A lot of Accounting/ERP and CRM developers are making attempts to position their older offerings as “cloud computing.”  Many articles in accounting journals are even defining cloud computing as the ability to run your application on a server based somewhere else. While many cloud applications are still short on features, cloud is now the buzz. Everyone wants in.

I sat in on a cloud (SaaS) only vendor’s presentation last month where the vendor’s primary argument was that cloud saves everyone so much money in hardware and IT costs, well who would be foolish enough to continue running anything on premise? I then looked at the modules and functionality of the solution and found the product to be seriously missing key features, functionality and usefulness. The presentation, however, was compelling — forget what you need the program to do—it’s in the cloud so it’s ok.

So even though programs “having to run in the cloud without regard to functionality” is a specious argument, the cloud can and does offer a better platform given similar functionality to an on-premise solution. That’s why Steve Ballmer says Microsoft is “all in”.

To me cloud computing requires a web architecture at a minimum and hopefully a .net environment as well. The best cloud options such as MS CRM and Acumatica can run on the Microsoft Azure Platform, on premise, or be hosted anywhere.

The main benefits a web interface provides are:

1. Cross platform compatibility.  You can use the system from PCs, Macs, Linux, iPhone/iPad, and other devices that have an internet browser.  The browser can be Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer, etc.

2. There is no software to install and maintain on workstations.

3. The programs are easy to customize and deploy.   One can make changes on the server side and the changes propagate instantly to all workstations. Again no software patches to install or maintain on workstations.

4. Access from anywhere..   you can be in a hotel lobby on a public station and still access it quickly.

5.  You can deploy as Saas or on premise.   It is easy to host and control whom has access.  It is also easy to price based on a recurring and predictable subscription basis.

6. There is no need to purchase special hardware.

7. When deploying on Cloud and in Saas mode, considerable savings can be achieved both upfront and ongoing.

In terms of Development tools, you can debate Rapid Development, access to 3rd party controls, backwards compatibility, etc… but generally it is not worth the battle as one could argue all day on the topic and no clear winner will be found.

One thing that is unique with Acumatica (an ERP product with outstanding toolset for developing apps quickly) is how customization are stored and maintained so that as you upgrade the customizations they stay intact gracefully and chances of them breaking are minimal especially if one follows the Acumatica development guidelines.

The Acumatica framework provides the developer tools to register all customizations which allows Acumatica to maintain all the changes in meta data and apply it to upgrades automatically.   It is the Acumatica architectural design that allows it to be highly adaptable, customizable, and scalable more so than just .net.

MS CRM and Acumatica follow “my rules” for a robust cloud computing definition but add lots of great development tools for VARs and customers to use to enhance their in-house developed programs.

The SaaS-only options that tend to “lock-in” users to one location for their programs and data, tend to have far more limiting toolsets to make software solutions do what they need to do for clients.  Whereas the two I’ve mentioned as examples extend themselves in useful and powerful ways.