Security of client information has always been a top concern for Information Technology (IT) teams. Even with a security focus, education and the right tools, security is frequently weak. If your IT team takes their eye off the security ball, you will have a problem. You must also watch the ball for new methods of using applications including Software as a Service (SaaS), hosting and the more traditional approach of running applications in-house on your own network.
It is wise of the management team to verify the internal IT team or outsourced IT team selected strategy. With SaaS applications still representing a relatively new development in IT strategy, we believe a checklist methodology may help you communicate your IT concerns. The following lists are intended as a starting point, not as a comprehensive assessment, and there are certainly other articles discussing the benefits of SaaS or hosting applications that are worth additional review.
Running your applications through a browser has potential benefits as well as weaknesses for your firm. Examples of the benefits include: the software remains up-to-date, rapid deployment, ease of access from multiple locations particularly where a browser can be used, known recurring costs and more. Possible weaknesses include: poor performance, lack of customization, difficulties with integration, outages beyond your control, and difficulties in downloading your data including the loss of history during conversions.
IT Concerns for you to discuss with your team include:
- Service Level Agreement (SLA) guarantees – What is the contracted commitment of availability? What is the consequence if this standard is not met?
- Security of the data – How is access protected? Is it simply a user ID and password? What happens if the user ID and password is compromised? Is any data left behind from the browser session? Is any data stored locally on the machine or device used?
- Compatibility with browsers – Although compatibility is improving with more use of HTML5 and less use of Flash in applications and web sites, there can be notable differences in experience if products are run in different versions of web browsers or in different web browsers. For example in the Microsoft browsers Internet Explorer 8, 9 or 10, there are notable technical differences and user experiences. The complications become more pronounced as Google Chrome, Mozilla FireFox and the Safari browsers are added to your mix. How does your organization support, test and protect the organization?
- Speed issues – What is the organizational plan to deal with unforeseen performance issues? Most browser based applications run consistently, but if there is an issue, how is it resolved? Speed and compatibility issues are frequently beyond the control of your IT team to resolve. What will you do if this is an issue? Unfortunately, there have been a number of providers of SaaS applications that have gone through growing pains and have had trouble providing sufficient performance and scalability. Some routing problems across the internet sometimes can’t be resolved by either the provider or your IT team…the issues lies with a third party.
- Upgrades – A benefit of SaaS applications is that the provider keeps the software up to date. How will you keep your people trained on the application, particularly when there is a major change in the user interface? This year alone we have seen multiple upgrades that did not seem like a step forward, and the user interface change was particularly disruptive.
Hosting applications can eliminate some traditional IT problems, but may create issues at the same time. For example, QuickBooks hosting is popular, and it is convenient to not go through the installation or upgrade process. The cost of hosting can frequently be passed on to clients, making the option even more attractive for a firm.