To hear the cloud-computing advocates tell it, every old-school locally installed enterprise software application would be better off moving to the cloud. There are no exceptions; the cloud is always better. The truth is a bit more complicated.
Some applications enjoy substantial gains when redeveloped for the cloud, but they must first meet some key criteria. If your organization is considering trading in an established on-premise software solution for a Software-as-a-Service counterpart, make sure the application passes these three tests.
1. The application has no exotic security or regulatory requirements
Every form and function of software has some type of security requirement, but certain industries and applications have unusually strict or extensive security and compliance demands. For example, law enforcement agencies have explicit chain of custody requirements, as the evidence they possess is used to prosecute criminals. Those agencies must certify that their evidence — some of it digital — hasn’t been altered by outside parties. This certainty requires absolute physical control of application servers, which isn’t possible with public cloud applications. On a similar tack, if you’re operating in a highly competitive field where industrial espionage is a significant risk — such as is the case with defense contractors — transmitting even highly encrypted data via the Internet may prove insufficiently secure.
Bottom line: If conventional, off-the-shelf security and compliance solutions are demonstrably inadequate for your on-premise software security needs, a SaaS replacement for that software is likely to be too difficult to monitor and secure.
2. The application has a mature feature set, and you need few if any customizations
“Mature” is not a dirty word when it comes to software: many application categories are established enough that a standard feature set has emerged as expected by customers. All cars come with steering wheels, gas and brake pedals, headlights, brake lights, turn signals and so on. All email solutions include inboxes, contact lists, and the reply all option. While there are plenty of unique features that make automobiles (and email solutions) distinct, their core feature set is not up for debate, and customers don’t request radical deviations from those features for the vast majority of sales. If your on-premise software application enjoys a standardized core feature set, it is a prime candidate for conversion to a SaaS solution. Translating those core features into an interface that can be delivered via a web browser is a straightforward engineering issue, and customers know precisely what to expect when they access your application online, making training and support far cheaper and simpler when migrating to an online version.
3. Increasing the number of users who can access the application makes it significantly more useful
If cost is the primary barrier to entry for adoption of your on-premise application, and lowering (or at least simplifying) those costs could markedly expand the number of users who could benefit from the solution, then your on-premise app could be well suited for relocation to the cloud. There was a time when only high-value employees had email accounts, but a radical lowering of costs has made it possible for almost every employee to enjoy the efficiencies and opportunities afforded by a company email account. The cloud can multiply this effect significantly, putting office productivity, project management, CRM and a host of other applications in play for a much broader section of your organization.
If you’re a large organization already employing on-premise apps that have cloud analogues, migrating to the cloud may allow you to offer these apps to a larger percentage of your workforce, or to deploy a more current and feature-rich solution to your employees without increasing costs.
Typical application categories suited to the cloud
There are a number of mainstream on-premise software categories that meet the criteria described above, and each includes a number of prominent SaaS solutions.
Even the smallest business needs email, but almost no one wants or needs to run an email server. Private webmail is perhaps the single best example of the advantage of enterprise apps moving to the cloud. Google Apps, sometimes referred to as “private Gmail,” is perhaps the foremost example of this SaaS app category.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software
Every business needs to manage customer data and assist sales staff, but comparatively few are large enough to maintain an adequate on-premise CRM solution. Salesforce is the undisputed leader in this space, though other players such as Zoho CRM are making headway.
Accounting and finance applications
A business that doesn’t manage its books isn’t in business for long, which is why many are reluctant to move their financial data to the cloud. However, once business leaders realize that cloud-based data is safer than on-premise data — a building fire or flood can’t wipe out your cloud-based financials, and backing up cloud data is even simpler than backing up local information — the appeal of SaaS finance apps becomes clear. Freshbooks and Expensify are two of the more well know SaaS accounting applications available today.
Document management and collaboration software
The cloud is the perfect environment for sharing documents between employees, and working collectively on common reports and presentations. Dropping the per-user costs of productivity suite licenses and shared document servers is of great appeal to small and medium businesses. Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365 and Zoho are the heavyweights in this space.
Project management solutions
Project management applications require input from multiple employees, often operating in multiple departments and locations. Cloud-based project management software drops the cost and complexity of project collaboration. Basecamp and Mavenlink are two of the foremost players in the SaaS project management market.
Considering migrating your on-premise solution to the cloud? You can easily adapt this whitepaper on running a software proof-of-concept evaluation (it’s presently written for evaluating cloud-to-cloud backup) to ensure your cloud solution meets your needs.