Should you pass on Web-based SaaS?

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I have to admit some growing frustration with a few web-based apps I’ve been using lately.  My position on this is not new; I have always expressed my concerns about web-based apps.  Lately I’ve diverted some clients away from the idea of using this kind of Software-as-a-Service (Saas)  for business-critical applications.  The risks still seem too great for the kinds of clients we look after; service outages, security worries, over-busy servers etc…  I don’t think this SaaS technology has demonstrated the requisite maturity for medium and large businesses who operate with numerous users running various business apps daily.

Here’s a perfect example of the frustration I’ve been seeing (and that most certainly extends to those who use web-based apps for their business operations).  I’m sure you have or heard of others logging in to Twitter and being presented with a ‘Twitter is too busy’ message.  I see these notices weekly.  And when you get this notice, you have to wait, and keep trying until their servers unclog and you gain access.

Now, this example is pretty benign; it’s just Twitter, and not my word processing or spreadsheet software.  In the end, this kind of frustration has little effect on me or my business.   But when you think about it, we all see these service issues with online banking, web-based email, and other large websites.  To be sure, these service issues happen for a wide range of technical issues or human error.  What is more, there are also nefarious people out there who have the wherewithal to shut down and disrupt nearly any web presence in the pursuit of chaos, revenge, or simple juvenile mischief.

One really sticky problem for these web-based apps is that they are so big, and are trying to service so many people and organizations simultaneously.   Everyone has all all their eggs in one big giant basket.  The result?  The impact of service disruptions—however seemingly slight—affect countless users at a time.  To make matters worse, technical support for user-specific or organizational-specific issues are easily lost in a sea of service tickets, complaints, change requests etc…  To illustrate the point; try to find a phone number for troubleshooting at Google.

Good luck.

Here’s another simple example I see regularly; I was attempting to update some info on LinkedIn and I get a bunch of server error messages and jumbled HTML code.   Sure, this is no big deal since LinkedIn updates are not business-critical for me or IT Weapons … but it really made me think of the companies jumping toward web-based SaaS.

What do you tell your users when this happens to their spreadsheet 10 minutes before a presentation or Sales call?

For more on why you should think critically about sending your business apps into the web-based cloud, check out this CIO article.

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