What should businesses consider when deciding whether an On-Premise or a Cloud solution is the best fit for their business? In this two-part series, Sharon Clancy gets some advice from the experts. First up, we explore the attractions of the Cloud...
There's been a lot of publicity recently about cloud platforms: for enterprises it's been about whether you migrate legacy business functions to it; for SMEs and SMBs it's about using the Cloud to become more competitive. There's also been a lot of talk about browser-based field service management apps - software-as-a-service, or SaaS.
Is it all just noise, or something your company needs to get to grips with?
Let's start with defining what we are talking about: Cloud and SaaS can be used as interchangeable terms, but there is a difference. A Cloud solution is when some or all of your IT requirements are hosted by a platform provider who takes care of all the necessary infrastructure, including security, server stability and maintenance, data storage and so on. SaaS is another layer on a Cloud platform. A permutation that has been adopted by some field service organisations is to have on-premise legacy IT and ERP systems integrated with a Cloud-based service management SaaS solution. SMEs and SMBs, on the other hand, might use a Cloud platform for all their business functions, including accounting, HR and service management software.
One business trend is that companies of all sizes need to be more agile in responding to their customers' changing needs, and agility is one thing the Cloud delivers in spades.
Agility is one thing the Cloud delivers in spades.
On-premise can mean less agility, points out Neil Lewis, Consulting Director, EMEA Sales, ServiceMax."Deployments of new services and processes are slower. When an old business process needs to change or a new one introduced, it takes much longer to do it internally, from getting the project on the internal IT roadmap to actually developing the app. There are typically many layers of the on-premise architecture that need to be changed in order to implement the processes. This in turn has an adverse effect on the companies' abilities to introduce new products and services quickly."
In many sectors, the business model is changing from being based around product life-cycles to a servitization model and predictive rather than reactive service, he continues. "That transforms field service into a agile, responsive customer-focused operation which can have a real impact on the bottom-line."
The Cloud means smaller companies can now access affordable solutions without the overhead of enterprise class software, points out Paul Adams, Marketing and Development Director, Solarvista.
Enterprises are now looking at moving their entire structure to the cloud because it eliminates the need to manage a large IT infrastructure in-house," says Mason.
"On-premise solutions demand investment in infrastructure upkeep including databases, applications, coding and system upgrades. In the Cloud, all these issues go away," points out Lewis.
SaaS: a perfect fit for service management
Independent service companies have recurring revenue streams which fit neatly with renting the software.
A browser-based field service solution is essential, regardless of whether you opt for an on-premise or a cloud-based platform, advises Simon Spriggs, account manager at Exel Computer Systems. "This will future-proof your investment should you decide to move business activities to the cloud in future. It will also help eliminate many integration problems."
Don't be lured into thinking that a Cloud solution is the answer to everything, warns Spriggs. "Key questions to ask include: what is the budget, what is the available IT resource and what is the reliability and bandwidth of the Internet connection."
Reliable broadband: not an optional extra
If the basic connection to the Internet fails, it doesn't matter what back-up the hosted platform provider has.
Most companies will conduct financial due diligence before choosing a Cloud partner. However, all the field service experts we spoke with emphasised that it is equally essential to thoroughly check the IT capabilities of the company hosting those cloud services. "You are outsourcing the running of your business systems to the Cloud, not abdicating responsibility for them, so make sure your provider is fully compliant with the latest security standards " urges Steve Mason. "A public cloud platform will give you baseline protection - indeed, the level of security is much higher than most individual companies could afford because the companies invest a huge amount and employ security experts to keep up to speed with the latest threats."
A public cloud platform will give you baseline security protection and has other advantages.
There is a natural nervousness about hosting FS apps externally, the need to keep confidential data in the cloud and also about the complexities of integrating those cloud-based apps with internal ERP systems, admits Lewis. "However these concerns are not relevant any more with the evidence of many large organisations globally who have strategically moved to the cloud in the last 5 to 10 years. These range from governmental organisations to large global banks.
The Cloud is, in effect, a hosted server platform, points out Colin Brown. "Cloud data centres handle all the expensive, complex fire walls and demilitarized zones that keep information safe. If you are concerned about resilience, our advice is to invest in back-up servers.
It's important to think about what happens if servers goes down, agrees Neil Lewis. "Smaller vendors may be able to host your app but check if there is seamless back-up to ensure workflows continue as normal? Indeed, is there any back-up at all?"
Resilience is critical for mission-critical operations such as field servic
Asking what IT roadmap your provider has will whittle out some of the less capable vendors, advises Lewis. "Smaller platform hosts may not have the resources to invest in platform development, so ask what their roadmap is - for example, to develop the platform to integrate with multiple ERP environments to handle new technology."
Finally, businesses shouldn't undervalue the support offered by SaaS providers, says Colin Brown. "Access to the software is controlled by the supplier, so all the software upgrades are installed and installed correctly and often, as is the case for Tesseract customers, free-of-charge of charge. Furthermore, as the data as it is hosted remotely, employees are no longer able to “play” with it, which reduces system errors
Look out for Part 2, where we'll exploring the benefits of on-premise solutions and how they integrate with field service management solutions.