Should Your Helpdesk Be SaaS or Self-Hosted?


Back in 2005, our most common request from customers was for an on-premise helpdesk that they could host on their own servers. It was an immense responsibility, with customers taking on the full cost of installation, backups, costly maintenance, upgrades and all the other heavy lifting. But there was no way around it. Businesses either picked up the costs or did without.

Now looking back, those were the easy days.

Hosted vs self hosted help desk software

Today, the increased threat from malicious users makes it nearly impossible for SMBs to host their own helpdesk. If it was expensive to maintain a helpdesk ten years ago, it takes more manpower and expertise than ever to do so with the level of security compliance customers expect today.

Self-hosting is cumbersome, expensive and it’s no longer necessary. There’s a more cost-effective way to run a secure helpdesk.

Why you should go SaaS

The upfront savings of going with a SaaS helpdesk is alone the most powerful bullet point in favor of it. Shifting the cost of ownership to a third party vendor makes a an easy choice.

Aside from that, many SaaS helpdesks invest heavily in security, a must-have for companies whose customers process a variety of sensitive customer data daily. If security is a top concern for your small-to-medium sized business (and it should be), it makes more sense to go with a SaaS helpdesk.

Airtight security

Consider the security needs of your helpdesk in two layers: your customers, and the security factors that would be valuable to their customers:

  • High quality data centers
  • Backup and multi-site replication for application and data resiliency
  • Managed firewall
  • Intrusion detection
  • OS management
  • Patching
  • Antivirus and 3rd party monitoring
  • 3rd party vulnerability scanning and integrity
  • Capacity and utilization monitoring
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You should be aware of your customers’ security needs, but you shouldn’t have to focus your own resources on them.

This is why SaaS works so much better, as this laundry list of requirements is taken off your hands and then buffered with extra layers of security and resilience.

It’s more valuable to put your resources towards a competitive advantage unique to your company. Spend time and resources improving the customer experience instead of spending endless resources reinventing the wheel. As far as security goes, SaaS helpdesks are doing it better and more cost-effectively than most SMBs can.

No server/software maintenance

Here’s what it takes to host your own servers:

Connection to the world:

  • Internet Connection ( Hardware updates / Monitoring / Load )
  • Firewall ( Hardware updates / DMZ / Monitoring / Load )

Server itself:

  • Hardware Maintenance ( Firmware updates / Monitoring / Load )
  • Installed OS Maintenance ( Security updates / Clean up / Monitoring / Load )
  • Installed webserver Maintenance ( Security updates / Clean up / Monitoring / Load )
  • Installed MySQL Database Maintenance ( Updates / Clean up / Monitoring / Load )
  • Helpdesk Itself ( Updates / Monitoring / Load )
  • OS Backups
  • Webserver Configuration backups
  • Database Backups

The above is already an exhaustive list of things to look after, and this doesn’t include any fall over or backup systems in the event of failures. It also has no scaling to grow with your company’s customer base.

As you can see, it’s tough to keep on top of it all, unless you’re using a SaaS helpdesk.

The best helpdesk platforms have an availability of at least 99.98% – and they’re able to achieve that number because again, they’re doing it at a much larger scale which allows them to establish preventative measures that an SMB would be hard-pressed to match.

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Easy start, easy exit

Consider the cost vs. value of taking ownership of your IT. The direct of costs of hardware and software are typically less than 50% of your total direct costs. The real cost is indirect – hiring skilled backend engineers, pulling your resources off other projects and supporting your server maintenance.

Typically with a SaaS helpdesk, the barrier to entry is little to none. With no infrastructure to deal with, you can set your teams up along with basic processes for a fully functional helpdesk within a few hours. But more importantly, you don’t need to involve an entire engineering team to proceed with your customer support agenda.

Just as easy it is to get started, you can cancel your service anytime. For you as the customer, it’s risk-free.

(Hint: Check to see whether your SaaS helpdesk company gives a discount or a bonus month when you subscribe annually.)

Who should self-host?

The case for self-hosted has narrowed considerably over the past decade. Self-hosted is still a good choice for highly regulated or data-sensitive industries, such as medical and banking institutions as well as government.

if you work in one of these fields, you probably already know whether you need to seek out a self-hosted solution. But if not, these are the questions to ask when you’re considering self-hosting:

Are you ready (or expected) to be fully responsible for security compliance?

The healthcare industry requires HIPAA-compliant platforms. German and Dutch banks, which support the highest standards in the world, also have mandatory self-hosted software. Generally, government agencies also fall under that umbrella.

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Is it worth the larger upfront cost?

Think about whether self-hosted will be relevant, required or reliable in the long-term. Although factor in the potential costs of upgrading or migrating in the future.

Do you have the resources to maintain your own servers?

For some enterprise-level businesses, the answer will be yes.

Are you able to offer round-the-clock availability compared to best in class?

Take a long hard look in the mirror. Do you have the resources and manpower to surpass top helpdesk companies? If not, both you and your customers suffer the consequences.

The takeaway

In your internal SaaS vs. self-hosted discussions, keep your focus on what’s best for your customers and their customers. If maintaining your own helpdesk infrastructure is pulling resources away from the rest of your customer service organization – that is, if you’re going down the path towards a decision that won’t add value to your company or its customer service, SaaS is the way to go.

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About the author
Nandini Jammi

Nandini is Kayako almuni. Once passionate about customer service, she now helps brands craft content that tells their personal story.

  • Neal Culiner

    No way, absolutely not, NEVER. Kayako has plenty of problems with hosted sites in the past including server meltdowns. The same reason I don’t use Azure or Amazon – they have issues. I am in complete control with my server environment, disaster preparedness (backup/restore) and don’t compete for bandwidth, processing, etc. It is a tragic change and I will not be on board with your move to subscription only (aka hosted) help desk’ware. NO

    • Hi Neal – that’s absolutely fine, we have plenty of customers who prefer the control of hosting and maintaining their own servers, databases and Kayako themselves. You’re not alone in that!

      We’ve only had 1-and-a-half instances of things I’d consider to be a ‘meltdown’. The last one was in 2010, if I recall correctly, which was isolated to about < 5% of customers who were offline for up to 6 hours before their service was restored. Fortunately, that hasn't happened since – our platform has gotten better and better as it has evolved, and we've installed significantly better redundancy. Our availability across all customers for the last year is nearly 100%:

      One of the benefits of OnDemand is that we can leverage systems that add redundancy and backup that are not feasible for most SMBs. I know I don't need to sell you onto the benefits of OnDemand, though 🙂

    • Hi Neal,

      Thanks for writing us! I can understand why you’d want to stick your own hosting. I think many businesses do look at both sides of the equation before picking one based on what adds more value (or bang for the buck) to their business. But it’s definitely important to factor in what you’re most comfortable with!

  • Amy

    I would love for Kayako to host my helpdesk, the problem is the per agent pricing. We have many part time agents that work 1 or 3 tickets per week. We want them to all have their own user name. With your current model I would have to purchase 12 agent accounts but we’re just a $100,000 gross company

    • dd36

      This. Only work around is a shared user account, which is sloppy and defeats transparency if someone forgets to add their initials.

  • Javier Maria Casares

    Code customization. You’re not factoring that in the article. It seems like propaganda more than an unbiased analysis of the conveniences of SaaS. I agree that for many companies it is best to use it as a service because handling your own platform is always more work. But if you already have the infrastructure to host it and the expertise, maybe it’s better you handle it.

    After 7 years of hosting it ourselves not a single “meltdown” and we don’t have a big data center. Just that we make wise decisions and care about our data and our customers a lot.

    In any case, for most people SaaS is the way to go, just that the article is not that unbiased as it should be to be considered of value.

    • Tibor Szentmarjay

      Same for us. No issues with self hosting. We could not implement the code related customization we had to do because of lack of some feature in the core Kayako product. I hope self hosting prices won’t go higher just to drive people to the SaaS product (which I totally understand that provides stable income).

  • My customers and i love Kayako!

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