Making thoughtful and intelligent decisions are difficult at best, throw in deciding on something that is out of your realm of expertise and the decision-making process becomes an exercise in futility. I believe that most executives today would agree that they often do not have the technology expertise, time, & likely resources to contemplate the impact of various critical technology decisions in their choice of membership management software. In this article, I discuss one important decision in your membership software choice; the cloud computing question.
The Decision to Move to Cloud Computing
What is the cloud? It seems like every nonprofit I visit with these days is asking this question. The term “cloud computing” is everywhere. For many, the cloud is just a metaphor for the Internet.
Per a recent PC Magazine article cited, here is where it comes from:
It goes back to the days of flowcharts and presentations that would represent the gigantic server-farm infrastructure of the Internet as nothing but a puffy, white cumulonimbus cloud, accepting connections and doling out information as it floats.
There are many business management software vendors each with varying features. From my experience, I believe for the purpose of choosing a cloud membership system or not you must determine if it’s a true cloud or simply a fog machine created by the software vendor.
It’s very interesting to note as I review and interview various database management software providers today that many software vendors often misuse the term “cloud” to represent their membership software system. To be frank, the location of the server or the licensing agreement has nothing to do with the definition of a true cloud solution.
In fact, many association management software vendors certainly know the difference and yet come up with creative ways to “frame” their offering in a palatable way for the audience. I recently completed a software evaluation where the marketing team was crafting their messaging. And, were justifying their use of the term “Cloud” on their website. Today, it certainly pays to mention “Cloud” so they wanted to do so.
Suffice it to say, of the 100 plus membership systems on the market you will encounter a diverse set of options in deployment and configuration of a membership management system. Here are the deployment options today in the market:
On-Premise Membership Software
Just a little over a decade ago, virtually all management systems were hosted on one server in house (On-Premise) within the association. There were (and are still) a lot of value added resellers who made a lot of money in this set up scenario. I must admit that this was attractive for many. However, while this single tenant option may provide the association the most control over their data, it proves difficult to remain up-to-date on the most current technology.
Hosted (Private Cloud) Membership Software
The trend for those that own these old school on-premise membership systems, is the outsourcing of their hosting to avoid the hassle and potential security risks of on-premise hosting. Therefore, to overcome this area of concern, traditional Association Management Software vendors may offer a hosted option for associations. I find it amusing that certain software vendors often refer to this as a “cloud offering”. Certainly, this option is in my opinion more appealing than on-premise hosting for associations but it’s misleading to purport this as “Cloud”.
Software As A Service Management Software
A software as a service offering can be either single-tenant or multi-tenant. The term “SaaS” refers to a software licensing and delivery model where customers purchase a subscription, rather than purchasing the software outright and paying maintenance fees. Many experts would assert that a single-tenant software as a service offering provides associations with better total cost of ownership (TCO) protection and generally lower fees than the alternatives mentioned above.
Multi-Tenant (Public Cloud) Contact Management Software
In multi-tenant management software, one instance of the software and all of the supporting infrastructure serves multiple customers . In other words, each customer shares the software application and also shares a single database. This doesn’t mean that everyone runs the exact same software, customizations can still be made, but all data is stored on the same server instance. In this deployment option, software upgrades are pushed to all customers simultaneously.
To the point, a “true cloud system” has a multi-tenant architecture and is always a software as a service offering. There are only a handful of association software providers who have a true multi-tenant architecture. These software vendors are usually built on top of systems. They are building multi-tenant applications because they are scalable, easy (and free) to upgrade, quick to provision and incredibly flexible.
Is a Cloud Computing Membership Software the Best Fit for you?
Not sure? Here is a list of questions which should be contemplated when trying to clarify the decision to move to a cloud computing membership software:
Can we afford the up-front costs and maintenance fees associated with a hosted solution?
Do we need expandability or predictability?
How important is data security?
Does my organization have IT staff with the time to support, update, and secure an on-premise solution?
Do we need to meet compliance requirements?
Will we need a server long-term for other things?
Do you have to have complete control of the database for your business operations?
Do you value a large ecosystem of software vendors and providers who are contributing to the platform?
Do you have remote staff who need to keep your member or supporter databases up-to-date?
Is saving energy and maximizing resource utilization important to you?
It’s interesting to me that even in this day and age, some nonprofit executives are still uncomfortable thinking that their data or documents are stored on remote servers instead of on their own hard drive or server. But as experts have pointed out many cloud vendors have better capacity than customers to keep information safe. I read an article which emphasized this sentiment underscored by a small nonprofit cloud user quoted in a recent NTEN report cited below:
With computers crashing and lost data that a hosted option seemed to make more sense than installed software. For security, too—she said she had no faith in her organization’s ability to keep people from hacking into its computers.
Making business management software decisions isn’t easy. And, the decision to go with a cloud based solution or not may require the help from a trusted software advisement firm. Professionals make it their business to be experts in knowing what is applicable to you and your uniqueness.
There are so many different software options on the market today. And, so many decisions to make which may lead you to find a cloud based solution a better fit than the other. While it’s not usually at the top of the list for small membership organization today, mid-size associations and larger need to figure out what makes business sense for their particular needs.
Cloud is a hot topic. And, it’s difficult to determine a fog machine vs. a real cloud system without studying the software options in the market today. An easy decision to make is to contact Smart Thoughts Solutions today. SmartThoughts can outline why one membership software will be of more benefit to your non-profit than another.
Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.
Multi-Tenant Data Architecture from Microsoft
The Force.com Multitenant Architecture from Salesforce.com
Rackspace Hybrid Cloud Overview from Rackspace
Cloud Services Documentation from Azure
Is Your Association Software Really Cloud Based from Nimble AMS
Multi-tenancy in the cloud: Why it matters from Computer World
What is Cloud Computing from PC Magazine