Web-based v. in-house systems
An important decision to make when choosing a document management system is where you want the software to be hosted. An in-house solution is usually referred to as a client-server system; vendor-run applications can go by many names including application service provider (ASP), software as a service (SaaS), web- or browser-based systems, and cloud computing.
Both options provide distinct advantages: consider which are more important to you.
If you choose a locally hosted program it will run on your computers and store data either on your hard drive or on a network server in your office. This familiar setup gives you the greatest control over every aspect of your document management system.
Document management applications are built on proven software that is highly stable and requires little database maintenance. You will need to have access to either outside consultants or highly specialized IT staff to address any hardware or software issues that arise. You will also need to make regular backups in case of a system crash. You can schedule backups that copy your data to off-site computers fairly easily. (Interested in remote backup services? Get free price quotes today.)
If you choose the client-server route, you'll purchase or lease your system including software and servers.
In the current era of "cloud computing" many companies are choosing ASP solutions. With this setup both the application and data reside on the supplier's servers, and your staff gains access via web browser or specialized client software.
With ASP solutions your database is maintained by IT professionals at the vendor's office. Multiple layers of firewalls and security, uninterruptible power supplies, fail-over (instant switching from one computer to another in case of a crash) and reliable backups are all standard operating procedures for these vendors. Together these features virtually guarantee that your critical documents will always be secure and available.
If you choose to go with an ASP solution be sure to ask prospective providers if your data will be stored in an SAS 70 audited facility. These highly secured data centers are checked by third party auditors to ensure the strictest standards in security and compliance are followed. You will also want verify that your data will be encrypted when transmitted in both directions over the Internet .
The biggest risk of using an online solution is that they require an active Internet connection. Since no Internet connection works 100% of the time (your internal network may fail, your ISP may experience an outage, or an Internet worm may cause congestion) you may not be able to access your documents at all times. These types of outages are rare, but you should be aware of the possibilities.
With online providers, payment is more likely to involve a smaller setup fee and then ongoing monthly payments based on usage.
Which is right for you?
Some business executives may feel more comfortable with an in-house solution. Next generation IT staffers, however, often prefer the ASP model, and there has been exponential growth in this sector. Here are some areas to consider:
- IT staff. If you have in-house IT staff, a client-server solution may be your best option - but make sure you involve IT in the purchasing decision. Smaller businesses with little to no computer expertise are probably better off choosing an online solution.
- Customization. ASPs can easily make basic changes in appearance and functionality, in effect giving you more control over the application than you would get from an internal IT team. However, if you need extensive customization and integration, client-server can provide more flexibility. Remember that you will pay a premium for the extra customization work, though.
- Sensitive data. If your documents include sensitive data such as Social Security numbers, banking records, or other information that you are legally required to protect, your first instinct may be to keep it in-house so you can be directly responsible for it. However in many cases, ASPs can provide better security than you could in your own data center with more layers of security and larger IT staffs.
Since both options provide secure, reliable document management options, a final way to make the choice is to consider which of the potential downsides you fear more: being unable to access your documents while your Internet connection is down, or losing data and time because your server crashes.
You can also start off with a hosted service, then move to an in-house solution: ASPs should offer a seamless migration path that will allow you to easily export your data. If you're unsure of which direction you should go, this can be an easy way to get started without committing fully to either direction.