More and more companies are turning to companies who host cloud applications such as SalesForce.  I may be mistaken, but I thought we used to call these ASPs (Application Service Providers).  Whatever we call them they are the latest trend in IT services especially in larger corporations.

So what does this trend mean for those of us who design, build and integrate systems?  It means a new set of challenges, considerations and opportunities.  The more you know about these areas going into a project the more likely it will be that you succeed.

The first thing that you will need to understand is that you are adding an extra team to your project.  Along with this goes the need for better communication skills, both written and verbal.  This starts with a number of assumptions that should be added to your project plan as to what is expected from the application provider and continues with the need for regular status meetings to ensure that they are making progress on your requests.

If you work for a consulting firm like I do conversations now have to include all three parties and everyone needs to be on the same page.  Handling expectations on all sides becomes a critical task.  On the other hand these situations can create an opportunity for you to gain a new partner by helping each other to gain more business.

Once you get past the relationships the biggest challenges you will run up against is that your data no longer resides exclusively in your enterprise.  This means if you need to share that data with the provider you are in for a ride.

There are a number of considerations that need to be made in relation to data.  How does data need to be shared?  Will it be bi-directional?  How fast does it need to be refreshed?  Real time data becomes costly to transport over the network and generate security concerns especially if the data includes personal information.  And the list goes on.

In the end this is not a condemnation of or an endorsement of cloud applications.  It is a wake up call that you should not make decisions to use them lightly.  Don’t just weigh the cost of the services, but all the costs associated with the new relationship and make an educated decision.