It’s frustrating to hear people talk about hosted association management systems (or any other software system, really, but for the sake of this post, let’s go with AMSes) as though “hosted” always means the same thing. It doesn’t.
First, you can either have a premise-based system (located on-site on your servers) or a hosted solution (off premise). Everyone knows what a premise-based system is (the one that causes flailing arms in the hallway on the way to the server room when the AMS stops running), so we can table this for now (only for now, because it will come up again in a bit as a twist to the whole hosting thing – I know, it can be maddening).
Now, let’s move onto hosting. But, before we get too far into it, let me talk briefly about “enterprise” versus “software as a service” solutions.
The enterprise AMS is the traditional system that requires configuration, often involves customization, and can take a long time to stand up. This type of AMS can be premise-based or hosted. If it’s hosted, I strongly recommended that you do so at the vendor’s hosting facility, because only then will you benefit from routine updates and maintenance done by the vendor. In fact, if it’s not hosted at the vendor’s facility, the vendor will treat the implementation as though it’s premise-based (here’s that term rearing its ugly head again); this basically means that, in the vendor’s eyes, from an update/maintenance perspective, you might as well have the servers sitting in a closet in your offices. A hosted enterprise AMS typically includes up-front licensing and implementation fees. Then, once hosting begins, you will pay a monthly hosting/maintenance fee.
The second type of hosted solution, software-as-service (SaaS) is a pay-per-user/per-month option that typically requires little configuration and almost never any customization. You should consider this to be more of a “take it as it is” option that can prove more affordable for smaller, less complicated organizations.
An example of a customer relationship management SaaS application with which you might be familiar is Salesforce. You can purchase licenses for it and be up and running in 5 minutes, per se. You are taking the software as it is and modeling your processes around it. It is a hosted solution, yes, because you cannot purchase it to be implemented onsite, and it’s also a pay-as-you-go and WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) option. Of course, there are tons of third-party vendors that have developed industry-specific functionality on top of the Salesforce core, including some in the association space, but now we’re getting into a slightly different topic. Usually, SaaS solutions are more “low end” from a functionality perspective, which also makes sense when you consider that most enterprise solutions are complex and can be highly customized.
So – in conclusion, hosting by any other name is not necessarily hosting. Hosting can mean different things, and it’s important that you can distinguish between them. For example, you don’t want to state in an RFP that you will only consider “hosted” solutions. What would that mean?