I participated in an interesting discussion recently on NTen‘s discussion group about how much nonprofit organizations should take advantage of hosted software applications. I’ve been a proponent of ASPs / on demand software for quite a while now; the only major application I haven’t switched over is email, which I continue to download to my local PC using Thunderbird. But my main CRM (SalesForce) and calendar (Google) is web based; I still can’t understand why my wife (and many others) insist on relying on Outlook where this information is stored locally where it is subject to computer / backup failure AND can only be accessed from that one location (or through remote access).
Nonprofits usually have limited technical resources, if any at all. Using hosted applications reduces the need for a home grown networking infrastructure; the main concern becomes having a reliable Internet connection. But this doesnot mean that no tech savvy staff are needed. The technical skills to support online applications are different from what is required to maintain local applications since it puts a heavier reliance on choosing stable vendors and maintaining these relationships.
As is the case with local software, choosing packages that play well with other vendors is important, so it’s helpful to investigate APIs and whether or not the vendors have previously developed links to other systems.
Nonprofits can of course get discounted (mostly local) software through services such as Tech Soup, but in the long run hosted applications will win out. It’s also fascinating that some nonprofits still insist on custom applications when there are so many web based programs that can do so much ‘out of the box.’
Nten’s annual conference kicks off next week, so I’m sure this topic will be debated anew.