In The Early 2000’s, A New Approach To Agency Automation Was Upon Us … Hosting Your Agency Management System At A Data-Center and Accessing It From The Internet!

Let’s Get Logical And Realistic About Hosted (Internet Based) Agency Management Systems.

Hosted Agency Management Systems Have Their Merits, But Are You Being Told The The Whole Truth?

There are merits to both Hosted Agency Management Systems and Networked Systems. But, working through what’s truth and what’s just over exaggerated sales mumbo-jumbo isn’t always easy.

When the only product a vendor has to sell is hosted (or will sell due to issues with the desktop version) or the only product they have to sell is a desktop version, they tend to slant all of their sales materials to that environment.

The first thing you need to understand is that hosted agency management systems didn’t become available because the majority of agencies pushed to have their client data and management system thousands of miles away on somebody else’s computer to be accessed via the Internet. Hosted agency management systems came into existence as a solution to a couple of vendor’s numerous problems with their network version that caused agencies to spend huge sums of money on IT costs to keep their network up and running!

Regardless to how they came into existence, hosted systems are here to stay. However, that does not mean hosted agency management systems are the only solution or the wave of the future as many would like you to believe.

Before making a decision on one over the other, you first need to understand what your agency needs to do its job effectively. You should also look at the direction your agency is going to plan for the future. Once you understand what your agency’s needs are you need to understand the clear differences between the different ways to access and run your management system.

You’ve Received Incorrect Information About Hosted Agency Management Systems

Let’s start our discussion on information you’ve been fed in this industry and from vendors that may not be completely accurate.

Vendors who are pushing Hosted agency management systems try to justify your decision and the additional costs for hosting your system. They’ll do this by telling you that you don’t need a network or to upgrade your computers and that your IT costs will drop dramatically. It’s a fallacy and simply wrong to suggest you don’t need a network or don’t need to upgrade your computers just because you’ve chosen to “host” your agency management system! As for the IT costs, we’ll take a look at it below too …

Don’t Need a Network:

Just because you choose to host your system, to create an efficient and productive agency you will still want to have a network in your agency even if it’s just Peer to Peer. (You’ll have to have at least a peer to peer network if you’re sharing an Internet connection with the computers in your agency.)

A network allows you to share data agency wide which every business that is serving clients is doing, or should be doing. Otherwise you end up having, say, 5 CSR’s working independent and not as a team for the good of your agency and clients.

You can say, “But all of the information is in our management system.” No it’s not, not everything!You’ve still got Word Docs, Spreadsheets and other things that should be shared agency wide. This is just for starters.

If security is an issue in your agency or you want to control who has access to what information, a Windows 2003/2008 Server environment would be used. Plus, you may have other networkable software used in your agency.

For a business to not have a network is just unimaginable. A network helps create synergy and working as a team with all data located at one central computer.

Not needing a network sounds good and all, but in a real life application it isn’t realistic.

You Don’t Need To Upgrade Workstations and You Don’t Need Beefed Up Computers:

Seriously?

First of all, it was the two vendors that had problems with their network version (and pushed for Hosted Agency Management Systems) that forced agencies to have beefed up computers! Most of the agency management systems don’t require any more of a computer than Microsoft Office would need to operate effectively with.

As for not needing to upgrade your workstations, software programs in general continue to evolve. As they evolve they are requiring faster computers with more RAM. With each new version, hardware requirements increase… Internet Explorer 8 & 9, VISTA & Windows 7, MS Office 2003 & 2007 as a few commonly used program examples.

When VISTA was released it clearly ran significantly slower than XP. If you are using VISTA (or Windows 7) on the computer you run your management system from, it’s not your management system that’s pushing you to upgrade your computers… it’s VISTA or Windows 7!!

If you’re running VISTA or considering upgrading to Windows 7, I wouldn’t unless you’re also going to upgrade your computers to at minimum of a Dual-Core Processor! Plus, with today’s software, I would make sure I had at least 2 gigs of RAM for XP and 3 gigs for VISTA. And again, this has NOTHING to do with your management system!

Cutting to the chase, with time being money, who wants to sit there and wait until a program opens up so you can do your work or be forced to close programs to free up resources before opening up another program. Consistently I’ll see CSR’s with MS Word, Excel, Outlook, 3 or 4 browsers windows opened up, and see a bunch of programs running in their task tray. Then they’ll open up their management system… YES, it’s going to be slow if you don’t have enough RAM and have a slow computer. Add VISTA or Windows 7 to the formula and you’re really going to be running at a crawl on old, out-dated computers without enough RAM!

These things are above and beyond your management system.

How much RAM should you have?

Take a look at the program specifications for the programs you consistently run. Each will have a minimum RAM required. Add them all up. For example, XP Professional requires at least 256k RAM; MS Word & Outlook 2007 both require 256k RAM each and a 500 MHz system. You get the point.

But, to add to this, each of these minimum requirements are based upon you ONLY OPENING AND USING THAT PROGRAM. Open up other programs while also using, say, MS Word and the minimum RAM and computer resources increase. See how this works?

As it’s already been mentioned, you should have a minimum of 2 gigs of RAM on computers running XP and 3 gigs of RAM on computers running VISTA or Windows 7.

Regardless to where you install and run your agency management system, it’s all of the other software you install on your computers that’s going to force you to upgrade your computers and the resources available on each!

Keeping Your Backups Offsite:

I agree, as the clincher to protecting your data, having it offsite would be very good in the event of an agency disaster such as a fire or flood.

HOWEVER, even with a network system you can get offsite backups.

In fact, there are a lot of solutions to backing up your data to another location offsite. Some are automated and done for you after hours where others require you to manually upload it offsite. Obviously, the automated solutions are more costly than the manual methods.

Your IT Costs Will Drop Like A Rock:

Is that because they were extraordinarily high due to keeping their agency management system that doesn’t run very well on a network up and running?

I remember helping numerous agencies switch from one of those systems to a more network friendly system… their IT costs dropped by over $30,000 a year alone! That had 100% to do with switching to a network friendly system from their old agency management system that ran poorly on a network and nothing to do with “hosting” their system. With the right agency management system, you won’t have high IT costs.

The next point to this is the configuring of your Server software. For Windows Server 2003 or 2008 to run properly, it needs to be configured properly. The problem is, there are so many low cost “backyard” technicians out there who know enough to make it work but don’t know how to configure Server 2003/2008 properly.

Like you, trying to save money, we had 2 local low cost technicians setup our Server 2003 environment of which both didn’t do it correctly. It wasn’t until we paid the price to have a qualified and educated IT technician set it up correctly that it operated like it’s suppose to without having connectivity problems and erratic problems. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of having your Server Software setup correctly! If it’s not setup properly, you’re going to have problems with your network and network software.

From our own analysis, spending a little bit more money upfront to have it configured correctly saved us thousands of dollars each year we spent on service calls having the IT guy come back out and fix our server. In fact, since it’s been setup properly, we’ve only had to call the IT guy to add new things to our server … we haven’t needed a single Service Call, even though we’ve grown and added new users and computers.

The other thing you can do is manage what’s installed or downloaded to your WORK computers, websites your staff surf too (porn sites are heavy in viruses), make sure all computers including the server have virus protection software and Malware protection software … just maintain common-sense with your WORK computers. They are to do a job, not play games on, etc. Point made?

With a hosted system, you need to remember that you’re paying an additional monthly fee for each person logging in. In most cases it’s a wash in IT costs when comparing the network version to a hosted version, unless you’re on one of those systems that doesn’t run very well in a network environment.

Summary:

These are the core explanations vendors who offer Hosted Agency Management Systems make on why you should choose their system. If they had been true they would’ve been good reasons to help in the decision making process.

However, since they aren’t we need to look at what a system offers an agency as the primary focal point to choosing a system. Let’s start with this huge difference between a Networked System and a Hosted System …

Network Speed vs. Internet Speed:

No matter how you slice it a system ran from a network will always be faster than a hosted system ran off the Internet.

Our local Internet connection is very fast. Tested at the time of this writing (www.speedtest.net) our download speed is 24.81 Mbps and our upload speed is 5.1 Mbps. Compare that to our network that runs 100 Mbps both directions and can be upgraded to gigabyte hardware to run 1,000 Mbps.

24.81 Mbps versus 100 Mbps is a huge difference. In our case, our network is 4 times faster than our very fast Internet speed.

However, we have a faster internet connection than most. Most internet speeds run at 5 Mbps to 15 Mbps.

This affects how fast a record opens up, how fast windows refresh and the speed of just about everything else!

With agencies going paperless, look at how this affects attaching (uploading) items to a client record. Upload too many at the same time or large files and it’s going to take up all of your bandwidth and drop your Internet speed way down. I mean way down!! And when this happens, just wait until you see how long it takes to open up a window.

This is why Hosted Agency Management Systems will queue these uploads until the evening when everyone’s gone for the day which means you’re going to have to wait until tomorrow for everyone to see the new attachments added today. What if they are needed by others today?

Can you see how this will affect your workflows?

Unfortunately, this is just the way it is when you’re using a hosted system.

We’re not sharing all of this information to discourage you from choosing a hosted version. They clearly have their advantages.

We’re sharing this information because vendors who only offer Hosted solutions are trying to convince you that this is the wave of the future and back up their claim with incorrect information to sell you on the advantages of going hosted over a network version. We felt we first need to correct the many claims these vendors have made on why you should go hosted. Then, when you have accurate information, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision.

In our pursuit of putting your needs and best interest first and foremost, it’s our objective to educate you based upon facts and real world usage so you can make the best decision for your agency based upon facts to set proper expectations. You choose between a network version versus a hosted system based upon what is best for your agency and how you operate. Let’s start looking at comparing hosted versus networked in relationship to running your agency.

Solutions!

The first thing you need to ask yourself is, “Do I need a Hosted System?”

You could break this question down even further by asking yourself …

  1. “How often in a given week am I away from the office where I’d need access to my management system?”
  2. “Do I have other locations where I share clients who would need continuous access to your management system?”
  3. “By not having access to my clients during off hours, is it affecting my ability to get my work done?”

This is just a sample of questions you should ask yourself. And of these 3 questions, only 1 of them would require that you have a hosted system … question #2. However, is a hosted only system the only option? Let’s take a look.

In reality, there are 4 ways to access your agency management system …

  1. As a hosted system
  2. From your network
  3. From your network with an Internet login to access it. A common solution is LogMeIn.com and Remote Client. Each staff person could use these to access their computers remotely via the Internet.
  4. Create your own In House ASP. In this solution you have 2 servers … one that runs your 2003 or 2008 Microsoft Server program and one that runs either Terminal Server or Citrix Server. Your in house staff will access your management system via the network while outside people access it using the Internet coming in on Terminal Server or Citrix Server. If your management system is a Web Application, you have a few additional options. This is the short explanation of this strategy so let me just say that this is very nice and powerful technology!

Of these 4 options, if the management system is a Hosted Only system, you only have 1 option … #1.

If it’s a networkable system, then you have the ability to choose between all 4.

In the argument of hosted versus networked, another argument hosted agency management systems suggest is that windows based networkable programs require Terminal Server or Citrix Server and are slow to access. My reply to that is, are you kidding me? Slow?

Have you seen how slow AMS 360 is? It’s way slower than the majority of windows based programs running under Terminal Server or Citrix Server, and AMS 360 was written in Dot-NET Framework which is a true web based application. What does that tell you?

A new product that’s just hitting the industry is the Desktop CSR with the TIME Agency Management System following closely behind. They are the first agency management system ever designed from the ground floor up by insurance automation consultants with an extensive background in workflows, productivity strategies and insurance automation.

When the President of the company started putting the company together and designing the system he knew the system needed to run on both a network and from the Internet. Choosing the programming environment became a very important decision.

Ultimately they ended up going with the same language and technology that AMS 360 uses… Dot-NET Framework and SQL. However, knowing AMS 360 is slow, this initially worried the President. He worked vigorously with programming on this very topic.

Ultimately, based upon the design of the system and some darn good programming, both the Desktop CSR and TIME System are snappy fast when ran from the Internet and from your network. Obviously, when comparing the speed between a network and the Internet, the network as mentioned above will always be faster!

The Desktop CSR and TIME System not only gives you the best of both worlds… hosted and/or networked… you can switch back and forth as your needs change. They are also the first and only web based system that was designed and planned for network usage and thus the only web based product actively sold as a networkable solution.

What’s really nice about the Desktop CSR and TIME System being offered by Agency AutomationTEAM, Inc. is they aren’t going to give you a bunch of sales mumbo-jumbo on which version to purchase. Instead, they’ll educate you on the the specific facts associated to your individual needs so you can make a decision based upon what’s truly best for your agency.

You can learn more about the two systems at www.AgencyAutomationTEAM.com.

Choosing the right approach for your individual agency isn’t always easy, especially when you’re not getting all of the facts or the full explanation. It’s only when you are able to explain your individual needs and future plans and then receive the pro’s and con’s for each environment associated to your individual needs are you able to make the best decision for your agency.

Let’s be blunt here … vendors that only offer Hosted Agency Management Systems are going to try and convince you a hosted solution is your only solution.

Contact Agency AutomationTEAM, Inc. and they’ll give you straight answers and complete explanations because they don’t care which environment you choose. What they do care about is that you’re choosing the right environment for your agencies individual needs for your agency management system!

Filed under: Agency Management Systems