I had several folks submit questions via the Nov 13th webinar I performed at this site wanting to know my opinion on SaaS. While web-based contact management is fine, I’m not a huge fan of it for document management – see my thoughts below. I like to serve out documents securely via the web to others who need access to files (e.g., clients, satellite offices, remote users), and there is a variety of ways to achieve this including a SaaS model. Bottom line, decision making should be based on the goals of the individual firm to find the best suited technology match.
My feeling is that:
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- The document management application should handle every type of file – your “live” documents such as Word, Excel, Powerpoints, etc, in addition to your static images such as scanned PDF’s. Consequently, the workflow dealing with "live" documents can be a bit clunky with web-based document management applications. Think of it - each time you open an excel spreadsheet from the web, you are opening a “copy” of the file. You make changes, and you are saving those changes on your local workstation. You must then re-upload the document back to the web-based system to reflect the updated file. If it’s a work in progress, you may be tempted not to re-upload the file until you feel it’s really "done." Or you may start a new file on your local workstation, and not upload it until its “done.” This can lead to various copies floating around, and to not getting backed up according to a standard process if your current work is on your local machine. It's natural for some team members to get lazy on uploading work in progress because it can be such a hassle to upload changes each time you update a file. And, frequently, it's the work in progress you wish to collaborate on that you do want to share with other team members.
- The document management application should be super fast - Depending on a number of factors, some within your control and some not, the time it takes to upload large PDF’s such as a scanned trust or tax return, can be time consuming for your operations staff to the point of complaint. Moreover, if you are accustomed to multi-tasking and used to the responsiveness of opening files quickly on your desktop, you do experience a noticeable delay in launching files. I’m not as concerned about this issue as the first one I mentioned regarding “live” documents, but the performance hit is worth noting. I would not commit to web-based DMS unless the performance was fully satisfactory to the multi-taskers in my office, because these are the folks who upload and download files all day long, and you don’t want to slow down the folks in your office who “gets things done” What do they think about the performance tests? Is it acceptable for their daily workload?
- The document management application be easy to migrate out of. One bigger picture issue has to do with exit strategy. In any key software application, I like to know how easy it is to migrate out of. Specifically, what are the exact steps of getting your files and data out, and how much control do you have over the migration? I’ve seen too many firms in a variety of different vendor relationships grow unhappy with a provider, and have to jump through extraordinary hoops to to convert to a new provider.
If you fall out of love with the provider due to their service or cost structure, how easy is it for you to get out of? How do you get your files (and the meta-data that go with the files)? What type of format are they provided in, how quickly and what is the cost?
Degree of control. This issue is not related to security, but rather, that in a non-SaaS environment, *you* get to control when you upgrade to a new version. Many firms have been burned from acquiring new functionality in an upgrade that forced them to change their process before they were ready to do so or which introduced bugs into a key process they relied on, that they have to live with until a fix is issued. For firms that build in a lot of customization to the software they purchase, they often prefer more control over the upgrade process. Just an item worth noting, depending on the firm.