Help! I’m desperate!

Not really. To be more accurate I’m minorly inconvenienced.

As mentioned a few months ago, I’m looking for an alternative to Quicken (“Plausibility rules,” 3/12/2018), because it deprecated a feature I rely on, presumably to force me to buy an upgrade.

Not to be bullied into an unwanted expenditure I’ve been on the hunt for an alternative. Thus far, with just one exception, every other personal finance package I’ve found is cloud-based.

Which leads to the question, WHAT????

Look, I’m an open-minded sort, so maybe I’m missing something. Yes, I realize my personal financial data is already in the cloud, assuming we’re all willing to redefine “cloud” to mean “on the web.”

But it’s scattered among a bunch of providers and accounts. If I use any of the non-Quicken personal finance management alternatives I’ve found so far, I’ll be putting it all in one place, just waiting for the next data breach to happen.

There is an exception — a package called GnuCash. I’d use it and be happy, except that the instructions for automatically downloading transactions into it are both impenetrable and, as far as I can tell, don’t … what’s the word I’m looking for? … work.

All of which puts me dead-center in the ongoing debate as to whether data stored behind your corporation’s firewalls are more secure than data stored in a SaaS provider’s data farms.

Now I’m far from an authority on the subject, but I do know what the correct answer to the question isn’t: Yes. I also know it isn’t No.

I know this because I know that in addition to all the well-known information-security basics, the accurate answer depends in part on whether you push your own information security failings onto your SaaS providers.

Here’s what I mean: If I decide to use a cloud-based personal financial management solution, and if I don’t change my password on a regular basis, properly protect myself from Trojans, phishing attacks, and keystroke loggers, and keep my OS properly patched and up to date, it won’t be the solution provider’s fault if someone borrows my data.

This all scales up to the enterprise: If you use, say, and do a lousy job of key rotation, or your administrators share a super-user login, or you don’t conduct regular white-hat phishing attacks, or you don’t properly protect PCs from invasive keystroke loggers and all the other prevalent intrusion techniques, it really won’t matter what level of security excellence has achieved.

Also, “secure” means more than “protected from intrusion and misuse. With Quicken (or GnuCash) I can easily backup my data to a backpack drive, knowing how I’d restore it if I need to.

With a cloud-based service provider I’m willing to take it on faith that they backup their customers’ data in case of some form of catastrophic failure. Recovering to the state just before my most recent transaction download, on the other hand, is something I strongly suspect isn’t part of the service.

For the enterprise equivalent, is always the SaaS touchstone. It recommends customers make use of their own backup and recovery tools, or else rely on third-party services.

But of course, your own backup and recovery tools are exactly as vulnerable as anything else inside your firewall, while third-party alternatives add yet another potential point of security failure you can’t directly control.

KJR first mentioned the cloud more than ten years ago (“Carr-ied away,” 2/4/2008), and yet the cloud continues to perplex CIOs.

From business cases that are always either more nuanced than “the cloud saves money” or else are wrong … to an impact on application development that’s much more significant than “recompile your applications in the cloud and you’re done” … to COTS and SaaS-based application portfolios whose integration challenges put the lie to cloud nativity as the uniform goal of all IT architects … to the ever-harder-to-untangle questions surrounding cloud-level vs internal-firewall-based information security …

If you’re looking for simplicity inside all of this complexity, good luck with that. You’re unlikely to find it for the simplest of reasons: An organization’s applications portfolio and its integration are direct reflections of the complexity of the organization itself.

Modern businesses have a lot of moving parts, all of which interact with each other in complex ways. Inevitably this means the applications that support these moving parts are numerous and require significant integration.

Which in turn means it’s unlikely the underlying technology can be simple and uniform.

And yet, when I need an application that can automatically download transactions into a personal financial database, there’s a depressing uniformity of vision:

“Put it in the cloud.”