Best Practices: Apps vs The Cloud, Which is Right for Your Events?
Apr 19, 2016 by Michelle Bruno

When you’re setting up a temporary work environment in a meeting space or an office, software is critical. But whether you choose a native application, commonly referred to as an “App,” or a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), aka “Cloud” software, solution depends on your security demands, data storage requirements, output (reports, survey results, documents, etc.) goals, and budget constraints. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of both options can help you make better software decisions.

Hint: read the translations below if you’re not into details but want some great information.

Native apps must be installed on rental devices in advance. Users can access SaaS solutions immediately via an internet browser (when Web access is available). Theoretically, a native app delivers the equivalent “basic” features as the same software accessed through a URL. But, software-as-a-service functions differently depending on whether it is isolated from the internet (and other devices) or not.

Translation: Native apps live on your smartphone or tablet. SaaS solutions live on a remote computer accessible through an internet connection.

Degrees of Security

Generally, native apps—Microsoft Office, for example—are more secure than SaaS solutions when they’re not connected to the internet. While they can be connected to the internet, native apps function fully either way. This is an important distinction for clients who require that confidential data made available or created during the meeting or rental period “never leaves the room.” When the devices aren’t internet-enabled, the app works and the data stays secure.

Translation: Select a native app on devices without internet access to better protect your data from web hackers.

SaaS solutions are, arguably, more vulnerable to data breaches than native apps (although it’s possible for a rogue user to steal information from a device running a native app by using an external storage device). Because they cannot function without an internet connection, more substantial security measures—at the device level, network level, and cloud level – have to be considered when software is being accessed from the cloud.

Translation: Ask about security if you go with an app in the cloud.

How data comes and goes

What’s possible with data (access, number crunching, insights, action steps) differs between native apps and SaaS solutions. The data being generated from native apps can only be accessed in real time if the smartphone, tablet, or laptop on which the app resides is connected to the internet. SaaS solutions, on the other hand, are always connected to the internet, so it’s possible to have real-time access to data whenever they’re being utilized.

Translation:  Data (comments, notes, evaluations, survey results, responses, or documents) collected from a native app can’t be shared or exported automatically. You need wireless internet, or you have to manually transfer the data from the device with a thumb drive or a cable. It’s an extra step.

Data byproducts—reports, infographics, content—are possible with either native apps or cloud-based solutions. With apps, the data has to be extracted from the devices first and then manipulated, analyzed, or reformatted using other software after the fact. With the cloud, the byproducts can be produced immediately if the solution allows. For example, if the SaaS offering is a polling solution, the results can be tabulated and delivered instantly to the audience.

Translation: The cloud lets you get sophisticated real-time reports, content, and insights in real time.

Information wants to be free

Where data is stored is another issue. With a native app, the data is stored on the rented laptop or tablet until users elect to remove it or delete it. With a SaaS solution, the data is stored in the cloud where it can be accessed, repurposed, shared, and combined with other data. The amount of data you can store and what you can do with it is limited by the capabilities of the native app and the device. In the cloud, the amount of storage and potential for the information in the short- and long-term is virtually unlimited.

Translation: In general, SaaS solutions offer more automated data processing (comparisons, trends, benchmarks) and storage options than native apps.

Nothing in technology is cut and dried. Even a native app configuration can have a cloud component and the ability to transfer data back and forth. For example, the Microsoft Office native app integrates with Microsoft 365, its cloud-based sister software, and either version can store user data in the Microsoft Azure cloud. Furthermore, there’s a school of software thought that says in the long run, cloud-based software will replace native apps anyway.

Translation:  You can also have a hybrid software solution. It’s not always an either/or decision.

It takes a village

With native apps, all you need is the device loaded with the app and you’re good to go. The device rental company will provide technical support for both. With a SaaS offering, you’ll have to arrange internet access (provided by the venue or a purpose-built local area network in the room). The rental firm will provide assistance with the devices and, possibly, the local area network, but help and troubleshooting for the SaaS solution may have to come from the software provider.

Translation: When you choose a cloud-based app, you have to also arrange internet access and (sometimes) additional technical support. It could cost you more money.

Native apps and SaaS solutions operate differently. Whether you choose one or the other (or something in between), you’ll want a solutions provider, integrator, or consultant to explain the options, help you through the transition from app to cloud, and provide support on some or all of the moving parts of the software machine.

Translation: Native apps work with or without internet access, data is secure, and users have to pay attention (no web surfing or Facebook check-ins allowed). With software in the cloud, access to data is instant, storage and computing power are vast, and data can be shared and crunched in real time. Get help if you need it.

Apps vs Cloud Software

Feature Native App SaaS Solution
Pre-installation required X
Accessible via browser X
High level of security* X
Requires more security X
Data export manual* X
Data export automatic X
Data storage limited* X
Data storage virtually unlimited X
Reporting limited* X
Reporting unlimited X
Hybrid possible X X
internet access required X
Real-time data access possible X** X
Additional technical support required X

*When not connected to the Internet

** When connected to the Internet

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