So who does control your business software?
Obviously you have the control in deciding what software and technology to use. Once you make that decision and create your business processes around the tech you chose who is actually in control?
I want to give you my insight into an issue that many business owners and managers don’t think about enough.
Here’s a phrase that I’ve heard a bit recently which says:
Don’t build your house on someone else’s land
There’s the direct interpretation for when you are building a house. So all you house builders out there it might be wise to make sure your clients own the land before you start work!
A more common interpretation that I have seen of this phrase is in regards to marketing your business. The idea is that you should not relying on social media as your sole means of marketing. Facebook, Twitter and the rest should be considered “someone else’s land”. They have complete control over what they do. The risk to your business is that you could be one algorithm change away from losing all of your online traffic…
On a side note – that’s why I am a big advocate of every business having an email marketing list. It is something that you control! But I’m not a marketing guru just a mere hack.
I am, however, an architect. No not a building architect – maybe I should have chosen another analogy…. I am a software architect. So let’s see how this saying applies to the world of business software.
Running your business on someone else’s computers
My interpretation of this saying is as it applies to Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings and how you use them in your business.
What is Software as a Service (SaaS)?
Software as a Service is everywhere! Essentially it’s software that is hosted and managed by a company on your behalf. You pay a fee, typically monthly, to use that service for your business.
You’re happy because you don’t have to worry about running software and setting up servers, etc. They are happy because you are paying them!
Great examples of these SaaS based services are Shopify, Squarespace, Mailchimp and Salesforce.
So what can go wrong?
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, things change. And especially so in the world of technology things can change really quickly. One minute you’re happy, the next you are dealing with the brown sticky stuff hitting the big spinning thing.
Saying Bye Bye
There is no guarantee that the service you are using today will still be offered in the future.
The most extreme recent example of this that I can think of is Adobe’s decision to shutdown their Business Catalyst product. My understanding is that they decided that this isn’t part of their core business and so they are going to completely shutdown the service. In some ways they have been decent and given businesses 2 years notice. Other businesses might not be that benevolent.
Some businesses I know have had to replace their entire suite of business software including their website, eCommerce, CRM and email marketing tools. As an all-in-one product this is always a risk and I cover this more in another article here.
Google – the product killer
Another company that loves shutting down products is Google. Let’s just take a look at the offerings that they have shutdown over the last few years.
- Google Wave
And these are just the one’s you may have heard about. There are many more lesser known products that businesses I know use that have been shutdown.
Changes in pricing or offering
Many of these online subscription based business software companies change their fees regularly. While you may be kept on the same pricing for your existing usage as you grow you may need to change plans and those plans keep getting more expensive each year.
Also there is no guarantee that the one killer feature that your business relies on will still be offered. If not enough people use that feature then the provider may stop supporting it or even remove it all together.
Ultimately when using a SaaS you have no control over the product you are using. If your business has a standard business model then it likely that a SaaS product will meet your needs and can even grow with you as your business does.
However if your business model is a bit unique then most SaaS products do not allow for customisations that are specific to your business.
Last but certainly not least is the privacy of your businesses data. Do you even know where your information is stored? Do you know what the company that hosts it is doing with it?
It could be sold to marketing companies. Or possibly stored in a country where you have no jurisdiction or legal protection from the misuse of your data.
Considering the alternatives
So obviously there is risk in building your business upon someone else’s computer systems. It would be irresponsible of me to just leave it at that, wouldn’t it?
Don’t know what Open Source Software is? Check out my article here that talks about what it is and more on the pros and cons.
One of the reasons I am a huge fan of open source software is that you have the source code for the software that is running your business. This means you can run it anywhere and can make changes to it.
I know that not all business problems can be solved using open source software. Another alternative to consider is licensing software that you run on your own servers.
Note that in the latest trend towards SaaS products it is becoming harder and harder find software that you can license and self-host. This is especially true in the small business space. Larger businesses still have plenty of options, but they also have much larges budgets to meet the dizzying licensing costs.
Onsite or in “the cloud”
Now when I say “self hosting” I mean running the software on a server that you control. This can be a physical server running on your premises. Or it could be a server running in a server facility. Or, my preference for small businesses, on a virtual server running on a cloud supplier, AWS, Azure or Vultr.
Yes there is a risk that the server provider might go out of business. However as long as you are taking backups you should be up and running again in no time on one of the many other virtual server providers.
If you business is small enough then it’s even possible that you could run your business software on a shared web hosting plan, like with Zuver or Blue Host. The number of systems that you can run on a cPanel style plan is actually pretty impressive and the topic for a future article.
Downsides to self hosted business software
The world of open source, self hosted software isn’t all roses. It now becomes your responsibility to:
- maintain servers
- install, update and maintain the software
- secure your software to ensure the safety of the data.
It’s these downsides that drive many of us to considering SaaS offerings.
So if you are building your house (or business) in someone else’s backyard (or services) then you need to understand the risks to your business.
- There is no guarantee that the product you sign up for will be available in the future.
- Pricing and features may change
- Much harder or even impossible to customise to your business model
Alternatives such as Open Source and Self Hosted Software are a great alternative to consider. But of course you have to weigh up the additional cost of installing and maintaining these systems.
We can help.
If you want to investigate what Open Source alternatives exist for your business then create an account and submit an IT System review. Leave us a note that you want us to look at the Open Source alternatives for your business.