Traditionally, computer software applications were bought in physical form (such as floppy discs or CDs) and installed locally on a computer.
While some software is still available this way, applications are increasingly accessed online, or a mix of software installed on your computer with more online.
This is starting to make a big difference to how organisations of all sizes run their day to day operations.
What are cloud tools?
This is software which a user will access through the internet, either by using a browser or a dedicated local application which accesses the rest of the application remotely. If this is paid for software it will often be by a subscription, perhaps monthly.
It might also be considered a version of ‘server-client’ applications where a powerful computer does most of the computing (the server) and the client sends and receives mostly small amounts of data but does very little processing.
The advantages of cloud tools
There are various advantages to using cloud tools:
- if the bulk of the computing power running the application is held at the server end, then quite powerful software can be used by someone with a relatively inexpensive computer and/ or a variety of different devices like tablets and phones. This brings a lot of flexibility
- if you have many users in your organisation, it’s easy to make data available to all of them without having to invest in expensive additional hardware
- the software is being delivered as a service (also called ‘Software As A Service’ or ‘SaaS’) in return for a subscription fee. The responsibility for keeping the main software up to date is with the vendor, which means you’ll always have the most recent version of the software
- this has a benefit for both features and security. Data held by most vendors in this way is held securely, with high quality measures in place to keep that data safe and backed up
- if you need to change computer, or use more than one device to access the software, you’ll often (but not always) be able to do this by changing your user credentials (for example changing user name or passwords, or creating a new account). This is very convenient and means you can work more flexibly
- as the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns have proven, those organisations whose staff can work from home may suffer less disruption in the event of extreme events (for example lockdowns, or adverse weather) or even just for allowing some employee working flexibility
The disadvantages of cloud tools
The disadvantages of cloud tools include:
- relying on the internet for accessing vital tools can mean, for example, that you can’t work on the train. If you lose your internet connections for any reason you may not be able to complete important work
- you no longer ‘own’ the software you use. You have licensed use of it as long as you keep paying. But if you stop paying, you lose the software and you may lose part or all of your data
- purely online services may mean your data is only available via the application. This might make it difficult to extract to different formats or make sure you have a local copy
- once you start paying for a subscription it may feel like it’s ‘too much trouble’ to shop around for alternatives even if the service you’ve bought isn’t performing the way you need or doesn’t meet the needs of future business changes
- large organisations are much more likely to be the subject of a hacking attempt to prevent access to the service (Denial of Service attacks – or DoS). This could cause widespread issues if one were successful
- on the other hand, such companies are usually much better protected against attacks than small organisations
Examples of cloud software
Standard productivity sort of functions (word processing, spreadsheets, presentations) combined with saving documents. Very useful for direct collaboration
A suite of services built into every Apple computer offering document storage, email, contacts and more. Syncs automatically between Apple devices, so you have the same information on your computer, phone, iPad and Apple TV
Good for project planning and making to-do lists. Something like a cross between a whiteboard and an infinite supply of sticky notes. Very good for collaboration and is available on many platforms
A virtual workplace where you can arrange conversations between lots of different people in the organisation into subjects and bypass lots of emailing
Examples of traditional software
Standard productivity sort of functions (word processing, spreadsheets, presentations).
Microsoft office products (up to v2016)
But Microsoft incrementally moving to software by subscription so it’s likely in future that purely ‘installed’ versions may not be available.
Standard industry desktop publishing package.
Free to download text editing application frequently used by people writing code for programming and webpages.
Examples of hybrid software
This is software that works best with something installed on your computer, but is still licensed as a subscription. Your access, even to the application you have installed locally will probably cease if you do not renew your subscription.
Now also called Microsoft 365
Adobe suite of applications
Photoshop, InDesign, lllustrator etc
Range of products for Computer Aided Design
A service which allows you a ‘best of both worlds’ solution for storing files. A copy is kept on the cloud service with a copy synchronised locally to a folder on your computer. Allows you to work on your files whilst not connected to the internet and then synchronise later
How to choose between cloud and traditional software
There’s no right answer, and for most organisations there will probably be a combination of the different styles of software that will balance your needs. For example, TechResort uses Trello for high level project planning, but still has Excel spreadsheets for detail. It’s worth considering the following:
- what problem or function is the organisation needing to address with the software or service?
- what are the essential features needed from a piece of software to address the identified need?
- does the tool need to be shared by many different people on many different devices?
- what sort of data is the software likely to be handling? Are special levels of security needed?
- what price constraints does the organisation have?
- a risk vs benefit assessment of potential software or service candidates before making a final decision
- familiarity: if people are more familiar with certain software or software tools it might be more effective to stick with known software as long as it has the necessary features