The following are the opinions of the owners of major home inspection software companies.
I asked each about the advantages and disadvantages of application-based software (lives on your computer's hard drive), and cloud-based software (lives on the software company's server, accessed via internet). The following is from 2019.
From Dominic Maricic: Home Inspector Pro:
Advantages of App-based (not cloud-based)
- You never need an internet connection to generate your report. If your internet is down or you're in a bad signal area you can still generate your report.
- If the software company disappears tomorrow (like All Inspections did a few years back) you don't lose all your data and your software.
- You own the software and aren't required to make monthly payments for it to function though there can still be add-ons such as our HTML reports that give users the option of online based delivery.
- You're not reliant on someone else's servers. EVERYONE goes down. Netflix, YouTube, Gmail, Target, have all gone down this year (see https://www.cbsnews.com/news/google-cloud-outage-hits-youtube-gmail-snapchat-apps-services-today-2019-06-02-live-updates/for an example). If your software server goes down and you're cloud ONLY then you're also out of luck.
- If you have Mobile/Web Page only software (Spectacular, Tap Inspect, Spectora) you have the same issues as above.
If your software has both mobile and desktop programs you have a few advantages:
- You're not subject to 1 through 4 above
- When you're doing a large job you can return to your large 30" monitor to finish and review your report instead of your 5" phone. Try doing a 100k sq ft report 100% on a phone. It's nice to review on the desktop when you're done.
- Spectora is mobile and web-based only so they're kind of in the middle. If their site is down or they go out of business users have a major problem.
Web based software like Horizon or ReportHost
- Relies heavily on your Internet speed to navigate
- All photos have to be transferred through the web to slow things down
Of course our current method of desktop + Mobile (HIP, HomeGauge, 3D) has disadvantages too, like you can't 100% finish a report on HIP on mobile as we do too many things mobile devices aren't capable of handling. We're working on ways around that though.
From Rusty Craig: EZ Home Inspection Software
Less chance of losing your data: In the past most systems were downloaded and stored locally on a computer. One problem with locally stored information is if you have a hard drive failure you can literally lose years worth of templates, comments, and reports with no way of retrieving that info. There are ways around that but you would need a backup system in place and most users don't have that set up at their home or office. With a cloud based system all the information is stored in a database on a cloud server and backups are created multiple times daily. If your local computer fails then you wouldn't lose any information. On our servers, data is backed up across multiple data locations so even if one data center fails there wouldn't be any information lost.
Information more readily accessible: Another benefit of a cloud based system is that since information is stored in a cloud, it is more easily accessible from different devices. You can start a report on one device and then seamlessly access that information by logging in on a different device. With locally stored files you would need to "send" info from one device to the other or connect one device to another to transfer information.
More secure: We have a lot of home inspectors call us with concerns about security since report information will be stored online. If you talk to seasoned IT professionals the consensus it that cloud systems are actually more secure than traditional IT systems. The reason is because large companies like AWS, Microsoft, and IBM put a lot of money and effort into making sure their systems have the best security possible. Large companies have the resources to implement much better security than small business owners. If you had a priceless diamond for example, it would be much more secure at the Smithsonian than it would at someone's home or office. EZ Home Inspection Software uses Microsoft Azure for software hosting and they currently have more security credentials than any other host in the world.
Cross platform compatibility: Traditional software is usually programmed for Windows or Mac. Companies would need to create two separate software applications and then constantly update and maintain two versions. With a web based system you can use a browser on both Windows and Mac to use the software and only one software product needs to be updated and maintained. For the user this means they have more options instead of being limited to certain devices.
Updates happen instantly: With traditional applications companies would release an update and then the user would need to download and install the update each time there was a new release. With cloud based systems updated happen instantly, many times without the user even knowing it happen. This allows companies to update and add features more often without users needing to hassle with downloading and installing them.
Mobile Sync: Older software systems that wanted to integrate phones or tablets into their system required that the user perform an inspection on their mobile device and then physically connect the mobile device to their computer to transfer the information. With a cloud based system users can now use their mobile data connection or wifi to transfer data between devices. For example with our system users can do the entire report on their phone or tablet and send it directly to their client from the inspection site. If no data connection is available the entire report can be done offline and then sent when the user gets back to wifi or they have a data connection.
Internet connection is required: Since the software is stored online on a cloud, internet is required to use it. Most reputable companies will opt for a hybrid approach. With our system our phone/tablet software runs completely offline so no internet or data is required to fill out the report. Once the user has data again they can send it to their client.
More Cost: Cloud systems are much more expensive to run than traditional downloadable software. Since servers are more expensive to maintain most companies charge a subscription fee to use the product. For our company, the benefit of being able to do reports on-site with mobile devices has far outweighed the monthly subscription cost. Users have reported saving an hour or more per report using our new system over older desktop based software so that has been pretty exciting.
Users are reliant on the server: With cloud based systems if the server goes down then everyone's software will quit working at once. When shopping for a cloud system an important question to ask is what is the uptime of the server. If they can't tell you or have an uptime less than 99% I would look elsewhere. The most reliable companies should have an uptime of 99.8% or higher.
From Aaron Johnson: Spectacular Home Inspection System
There seems to be only 3 legitimate cloud based systems right now and that’s
Spectora, Report Host and EZ Home Inspections. I would add Home Hub Zone in but they seems to be going away or getting moved into Home Gauge. Really there are only two types of programs: cloud-based & app-based. What some people call "web-based" is the same as "cloud-based" and what is sometimes called "hard drive-based" is the same as "app-based". There are really only these 2 kinds. An app sits on the hard drive of the device that the user is using it on. Everything is saved and stored there. Your old MS Word 95 program on your Windows 95 computer is an app-based program. It’s an app (application) that lives on the computer. On the other hand, cloud-based programs live on the company’s server on the internet that users log into to run their part of the program. EZ, ReportHost & Spectora built web pages that access the inspector’s information and they built apps that act as thin clients or companions to the web page to access the information. Their apps can’t do what their web-page can do; only a subset of things, and whatever they do, the information is ultimately saved onto the home inspection software’s server.
The biggest advantage that app-based programs have over cloud-based programs is privacy. Since the information is on the inspector’s device, it’s there and doesn’t usually go back to the manufacturer’s website. Cloud-based systems by definition have all of your client’s information and can do what they want with it and the inspector must trust that the software company doesn’t sell the information. Of course the software company always says, ‘Oh, we’ll never sell your data’, but the inspector still must trust this, which is hard sometimes. However, cloud-based systems have their advantages too with main one being control. A cloud-based system is harder to build, but when done right gives an inspection company a birds eye view of everything that’s going on. When the master inspector can oversee everything his team is doing, see all the inspection comments coming in, send out a report when ready, cancel a team member on the spot, add a team member on the spot, change things that affect everyone on the team, it makes for a system they can truly love.