Remember the days when you had to install software, manage upgrades to the new version, back up your servers, handle hard disk crashes, and generally be on call 24 hours a day for software and hardware emergencies? At this point you are probably thinking “What are you talking about — that’s my life today.” That’s because for most growing businesses the experience of implementing software is still a huge, expensive, distracting headache.
When I started my first company, this is exactly how I felt — and it was a software company! I couldn’t imagine how a wholesaler distributor, say, dealt with that mess.
Think about some of the applications you use personally on the Web. Have you ever heard “My hard disk crashed! I will never be able to find out my bank balance from online banking!” Or, “Ugh….I have to remember to run a backup for my Internet bookstore so I don’t lose all my favorite book listings.”
Well, here’s some good news: The same approach to running software that makes your online bank or bookseller so hassle-free for you is available to businesses for the applications they use every day. And as a growing business, you are actually the best positioned to take advantage of this oncoming wave of technology: Web-based Applications.
You may have heard of these new style applications described as ASPs (Application Service Providers), On-demand applications, or Hosted software. All those terms mean the same thing: Your application vendor hosts and maintains the software and the hardware to run it so you don’t have to.
The types of applications that are available using this approach run the gamut from pure business applications to group calendars, HR and workflow applications, and specialized applications for different industries. Some applications that use substantial resources on the PC, such as 3D modeling programs, are the laggards — but with faster networking technology even those types of programs may succumb to this trend.
What all Web-based applications share is that to use them requires only a Web browser — which means you can access them anywhere and anytime you have access to the internet, just like you can with your online bank or bookseller. The application vendor handles the thorny details of operating the database, backing up the data, and managing upgrades. In addition, many of these applications are available by subscription — so instead of large up front payments, you pay by the month, for the amount you use.
Do these applications have all the features of their packaged software ancestors? Sometimes; not always. But the vendors that are delivering applications in this manner are able to very rapidly improve their offerings — because they don’t have to deal with the hassles of multiple versions and operating systems. They can also support you more easily because the customer support reps can see exactly what you are seeing without worrying about which patch you have.
The web access to these applications is a boon for modern companies that are geographically diverse. Without the headache of setting up a VPN and remote PC access, employees all over the state, country, or world can be sharing the same data “on demand.”
After seeing firsthand in my previous company the state of managing software in small business, I decided my next software company would develop a web-based application. I work on a day-to-day basis with companies that have made the transition and seen interesting advantages. We have a customer who lost their whole office in a devastating fire. The next day their applications were up and running, their data intact. This is because web-based application vendors operate secure data centers like those used by large companies: They have diesel power backup, high speed connections to the internet, extensive internet security protections, all of which are far beyond the growing business’s reach.
It will be some time before you can completely get out of the business of backups, Operating System upgrades, and incompatible hardware — the PCs that employees use to access web-based applications are PCs nonetheless. But if using a web-based application can save you significant time and hassle dealing with software, you will have more time for tailoring the application to your company’s needs; training yourself and your employees on using the application; or cutting out early to catch the ball game. IT is not going away in the era of web-based applications: It will be offering more value to the business than ever before.