Online v/s offline software – the eternal debate

In good old days, most people lived in houses which were independent units. Each house had its own water storage, drainage, plumbing etc., Nowadays, most people (at least in cities) live in housing societies which consist of several flats. Since several families live in a housing society, they all share a lot of infrastructure and can also afford a number of common amenities like swimming pool, garden, security staff etc., The common costs are shared by all, therefore a lot of amenities that are unaffordable by independent houses, become affordable in housing societies.

Conceptually, offline software is similar to independent house. Online software is similar to housing society.

Offline software (or desktop software) is installed from a CD or from a web-site. After installation, it resides on your PC/laptop. Examples of offline software include MS-Office, Tally etc.,

Online software (or cloud software) is web-based software which runs on internet and requires two things to run: a) Web-browser like Internet Explorer/Chrome/Firefox, b) internet connection. Examples of online software include Gmail, train/air reservation sites etc., Most online software can be easily adapted to run properly from tablet & mobile as well.

Online software

 

Offline (desktop) software

 

Information access From anywhere – on laptop or mobile or tab. Like Gmail. Gives control to users.

 

Access from specific PC only. LAN connectivity of desktop software is workable with some networking.

 

Software Updates

 

Automatic.

No effort needed from user.

Manual.

Effort needed by user.

Some technical involvement required.

 

Loss of data

 

Data backups1 are usually taken regularly and automatically. Data is secure2 on servers hosted in data-centers that have international security certification.

 

Risk of data loss on hardware issues, disk crash etc.,
Virus risk Servers maintained and protected by experts. Linux/Unix3 operating systems are least vulnerable to viruses.

 

Very high risk of viruses corrupting data. Anti-virus software helps to an extent but be aware that viruses strike and cause the damage first. Anti-virus software then updates to protect from it. That’s how that cycle works.

 

SMS & Email This works seamlessly. Cloud technology is made for it. Cloud servers can be easily configured for DKIM standards that are followed by Gmail/Yahoo/Hotmail etc., for proper delivery of emails.

 

Erratic. Desktop technology was made before mobile era. Emails may not adhere to DKIM and land in spam/junk folders of patients.

 

Operating System upgrade

 

No impact at all because no software is installed. Software may need to be reinstalled. Its license keys also need to be retrieved.
Pricing

 

Online software is usually on subscription basis, ranging anywhere from Rs.250 to 1500pm Offline software is usually on one-time cost plus annual maintenance charges. Some vendors may also expect you to pay for major upgrades.
  1. Data Backups: An online software is expected to take data backups every day and ensure that it’s stored safely. Please confirm this with your software vendor.
  2. Data Security: An online software is expected to ensure security of data as per international standards. Please confirm this with your software vendor.
  3. Operating System: Linux/Unix operating systems are known to be quite sturdy and safe from viruses. Please confirm this with your software vendor if their server is based on Linux/Unix.

So, which one is better?

An independent house or flat in a housing society?

I hear you say ‘how about the best of both, like row house societies?’

Well, at least in software, the biggest success has been with players who clearly took one of the two approaches. So then, which type of software is better?

Often this debate goes on a tangent and the bigger perspective is lost. Long-term growth of your practice is the big picture and software is just one part. I invite you to ponder over the following pointers and the right answer applicable for you should emerge.

  • How comfortable you are with the fact that your data will be hosted on the vendor’s server?

    Just to give you a perspective, all your Gmail/Yahoo mail/Hotmail etc., are on vendor’s server. Your entire social media interaction on WhatsApp, Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram are on vendor’s server. The entire content of your smartphone (contacts, messages, photos, videos, applications, various accounts) are on vendor’s server in most cases. Each time you use a card to make a purchase, somehow a bunch of companies come to know about it and you start getting promotional SMSes/emails. If your bank has internet banking facility, then your banking information is on the cloud too. Now, with e-filing of income tax returns, your income tax data is online too.

  • What’s the trustworthiness of the software vendor?

    Confidentiality and safety of your data is extremely important. Do take some time to find out

    • If the vendor ever leaked anybody’s data
    • If the vendor ever contacted anybody’s patients directly
    • If the vendor ever lost/corrupted anybody’s data
  • How important it is for you to enter/access your clinic information from outside the clinic (from a laptop at home or a mobile or a tablet)

    Accessing up-to-this-moment information from multiple places or devices works with online software only. Further, if you have multiple clinics, then this becomes even more important.

  • How technically comfortable you or your staff are?

    Offline software requires you are comfortable in taking regular backups, protecting your data from viruses, upgrading software when needed, reinstalling the software when operating system is reinstalled/upgraded etc.,

  • Physical proximity of software vendor

    Offline software and the data reside on your PC. Your PC-specific factors become relevant (RAM, disk space, anti-virus, windows registry etc.,). Thus, when you need support from the vendor, physical proximity helps in troubleshooting. In online software, the software as well as the data resides on the vendor’s server.

  • Internet connectivity

    Online software requires continuous internet connectivity. Thus, it’s a viable option for you only if you have good connectivity.

Your circumstances, preferences, sensitivities, and objectives are unique to you. Thus you must decide based on those. This blog is simply to enlighten you to relevant factors, so that YOU decide for yourself (not a vendor deciding for you!).

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