Should you move your property management business to the cloud? That is a compelling question and one that we are asked quite a bit. There is still very good desktop or laptop based software on the market, but it is overwhelmingly cloud based software the feeds the competition. We’ve taken a hard look at both (see Ten Myths About Web Based Software) and want to provide a thoughtful unbiased review of both.
1. Easy to access
You have access to web based software anywhere. You just need an Internet connection. Your information is there 24/7, so there is no need to call the office if you need information, or to take your backups with you. This is probably the most compelling reason to go the web based software.
2. Device friendly
Most cloud software can run on any device, such as the iPhone, Tablets, and any desktop or laptop computer. What browser you use do not matter. Typically bandwidth is not a problem, but if you have a large number of properties, you can expect a sluggish response on large lists or reports. Remember that all of the data is on a server, so it may take a while to show detailed information.
3. No need to have much technical experience
While all property management software has made an effort to simplify, it seems that cloud based software is generally more user friendly. The trade-off is that you won’t be able to see as much on the screen for smaller devices, so you’ll spend more time scrolling through menus.
4. Easy installation
When you install desktop software, you’ll need to install it on any computers that use it. For web based software, you need only one installation for multiple devices, then each user will need a password. If you are computer savvy this might not be a problem, but desktop software installation can definitely take longer.
5. Technical support
We included support, however, that is always subjective. If you need remote support on a desktop system, you’ll need to connect through some 3rd party software, such as ‘Log Me In’ or ‘Team Viewer’. Usually any issue can be handled over the phone with web-based software, but you’ll need to check the support policies for each. Not all software products offer phone support and some expect you to just use their online knowledge base in self service mode.
6. Online portals
One great advantage of cloud software is the ability for tenants and owners to have their own login information so that they can view their account and print statements at any time. Just make sure that it is something you want to provide, since you may not always be up to date with the current information.
7. Cost considerations
All web based software bills monthly, usually based on the number of rental units that you manage. People are getting used to paying monthly for software (called SAAS, or ‘software as a service’). This bill can be quite high, which is why the is so much competition in the cloud based property management software industry. There is good profit to be made. In fact, a number of vendors offer their software free for smaller managers, and make their money off of tenant screening, ACH, and web services. Desktop software is a one-time cost, but that means a large upfront investment and sometimes needing to purchase updates as they are produced.
Another advantage of web based software is that you don’t need to pay for updates. That cost is already included in the monthly cost that you are paying. So, you will avoid the need to install additional software – that is done for you automatically as the updates are completed.
Especially in multi-user situations, web software has an advantage. Workers can use the program simultaneously and the data is instantly updated. Desktop software usually offers network features, but that is generally for a single office situation, not having the ability to share the data in multiple locations. New users can be added at any time, although this may be at an additional cost.
Oddly enough, this is a selling point for both desktop and web based software. Desktop based software may or may not have user logins and entry security, and most web based software does. However, keep in mind that your sensitive data is on a server that could be compromised. Generally, there are multiple backups and redundant data stores that improve the security and lessen the likelihood that the server will go down. If that does happen, though, be aware that your business is down as well. If you insist on having your data stay with you so that you are assured of it’s safety, maybe you need to consider desktop software.
In general, web based software is more convenient especially when sharing data from multiple locations. Prices are going down because of stiff competition, so be sure to check out a large number of vendors before you purchase. As in any case, check each one of the advantages and disadvantages of web based or cloud software against the desktop alternative and decide what works best for your own situation.