
purchased a product, installed the software on your own computer or
server, put the box away on a shelf, and hoped that you had made the
right purchasing decision — that the software would perform reliably
and as intended.
After a time, inevitably, that software would became obsolete or
simply fail to meet your changing needs, and you’d have to decide where
to put your time and money next: to update the software or to replace
Now it’s far more common to download our software from the
Internet. Those rows of software boxes and print manuals have all but
vanished from most office shelves, and online software updates are
often as quick and painless as clicking a button.
selection, installation, troubleshooting, and maintenance tasks are no
less time-consuming than they ever were. And just as a building owner
must pay the plumber if a pipe springs a leak, software owners have the
responsibility to keep their own systems up and running, even if that
means bringing in an expensive tech consultant at times.
Hosted software — you may also hear it called Software as a Service
(SaS or SaaS) or Application Service Provider (ASP); the terms are
often used interchangeably — lives on someone else’s server, along with
the data associated with its users, who access the software through the
Some hosted software is free (in fact, there are a great many useful
web-based applications that are free of charge, as we often discuss in
the Wild Apricot blog) but usually you’ll pay a monthly fee to the
company that owns and hosts the software. The fees are most often
scaled according to the size of your operation, number of users, amount
of data to be stored, and so on.
Your “rent” generally entitles you to access the software over the
internet, to store a certain amount of data on the host servers, and to
expect some level of tech support from the vendor. The vendor’s
responsibility, in turn, is to provide the service that you’ve
contracted for, to manage and maintain the software and hardware
required, and — in short — to take on the day-to-day headaches that
come with the privilege of ownership.
So, how do you decide whether installed or hosted software is the right choice for you? In The Truth About Hosted Software, Idealware.org takes a look at the “fairly complicated set of considerations” involved in making that decision.
As always, it depends on your needs and situation. It rarely
makes sense to dismiss the entire idea of hosted packages as
inappropriate for your organization. Weigh user interfaces, security,
features, customization and integration needs, and the amount of
control your organization needs.
Idealware walks you through the core differences between installed
and hosted software options, and the main points to weigh in the
balance. “If your organization is small and without much technical support," the article concludes, “a hosted package may be a good fit — if it
provides the functionality you need…. For a customized,
mission-critical application for a large organization, the decision
becomes more complicated.”
It might be useful to get out your spreadsheet software and list
each of the points that Idealware.org covers, then note exactly
how each software package you’re thinking about will measure up. There
are bound to be trade-offs, of course, as no one solution is ever going to be perfect, but building a checklist like this should
help to clarify which one — installed or hosted software — is likely to work best
for your organization.