The Importance of Web Based Applications for Your Business (Podcast)


Steve Ripper of PCG talks about modern, or web based, applications, how they are different from traditional software, why it’s important for businesses to transition to the cloud for line of business applications, and what holds companies back from doing so.

Portsmouth Computer Group · The Importance of Web Based Applications for Your Business

John Maher: Welcome to Tech Tuesday, brought to you by PCG, a managed services and security provider in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I’m John Maher, and with me today from PCG is Steve Ripper. Welcome Steve.

Steve Ripper: Hi, John. How are you today?

What is a Modern or Web Based Business Application?

John: Good, thanks. So Steve, today, we’re talking about the importance of web based, or modern, business applications for the future of your business. So what do you mean when we say modern, or web based?

Steve: Yes, because it’s kind of strange, right? Isn’t it all modern? We’re talking about technology here, isn’t it modern by definition? We’re talking about the difference between applications that have been designed for the new millennium, the new way of doing things, the cloud, web-based applications, things with high mobility, all of these concepts that we talk about.

We’re talking about the difference between applications that were very much rooted in the past, the late ’90s, early 2000s where they’re linked and connected to being installed somewhere on a piece of hardware that’s in your network. And really, the new modern way of doing things is more to have it be a service, where you’re going to either access it via webpage or maybe some other type of modern authentication method.

Classic examples of this software: Salesforce is a big one. But there are lots of other applications, depending on whatever your business requirement is. So the medical industry also sees a lot of this where their requirements for an EMR by law have really driven that industry. Not just to say, “well, look, here’s our EMR”, but a lot of these companies have designed their EMRs in a new way, where you can access them via a webpage or some other technologies. And the hallmark that I want to get at is that it’s less application-based on a device in your network, and it’s more accessible from almost anywhere.

John: Right. And like that medical example that you just gave, if I get transferred from one hospital to another hospital, that other hospital has to be able to access my records, or my primary care physician has to be able to access those records, and things like that. So it all has to be in the cloud in a centrally located environment where everybody can access that information.

Steve: Yes. So, when we say EMR, that’s exactly right, John, we’re talking about the electronic medical record, that’s what EMR stands for. We’re talking about how they’re keeping track of all of the data for you when you go to visit. For the purposes of this conversation what we’re really focusing on is, “how is that application set up”?

And that’s true for a lot of different things, the other three letter designation that we use in our industry is “line of business” application, LOB, or line of business app. Because we need to have a generic term for whatever it is when we’re talking to a customer, your business; if you’re listening to this, whatever you are using. So if you’re in marketing, you might be using a contact management software like Salesforce.

If you’re in manufacturing, maybe you have some sort of program that manages your manufacturing process from scheduling what it is you’re building, when it’s going to be done, to your vendors contact information. Financial industries have their own, they tend to be very much leaning on contact management, but it might be slightly different. For us, for PCG, we have a ticketing management software, where when we get a ticket case, we’re getting a ticket created so that we can track when that person, myself or any of the other engineers, or help desk, or anyone else is working on that from the beginning to completion. So that’s one for us.

“Well, how do I know which one I’m doing? Steve, you’ve been describing it now for like 10 minutes, and I still don’t know.” If you can just give your users a link and they can click the link and log in, that’s what I’m really getting at when I’m talking about web-based or modern built applications.

If, to get a new user set up on what we’re talking about, you have to contact the IT department and say, “I need a VPN”, “I need to get the client installed on their machine”, “it needs to be configured”, maybe there’s some licensing, that’s when you’re really working in what we would think of as the older methods. The more you need IT for someone like myself, probably the more antiquated I would call it.

There’s a misconception there a lot of times, John. I’ll get this question that says, “Well, Steve you’re talking to me about moving to this web-based application. Are you talking yourself out of a job?” No, I don’t feel that way. You’re still going to need me. I’m still a consultant. I’m still going to help with things. But if your access to it is easier by just going to what everyone already knows, like the internet, and more importantly continues to be easy when you leave the building, you go home and you’re working from home, or you’re on vacation and you need to answer one question, that’s an example of a more modern [application], and I feel like if that’s better for your company, it’s better for me. I’m not talking myself out of a job.

A classic example, if any of the people who are listening to this are using, or are familiar with, Office 365, [that’s] absolutely a more modern line of business application. You don’t need to be able to get a VPN to connect to your exchange server, your mail server, that’s at the office. Gmail is a classic example. Why would we have all of this infrastructure that we’re connecting to, when we could just open up a webpage and read our email? Okay, so that can be very much true for any line of business application, and we would prefer to see that as your IT support people. It makes our jobs just that much easier, just as it does for you.

How Does This Relate to The Other Systems in My Office?

John: So is that the main reason why it’s an important part of your business to be using these web based, or modern business applications, and how do they relate to all of the other systems that I have in my business?

Steve: Yeah, absolutely. If anything in the last year and a half has taught us, John, mobility is key, right? We went from a point where, before the pandemic, it was fine for companies to think in terms of a monolithic structure. I’ve got my building, and I’ve got my people in my building, and inside my building I’ve got my servers and infrastructure that serves that, that’s fine. Suddenly the pandemic comes along, and everybody’s gone. So, you’ve got these servers that are in these buildings but the people are spread out across the countryside, wherever they are. And for some organizations, they were always that way, John. I’ve found that those organizations who had far flung sales forces, or just groups who were always working remotely, were already at the forefront of this concept, where our apps need to be as mobile as the people that we have working for us.

But we saw, last year, a lot of companies say, “Hey, look, all my people are gone. They’re now at home. How do we get them to access the application? It’s not a thing that I had to worry about before.” And that really drove this conversation that we’re talking about today, which is the question that I would have everybody think and ask themselves is, “Does the application that drives my business, that I absolutely have to have for what we do, have they been innovating? Have they been changing what their method is from maybe when they designed it in 2005? Is there a 2020 version of that software?”

Oftentimes you’ll find out that they’ve been being contacted by this vendor, who’s been saying, “Listen, we have this new version and you should be moving to that.” And they’ve just resisted that. This is an opportunity for someone like myself at PCG to go, “You can involve me, but maybe we should be talking about that.” Because there are absolute advantages. If they’ve designed their application for modern “mobility” – that would be the keyword I want to focus on, John — you should probably be thinking about that.

How Do Older Applications Impede Progress?

John: Right. So how do some of those older applications really impede progress toward this goal of having everything be in the cloud and having it be accessible from anywhere, or maybe your mobile device, or things like that, like you’re talking about? How do those old applications hold companies back?

Steve: Yeah, so when we hit that older application, John, there’s a lot of, “no”, we hate saying the word no, but that’s where it comes out. “So Steve, listen, we’re thinking of going towards where we want to put some stuff virtually in the cloud.” Or, “We want to use this”, whatever this is. “We found this product that’s new.” And suddenly I look at it and I go, “but you’re still using that”, whatever that is, this older application that sits on your servers and will just not play well with that at all.

So suddenly what seemed like an initiative that would really be a good business decision and give value to the company is being impeded by this other piece of software, or this primary piece of software, that just will not play well with it at all.

John: Right. We want to put everything up in the cloud, or we want to get a virtual server that’s in the cloud, but we can’t because we have this one application that won’t run on the cloud.

Steve: Exactly, so a common use scenario, John, will be, “Listen, why would we keep our servers here in our building?” All my people are out around, and maybe this new world order they never come back full time. They work for me full-time, John, but they never come back to the office full-time. Maybe they’re just two days in the office, three days at home, or vice versa, or some other type of arrangement. “So Steve, why do I want to have the servers in the office? Can we move them to the cloud so that they can access it?”

Well, sure. That’s an easy thing for them to jump to, John, like, “What do I do with the servers? Can we put them up there?” But I’m immediately throwing a glass of cold water on it going, “Well, listen, that’s great. But you have this electronic medical record software that is sitting on a server in your network, and I can make a virtual server of that in the cloud. But in order for you to connect to it, you’re going to need VPNs, that program isn’t going to work well over VPN. It was never designed for it because in 2005, no one really did that. And they, meaning the vendor of that application, maybe never, ever did any R&D to get it to that point, or they did and you haven’t signed onto it; one of those two scenarios. And so now I’ve got to do things like build, maybe, some remote desktops in the cloud with terminal services, so that you have a separate desktop login to be able to access that application.

Without going too deep into that, John, you can see that I’m now coming up with alternate plans to try and retrofit this older application into newer ways of doing things. And so I’m always the one trying to steer the conversation back to, have we explored the application? Where is it at? Has the vendor been talking to you about a new version that they’re doing? Do they have a web faced version of it? If they don’t, have you thought about maybe some other ones; other vendors in this space; their competition? Maybe they’re innovating in a way that this company that you’ve been with for a long time just isn’t anymore. And so those are the things we want to explore because I’m going to give you a lot of work arounds and answers of, “No, that won’t work” or, “It’s going to be terrible” or, “It’s not going to work well.” So those are the real caveats to it.

A lot of people don’t realize when they come at this as a business decision, that they should probably be looking at it as the application that they use first, and then, what would we do all around that?

Why Do Companies Stick With Older Applications?

John: Yeah, and you’d think that companies would want to have whatever the latest version of their software is. They would want to be able to take advantage of being able to have people access it from home, or on their mobile device, or things like that. But I know that doesn’t always happen. What are some of the reasons why businesses stick with these older applications, even though they don’t play well in the new environment?

Steve: It goes a little deeper than that, but the obvious answer, one, is that people don’t like change. They know what they know, and that’s absolutely a factor.

John: Right, “We’ve always done it this way.”

Steve: Yes.

John: “I don’t want to have to train everybody on this new system.”

Steve: Sure.  So it’s my job to go, “Listen, these are the reasons why you may need to break out of this comfort zone.” QuickBooks is a classic example for me and really matches all of these things that we’re talking about in this topic. “Listen, we want to put stuff in the cloud. We want to put our servers there. We want to be more mobile. Our accountants are now home, and they’re trying to do payroll at night. How can we do that?” “Well, are you still using QuickBooks?” “Yes, we use QuickBooks, but we looked at another program, and it didn’t do what we wanted it to do.” Every time I hear that, John, what I’m really hearing is, “It wasn’t QuickBooks.”

John: “It wasn’t the same thing that I already know how to use.”

Steve: Yes, exactly. It presented a way of doing the workflow that they were used to doing in a different way, took them out of their comfort zone, and made them uncomfortable. And they chose not to, they went back to QuickBooks. Yet, QuickBooks, in many cases, is one of the worst offenders of this modernization. They have had plenty of opportunities to come up with new, more mobile, more accessible ways of reaching QuickBooks, and they just haven’t done it. They stay with this very old-school, monolithic, “it’s got to be installed on the server”, “it’s got to be installed on the PC”, “doesn’t play well with any kind of remote connections or VPNs”.

So you see where I’m going with that, where I’m focusing them back to, “What do you want to use?” “Well, we need to continue using QuickBooks.” Well, if that’s the case, then we’re going to have some problems. It’s going to be really difficult to get to there because it doesn’t play well with any of these things. “Well, what can we do?” Well, you can complain to QuickBooks. There’s some QuickBooks online options, but one of the problems is nobody likes it. So shame on Intuit/QuickBooks for developing a product that people aren’t liking.

John: Right, it doesn’t have all of the same features, or something like that.

Steve: Yes, and I can’t really speak to that, John, I’m only just reporting back what users tell me. They like the older version. And so that’s very much on QuickBooks for not making sure that what people like about their older app they would like in their newer app. But those are the problems that I run into — how do I get users who are used to a workflow in a comfort zone to think maybe this is worth learning how this other company does it, for all of the other advantages that that program brings.

John: Right, so is that how you approach it with companies is, “Hey, this is what you want to do. This is what you want to accomplish. Let me show you what all of the fantastic features are that you’ll gain by making this change and going in this direction.” Is that how you approach it to try to get them to make that change?

Steve: Yeah, I do. So one of the things you do is you try to give the opposition to it. “Well, we want to continue using this”; “We want to stay in our comfort zone.” So you approach it by maybe pointing out that, first of all, the big picture solutions… because we do need to modernize in other areas, right? So we do need to move away from potentially constantly building servers, and keeping it in the building, and maybe we want to go to more virtualized methods of things, and things in the cloud.

So we try to point out to them that, “Listen, so the workarounds are going to be pretty unmanageable, you’re not going to like them. All of the reasons why you’re telling me that you like this product are going to now be attacked by the fact that you don’t like this, you don’t like that. You don’t like the remote desktop window for it. You don’t like that.”

And then the other one we bring up is just cost. So the cost of retrofitting this older way of doing this line of business, to a newer way of doing things, may be untenable. You always try to approach that like, “Listen, I get that you may have to do things differently and learn a new piece of software, but it may be also, more than anything else, not only is it going to fit your larger business plans, but it may be cost effective too. Your users will like it more after the initial process of getting acclimated to it. But the cost will be down too, where you’re just moving to this. It’s designed for the environment and the future that you’ve planned for your company, and it will fit it better.”

And that’s how you try to approach it. Many times it doesn’t work, there’s just, “This is what we know, and this is what we’re staying with.” So sometimes they don’t do anything all, and sometimes we just have to do workarounds. And then some companies go, “Sure, this is a great idea.” It’s always easier from our point of view, John, when we approach a company where they say, “Well, listen, Steve…” They’re already coming at us from this point of view of, “Why do I need these servers? I’ve already moved to something like Salesforce.” So that’s how that conversation, a lot of times, starts; “Hey, listen, we’re already using Salesforce,” which is web based, “we’re already using Office 365, I can open up Outlook from anywhere. I take my laptop, I just go home, I open it up, I open up my email, I’ve got a whole home office setup and all my users do. We spent a little money, we got cameras, we got printers, they’re all working from home. Why do I need the servers in the office?”

And then when they approach it from that point of view…if you caught at the beginning of what I was saying, John, they’ve already addressed the line of business that the application that they use, they’ve already reached that. And so we go, “There is no reason why we should [wait], we’re going to get started right now.” Because the single biggest roadblock, that application that they use, they’ve already resolved it, they’ve moved to a web-based version of it. So it makes everybody’s job easier.

John: Right, absolutely. That’s really great information, Steve, thanks again for speaking with me today.

Steve: Sure. It was great.

John: And for more information, you can visit the PCG website at, or call (603) 431-4121.