the little Carlsbad logo on things, and now, maybe we can't do it because everybody uses that same sign-in client."

Even so, that's often an acceptably small price to pay in the face of everything SaaS offers. After all, just because the application is shared doesn't mean the data is, and Carlsbad ultimately chose SaaS regardless.

"They're using the same application, let's just use e-mail as an example, but their data is still cordoned off, if you will, to be specific to that city or that state. It's just that they share the server with other customers," said Gail Thomas-Flynn, general manager of Microsoft's state and local sector.

But in some folks' opinion, there are situations where SaaS wouldn't be so hot at all. Accenture's Raj couldn't imagine a patient-service system in the health industry or a market-trading system in the finance area relying on a hosted server. If you have something that critical on your hands, it would put your mind at ease to be in complete control of it yourself.

"Those types of systems where recovery time is hugely the main focus -- I think that you'll see a trend where those types of things aren't the best model for SaaS," he said.

He may have a point. Anyone who uses webmail or social-networking applications has experienced periodic downtimes when the host performs maintenance or modifications. This is a possibility with other hosted tools as well. On June 8, 2007, Salesforce.com sent a notice to customers about scheduled downtime from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. that day, according to a blog posting by Dan Farber on ZDNet.

But downtime's not always on purpose. On Jan. 6, 2009, Salesforce.com suffered a service disruption at 12:39 p.m., according to CIO magazine. A core network device failed because of memory allocation errors, and the backup plan to switch to a redundant system failed too. The provider's site was back up more than a half hour later, but that outage wasn't uncommon at the time.

Tim Wierzbicki, manager of customer service performance analysis for New Jersey Transit, spoke about his experience with SaaS and downtime. His agency has been using SaaS for more than three years to meet its CRM needs. "We had one [disruption] way back in early 2006. It was a highly publicized outage period that Salesforce experienced. At that point, we were a little concerned."

But Wierzbicki said New Jersey Transit hasn't experienced additional outages in the more than three years since. For its part, Salesforce.com displays server uptime reliability on its Trust.salesforce.com site that users can check at anytime to see how their systems are doing. And the same CIO magazine article that reported the outage wrote "Salesforce.com's overall uptime is, more than likely, better than the uptime of your in-house CRM or ERP applications."

An alternative to going purely SaaS is to go hybrid SaaS, running some things on premise and some in the cloud or switch between them as needed. This allows users to move operations and data in-house to avoid downtime issues or to transfer highly sensitive information out of a third party's hands. Or they can choose hosted applications for some things and not others.

Social CRM Meets Web 2.0

With so much SaaS implementation going on, its future appears bright. So bright, in fact, that its deployment may be slightly evolving, at least where CRM is concerned. Thanks to Web 2.0, CRM is being blended with social networking to provide modern communication tools for government. State and local leaders need look no further than the president for inspiration. This past year, the Obama administration experimented with tools from Google and Salesforce.com to communicate with the electorate over the Internet.

Google Moderator is a Web application that lets

Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  |  GT Staff Writer

By day, Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines who covers sustainability, cybersecurity and disaster management issues. By night, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, and if he had to choose between comic books, movies, TV shows and novels, he’d have a brain aneurysm. He can be reached at hcollins@govtech.com and on @hiltoncollins on Twitter.