Thinking about It in Tasty Terms: A Dessert Analogy Can Help You with the Decision to Choose a Web-Based or Client/server Application

Article excerpt

The technology choices today's behavioral healthcare executives face can easily become complicated and overshadow the benefit any technology could bring to an agency. One of the key technical decisions facing any organization evaluating its technology is the age-old (or, more appropriately, Internet-age-old) choice between client/server applications and Web-based systems.

The choices sound unappealing. The technical nature of these terms can confound and intimidate those without a computer science background. In these cases, I have found the best approach is to relate the technical choice to a more palatable decision-making process--in this case, dessert selection. It's not an entirely absurd comparison, as one should approach both decisions in a similar fashion: Analyze your particular situation and options, apply your preferences, and make a decision.

In a client/server application, there is usually a software program (the client) that runs on a user's computer that "talks" to a more powerful computer (the server) responsible for providing information. Microsoft Outlook is one common example. Consider client/server applications as the "ice cream" of the technology world. There are some prerequisites and limitations to their use, but given the appropriate situation, they can be an excellent choice.

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Among the advantages of client/server applications are:

* Fast speed. Ice cream is an easy, fast dessert--just scoop and go. Client/server applications are similarly fast, as no Internet connection is required and the technical architecture allows for slightly faster response times than Web-based systems. If your circumstances do not allow for high-speed and/or wireless Internet access, the speed of a client/server option may be a significant advantage.

* Strong integration. Ice cream goes with anything--brownies, cookies, cake, etc. Similarly, client/server applications often are easily integrated with common desktop functions such as printing, scanning, etc.

Client/server applications do have some disadvantages:

* Prerequisites. Just as you need a bowl or cone for ice cream, a client/server environment has some requirements as well. An organization may need to upgrade its desktop software or add memory to users' computers, and a server is required. If the capital budget makes it difficult to handle the initial investment, this may not be the best choice.

* High maintenance. A client/server application can melt like ice cream if you are not careful. Additional human resources and/or capital to handle new hardware, system security, data backup, software support, product updates, etc., may be needed to maintain your system.

A user accesses Web-based applications over the Internet, usually through a Web browser. …