This article was written as an expansion of our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for your Business” published in July 2011.  If you’re looking for information on how to make your software selection, check out the full article.  If you just want to make sense of this particular topic, keep reading.  Whether you like this article or not, we want to hear from YOU so that we can continue to provide the best insight for YOU, our readers…

Today we wrap up our discussion of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions.  We gave you the “good news” about working with SaaS vendors on Tuesday.  Today we’ll talk about what to look out for (or, if you like, the “bad news”). 

Some more bad news – today’s post also wraps up our series on choosing sustainability management software.  We hope you got some valuable take-aways from these posts, and that your business flourishes wither whichever solution you’ve chosen!  We’ll continue blog about sustainability software from time to time, so make sure to check in regularly to see if you missed any information.   


While we like SaaS, there are some potential disadvantages that you’ll want to consider when making your decision.  The first consideration is “loss of control”.  By choosing a SaaS solution, you are outsourcing work to a third party who isn’t directly in your organization’s chain of command, isn’t necessarily located anywhere close to your office geographically, and may work an entirely different schedule or calendar from what you are used to working.  Yes, you’ll have a signed contract specifying who does what and when it gets done, but that occurs at a level that you really only can influence vs. directly managing.  The “fear of loss” for a vendor losing one client (out of many) is lower than for one of your employees who is going to show up and get the job done because it is the only one they have.  To put a happier spin on it, you may provide such an amazing workplace that your employees love your company so much that they would walk across burning coals to come to work, whereas your vendor is just focused on keeping the system running so that they can collect their monthly subscription fee.  Either way, you need to be aware of just how important you are to your vendor since you’ve selected them as your partner and elected outsource an important business function to them.

Security is a second major area of concern for most businesses today, especially when you read about Sony, Google, and Lockheed-Martin - the list goes on and on - getting hacked by the Chinese, Anonymous, LulzSec or just some kids goofing around on a Saturday night.  Many of the recent security incidents seem to indict “cloud computing” as being a current problem area, but the reality is that criminal behaviors (and teenage pranks) have been around forever and are just finding new mediums and venues.  In any case, ask yourself if your small business is more likely to get hacked than a big attractive target like a software vendor.  Then ask yourself who will be better prepared to prevent or minimize the impact of an attack.

Legal questions closely relate to the security concern.  Security is focused on preventing unauthorized people from accessing your information.  But what do you do when an authorized person does something with your company’s proprietary data that you don’t approve of?  It could be something as simple as including the confidential data in some report that you would prefer not to be referenced in, or as problematic as posting it somewhere like Wikileaks.  Keeping control of your data and how it is used are important concerns for you and your lawyers.

A final area of disadvantage is the impact of SaaS in your strategy and direction.  After all, if you are using the exact same system that everyone else is using, it will be hard to make that system a competitive advantage.  You’ll need to make the RESULTS you get from using the system into the source of competitive advantage.  Beyond strategy, what do you do if your vendor doesn’t offer a new feature or report that you decide you really, really need?  Using a SaaS solution may limit the amount of flexibility or customization that you can get from an internal solution, especially if you can’t convince the vendor to put your “must have” feature anywhere on their development roadmap.  On the flip side, if your vendor is rolling out new bells and whistles every month that you don’t really need or want, how do you prevent this feature creep from driving wasted effort or lost productivity on the part of your team?

Note: Yes, the user interface might be slightly different if you go from PC to Mac to an iPad to an Android phone, but for now, we’re going to assume that you are accessing the software via a more traditional web browser regardless of the platform.  If you choose to use more specialized features of a tablet or smart phone, then you will lose some of the benefits, but hopefully the specialized features make up for it.

Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.