In the world of enterprise resource planning (ERP), companies spend a lot of time on the software selection cycle. Determining which application will best fit the needs of the business also brings deployment model questions to the table. Currently, many manufacturers and distributors are trying to understand the differences between hosted ERP and SaaS (software as a service) ERP. Whether you’ve already chosen your ERP or are in the process of selecting your software, understanding your on-premise and cloud deployment options is key to enterprise resource planning success.
An application’s functionality is understandably important. The best fit that a company can find with its ERP system will very likely lead to a better implementation, with lower costs and reduced risk surfacing as essential benefits. Ideally, you’ll build a solid foundation for all business activities that follow your ERP implementation. Your computing costs should go down, and time formerly spent on technology and software should shift into more time to spend on your business.
What is ERP deployment?
A key consideration, one that I do not believe receives enough time and effort during the software selection phase, has to do with the deployment of the solution itself. The implications of such a deployment are life-changing for any company, and particularly influential in the manufacturing and distribution industries.
At the time of software selection, it’s important to understand how you intend to deploy your new ERP system. An application’s functionality is almost as important as the functionality itself. For this reason, you’ll want to ensure that the deployment model you choose successfully overlaps with the functionality that you need.
What is a deployment model?
By deployment model, I am not referring to the operating system or the underlying database management system, whether the system is Windows-or Linux based or whether it sits on top of an SQL server or Oracle database. Those are in themselves important considerations, but the deployment model has more to do with installation and accessibility. How will the application itself be installed and accessed by the customer?
What is cloud deployment?
There are two very general classifications of cloud ERP deployment models that you can make to try and understand your cloud options. I would classify these as SaaS (software as a service) and hosted deployments.
The Software as a Service Deployment Model
Software as a service, or SaaS, is the model in which the application lives somewhere in the vendor’s data center, and the consuming customer has no line of site to its deployment. The customer subscribes to the software and consumes the application on a client-only basis, often in the form of a web browser. There is no need to manage a complex installation or oversee the application’s administration. The SaaS deployment model limits your control by limiting your responsibility in regard to application management.
The Hosting Deployment Model
The other common deployment model you could classify broadly as hosting. In a hosted environment, the application is deployed to a known server architecture. This architecture could be an on-premise or a local host, or a colocation facility, but I’m seeing much less of that these days, except with larger organizations that are comfortable with large hardware investments. Most often, I find hosting to refer to some form of cloud data center hosting, where the resources are consumed over the cloud as a service. In this scenario, the software itself is purchased using a perpetual license model and deployed to and administered from a discrete platform.
Hosted & SaaS ERP: Two Roads Diverged
So SaaS and hosting are your two basic options for the underlying technology that will serve as the foundation for your ERP. If you are a customer in the midst of an ERP software selection journey, you need to understand what deployment options are available and how they differ, relative to the specific software you are evaluating. That said, I think some generalizations can be made regarding the two models.
SaaS itself can be divided into two categories. The first would be the family of applications that were built from the ground-up to be browser-based, web applications. Plex, NetSuite, and Salesforce are examples of purely web-based applications.
Another class of applications would be vendors who are retrofitting their older, on-premise applications to be web-enabled and centrally installed and administered, like any other SaaS application.
In general, SaaS is a great option, especially for what I would consider lightweight applications. The software as a service deployment model provides the functionality you need with a costing model that your accountants will like, and it does this without a lot of administrative IT overhead.
I say lightweight because I’ve found some challenges with some of the limitations of SaaS functionality. In my own efforts, working within various applications, I’ve found that SaaS applications provide a more limited functionality when it comes to the need for more robust capabilities. This is especially true in terms of reporting or administration, or in the construction of specialized business logic.
If you take a well-known software like Salesforce, for instance, and compare its capabilities to traditional on-premise enterprise systems, you’ll see some challenges or differences in the relative functionality of the two systems. An example might be the administrative tools provided to manage, load, and update data. The capabilities are somewhat comparable, but on-premise applications will almost always be more robust, easier to use, and more effective.
The Future of ERP Deployment Makes All the Difference
Currently, ERP software vendors understand this gap and are working to close it over time, but this process is years in the making. For vendors that offer both on-premise and SaaS versions of their applications, I’ve found that the functionality available in SaaS has a long way to go to catch up with their on-premise antecedents. If you were to purchase the SaaS version and the on-premise version of an ERP from the same vendor, you should expect the SaaS version to underperform compared to the on-premise version.
The resources on ERP deployment out there are not always very clear on what those differences actually are, especially when the information comes from the vendors themselves.
For a hosted model, whether it is some form of self-hosting on top of an infrastructure as a service model, or a managed hosting situation, where a group is providing the entire platform, you can think of it as an on-premise installation without the risks and costs and overhead that come with an on-premise install. This is great from a functionality standpoint, as the control provides over the server architecture allows you to really leverage the full functionality available to you as a customer.
From my perspective, the difference between SaaS and hosted ERP really comes down to expectations with regard to functionality.
I have seen cases during the software selection cycle where the solutions engineers of various companies demonstrate the capabilities of their ERP systems using their full-bodied on-premise versions, only for the sales reps to actually sell the SaaS-based version of the application to the customer.
This is done with the implicit assumption that the SaaS-based version contains all the rich features and functionality of its on-premise sibling. But as we’ve discussed, that this is not always the case, and I’ve known more than a few customers who express tremendous frustration over this experience—believing they are buying a luxury car, only to have the dealer deliver them the base model.
How to Choose SaaS or Hosted ERP
If you are looking at a software that sprung from the web fully formed, like a NetSuite or a Plex, the question is a little more straightforward. There is no option to host the application, and from a functionality standpoint, what you see is what you get.
But if you’re working though the decision as to whether to purchase the SaaS subscription license or the perpetual license of an application, you really need to understand whether the functionality will be available in both versions. Essentially, you need to understand how the user experience might differ between the two versions, and then make your choice from there.
Companies that need the robust functionality that comes with a perpetual license and an on-premise installation and can’t afford to lose that in moving to a pure SaaS or purely web-based architecture have hosting options. If you wish to avoid the liabilities and costs of an on-premise install, then you need explore some of the hosting alternatives available. There are plenty of benefits to be gained through leveraging the cloud:
- the scalability
- the dynamic consumption model
- the benefits of adaptive computing
With these in mind, your cloud migration should also be done in a process that ensures that you are leveraging the full functionality of the software and not limiting yourself, your business, and your future in the process.
Cloud environments like hosted or SaaS ERP systems demand that your team is ready to handle everything from basic business processes to highly sensitive data. Cloud ERP is becoming the go-to jump, and a cloud based software solution could become a downfall without expert project management.
Software applications are becoming more complex, and your ERP solution will change regularly as your vendor adapts to changing technology. Are you looking for help understanding cloud infrastructure? Our cloud computing consultants have answers. Whether you’re trying to head out of community clouds or get lightning-strike level understanding of single tenant infrastructure, our EstesCloud team is here to help make your business run better.