The Myth of Web Based Applications
Author: Terri Roeslmeier
Everyday we get calls from staffing companies asking about web based systems. My response is always "Why web based?" Most often, the caller does not have a firm answer. Typical responses are "Isn't that what everybody's doing?" or "I don't want to make a large investment" or "I don't want to be responsible for my own network." This underscores the general misunderstanding of the platform, and what its relative strengths and weaknesses happen to be. When choosing a staffing software system it's important to understand how the system is going to be used and to select a platform that will deliver the best and most cost efficient results. The following is a discussion of some of the main benefits that web based systems tout, some of the compromises one has to live with in order to use them and a review of the principal alternative.
Web based systems can be run from anywhere that has access to the internet.
This is true, but it is not the exclusive domain of web based systems. Pretty much any system can be run using the internet as a connection conduit. Microsoft has included a capability in their Windows operating system called Terminal Services that enables users to access applications on the Windows network via the internet. Conclusion: No clear cut advantage.
I won't have to maintain my own network.
This is only true if every user has a personal internet connection. In most offices, many users connect to the same line. In order for everyone to access the shared resource, a network must exist. Most likely they will need file sharing, e-mail and print services locally. Therefore, some network administration will be required. Firewalls, virus protection and some kind of local expertise are crucial. Most importantly, a back-up routine is still required. Conclusion: No advantage. You still have to do all the network admin stuff anyway. In addition, there's someone between you and your most valuable asset (your data). Should a dispute ever arise, someone would be in position to cut your company off from its life's blood.
The user interface is easier to learn since it's like a web page.
With any system the designer has to create the methods and workflows. They will be forced to use conventions, abbreviations, icons and other devices as they attempt to get the most functionality per inch of screen space possible. The user will still have to learn how the system works and get used to its specific rhythms. And while it is true that many people are familiar with how to navigate web pages, the same can be said of Windows applications. In fact, Windows programs generally adhere more rigorously to a set of standards than web based programs tend to. Conclusion: No advantage. There will still be a learning curve and a training requirement to effectively use these softwares.
What they're not telling you:
- Web based systems run through a web browser. This means that the user interface is constrained by the limits of the browser itself. The browser will limit the number of records that can be open at a time, will force more data integrity responsibility on the user and often experience long repainting delays.
- Web based systems, or just about any system delivered through an ASP are significantly more expensive. This is a classic rent vs. buy decision. If your company has 10 system users and you have to pay $199 per month per user, that's a $1,990 per month outlay. This is the equivalent of purchasing a $60,000 system (based on a 36 month, $1 buyout lease). There aren't many systems that charge $6,000 per user. This is exorbitantly expensive.
This is easy. Windows based (client/server) systems answer all of the questions raised above. These systems can be delivered to diverse and remote users via the web; run on the same basic network (with the addition of SQL Server) that satisfies the rest of our needs; have exceeding rich user interfaces � generally offering many more features; are easy to learn and usually out perform systems running through a web browser. They also provide a much more bang for the buck. Having your database in your office isn't necessarily bad, as it remains under your control. What's more, these systems are generally more mature and therefore offer a far greater range of features and are typically more stable. All this translates into a better, more cost effective computing experience for your company. After all, you're not in this to support the technology; you expect the technology to support you.
Terri Roeslmeier is president of Automated Business Designs, Inc., software developer of Ultra-Staff, a full-featuered staffing software solution with components for front office, back office and the web. http://www.abd.net