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Locked up

With a SaaS software model, things are always changing: Xero is constantly being enhanced with new features and tweaks every five or so weeks. Many of these are in response to user feedback and  direct requests.

Social networks are an interesting form of SaaS: they provide a personal communications and community platform for their users. The more personal details people entrust the more fun and more addictive these networks become.

Social networks are also constantly changing, but some of the consequences are not so pretty. Recently Facebook made some privacy changes which has made some users uncomfortable. It used to be possible to be visible to your friends and to be otherwise invisible to other users and absent from search results. Now it is possible for friends of friends to find you, even at the most restrictive privacy settings. That photo of you enjoying your Christmas party too much is now searchable, or maybe a potential employer can now see just how many dodgy friends you have.

Technology continues to change our lives and some people believe that the average person’s expectations of what is normal privacy has changed too. That may be true, but most people would probably prefer to have their rights to privacy set out very clearly before they start using a service, and for those rights to be immutable. Unfortunately, when you use a free service, your right to privacy is often the thing you trade in to pay for your participation. When networks are willing to change the rules and retrospectively apply the new rules to everything that came before: it’s probably safest not to participate in the first place.

It can also be tricky to extract yourself from these networks too, especially after you’ve gone to all the trouble of setting up all your friendships and connections. In fact there may be no way to get all your data out, as not every social network provides export functions. What this shows is that there is some risk with putting your data online with certain providers.

Another issue is getting locked into a service that forces you to continue to use it, even when the terms change and you no longer want to. This is not confined to social networks. Vendor lock-in has a long and nefarious history in the software industry. Traditional accounting software has been guilty of locking people in with proprietary formats and compulsory upgrades. You might buy some accounting software and run it for a couple of years. An upgrade becomes available, but it’s expensive. You decide you don’t need it, because the upgrade doesn’t offer anything new. A few more years pass, as do a few more upgrades, and you choose to ignore them all.

But suddenly things change.  Your business hits the big time, your staff numbers double, you’ve got an overseas office, and you find you need that upgrade.

Uh oh.

You call your vendor’s helpdesk.

“You want to upgrade from 3.0 to 7.0?  Oh you can’t do that.  You’d need to upgrade to 4.0, then 5.0, then 6.0 first.  But I’m afraid we don’t sell 4.0 any more …”

Getting stuck with an accounting system that doesn’t meet your needs and no way of getting your data into a replacement system (aside from manually keying all your historical data in to a new product), happens more often than you’d think as this story on ComputerWorld shows.

It’s common for accountants to be running dozens of different versions of unsupported and obsolete desktop software, just so they can read their clients data files at dozens of different upgrade points. We think that’s crazy.

With Xero, you’re always running the latest version. As part of your monthly subscription all upgrades are taken care of.  There’s no nasty surprises such as buying a cheap product in 2010 and being stung with prohibitively expensive upgrade costs every year.

As for the data, Xero provides tools to get data in and out easily in commonly used formats. We believe your data is your data, and what you’re paying for when you use Xero are tools to manage that data, and you can continue to use those tools for as long as you’re happy to pay for them. The rules around privacy of that data are set in stone: only people you specify can see your accounts. And if you want to stop using Xero, it’s relatively simple to get your data out in formats that can be used by other systems.

We believe in people having choices.

 

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4 comments

[...] a post on the Xero Blog on 15th January, Mark Matt Vickers discusses Vendor Lock-In.  In a previous post, I commented [...]

[...] a post on the Xero Blog today, Mark Vickers discusses how users of software (desktop or web-based) are always vulnerable to [...]

[...] a post on the Xero Blog on 15th January, Mark Matt Vickers discusses Vendor Lock-In.  In a previous post, I commented on [...]

[...] a post on the Xero Blog today, Mark Vickers discusses how users of software (desktop or web-based) are always vulnerable to [...]

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