Mobility for SMBs: An Interview with Dell’s Ron Hyde

I recently had a chance to talk to Ron Hyde, Enterprise Technologist from Dell. Ron has a strong background in mobile management and security, and I got his perspective on what SMBs need to be thinking about as they mobilize their businesses. If you’d like to listen to the recorded podcast, click the link below.

Laurie: Ron, the SMB Group recently completed our 2012 SMB Mobile Solutions Study, a survey of 750 SMBs, to find out about how they’re using mobile solutions in their businesses. We found that while SMBs are increasingly taking advantage of mobile solutions to help improve productivity and better serve customers, many of them don’t have a program or tools in place to manage and secure these mobile apps. What are you hearing from Dell SMB customers about how they are using mobile solutions, and what are the challenges they face in managing them?

Ron: That’s a great question. Our SMB customers are embracing the consumerization of IT devices. Put simply what that means is that employees are bringing in their own personal devices, such as iPads, tablets and such into the workplace. It’s simply good business. They want to bring these devices into the mix because they help their employees communicate, collaborate and get the job done. But at the same time it adds a layer of complexity for IT to manage.

There is a new social attitude, which accounts for the most significant drivers for adoption of a mobility strategy. Some examples are flexible working arrangements, where companies wish to hire and retain key talent, and by embracing remote working and smartphone technologies companies appear more attractive. This helps retain key talent and provides a differentiator when hiring new people.

Work-life balance is another, to help reduce commuting time, increase productivity, improves the work-life balance of employees, and lets employees access data anytime, anywhere.

Environmental impact, which we’re all aware of, to reduce the amount of physical infrastructure, and reduce commuting for employees by having them work at home. All of this creates a layer of complexity that IT needs to address.

Laurie: Right, we’re seeing the same thing. Especially in smaller businesses, the “bring your own device” to work scenario is a very frequent choice. But, while its nice to let employees use what they want, you’ve got to manage all of the variations.

In the study we did, we found many SMBs already provide mobile access for productivity and collaboration apps–email, calendars, contacts, etc. So this is already mainstream among SMBs. The next thing SMBs are looking to mobilize are business applications–things like CRM, social media marketing, time management, expense management, and field service for their employees (Figure 1). Do different considerations come into play as companies mobilize business apps as opposed to personal productivity apps?

Figure 1: SMB Use and Plans for Internal Mobile Business Apps

Source: SMB Group 2012 SMB Mobile Solutions Study

Ron: Absolutely. There are several areas customers need to focus on when providing mobile business applications to their employees. Let’s look at several of the top considerations.

First of all, security for the mobile application is a major concern. The ability to implement policies on your mobile workforce devices is critical to protecting precious business data. These are the keys to the kingdom, regardless of company size. When I refer to a policy, I’m referring a written procedure within the company that gives guidance to employees on the use of those devices, as well as a policy for how those devices are secured for use in the mobile workforce.

Also, one of the hazards of a mobile workforce is the risk of employees losing the device. Having the ability to remotely locate and wipe that device should not be looked at as a ‘nice to have’ but an absolute requirement.

Another thing to look at is effectively managing mobile devices within the environment. It all starts with keeping an accurate inventory of the devices connected to the environment. Also, making sure those devices have an unlock code installed, and if not, some type of automation to put a lock code onto the devices to prevent them from being used by an unauthorized person. Finally, the ability to prevent ‘unapproved’ software from being installed on the devices connected to the business.

The other thing to consider is expense management for telecom. This is sometimes overlooked, but can easily become a large, variable expense based on employee’s usage, roaming charges, having multiple devices, relying on different carriers or international travel.

Laurie: Yes, we found in our study that the biggest obstacle to mobilizing employees is the cost of voice and data services. There are a lot of companies, especially with bring your own device–and bring your own service–that are not really taking advantage of any type of volume discounts or shared pooling or anything like that.

Ron, these are a lot of things to manage and take care of. And as you know, most SMBs don’t have a lot people. So how can they realistically get all of this done?

Ron: You know, it seems like an overwhelming task to take on. But it is critical to embrace a mobility strategy. Don’t feel like you’re alone–Dell can provide guidance and strategy to manage mobility, and affordable solutions for any size environment.

Laurie: The other big area I wanted to touch on is that in addition to asking SMBs about how they’re mobilizing their employees, we asked them about what they’re doing to provide customer-facing apps and mobile-friendly web sites. We found that in many cases, SMB use and plans for customer-facing mobile apps are even more aggressive than for employee apps. SMBs want to use these apps to grow their businesses, and give their customers ways to use mobile devices to research, shop and buy their products and services. So what kinds of management and security precautions should SMBs be putting in place for customer-facing apps?

Figure 2: SMB Perceived Obstacles to Mobile-friendly
Web Sites and Mobile Apps for External Users

Ron: So let’s take security first. Nothing will damage a company’s reputation or their ability to conduct business faster than a security incident. So SMBs and their customers need to ensure they do not expose their customer data or customers to undue risk. Do not overlook the fact that sensitive data can be stored or shared on Wi-Fi networks or even on mobile devices.

For instance, you can be at Starbucks or at the airport, and see an open hotspot labeled free Wi-Fi. Make sure you are connecting to their Wi-Fi. There are a lot of open Wi-Fi connections but many can be rouge hotspots specifically set up to harvest data and use it for nefarious reasons. Keep a keen eye on authentication and encryption between the mobile device and the source.

Application functionality and the end-user experience is another thing to think about. Make sure the apps function correctly, regardless of the device, and take into consideration how the devices and apps are connecting, meaning is it on W-Fi, or a 3G connection or whatever. Make sure it behaves as expected.

Laurie: Again, this is important. But what services exist to help smaller companies do this?

Ron: Dell can help with this, when you’re starting the journey of developing your own mobile apps. Again, you don’t need to go it alone.

Laurie: Okay, you wanted to touch on that end-user experience. Are there ways the SMB can monitor and see if there are problems?

Ron: Yes, there are best practices, and they are available on the Dell Tech Center web site as well as other technical sites.

Laurie: Of course they can also buy off-the-shelf mobile apps from their application vendors. So for instance if they’re using business solutions from Intuit, or Sage or SAP or whomever, they provide out-of-the-box mobile apps for SMBs that don’t want to develop their own.

Ron: Absolutely. Also the apps stores, for Apple iPhone and Google Android, they are commercial off-the-shelf that have already been tested.

Laurie: Might be the best option for a lot of the small companies!

Just to wrap up, based on our study, there’s no doubt in my mind that SMBs are looking to mobile solutions to boost productivity and help them grow their businesses. As their reliance on mobile solutions grows, what can Dell provide to help them manage their mobile solutions and ensure that they’re secure?

Ron: We have several mobility management offerings that SMBs can use to balance the need for access and productivity against the need to maintain the integrity and security of their resources.

For example, Dell’s Mobile Device Management solution can automate and streamline the deployment and management of or SMB customer’s mobile devices and middleware infrastructure, regardless of the device OS. The solution provides real-time monitoring and management of mobile voice, data, and messaging as well as a central management console for security and application control.

Laurie: Where can SMBs go to learn more?

Ron: We have some wonderful resources on our website:

Managing Mobile Computing

Dell Mobility Management Brochure

Dell Tech Center

Laurie: Ron, it was great to talk to you today. Thanks so much for your time, and for joining us to share your knowledge and perspectives.

Tech Tidbits for SMBs: Yahoo! Marketing Dashboard and InsideView

While it’s tempting to paint the “SMB market” with one broad-brush stroke, the term actually represents very fragmented terrain. You can slice and dice it many ways–by company size, industry, degree of technology savvy, type of customers the business sells to, and more–and end up with a dizzying array of “SMB” combinations and permutations.

With that in mind, this edition of Tech Tidbits features a couple of interesting digital marketing solutions that reflect this diversity. Maybe one of them can help your company. If you use or try any of these, please let me know about your experience and outcomes!

Yahoo! Marketing Dashboard

If you’re a small business looking to grow your business , but are dazed and bewildered by the gazillions of options out there, and have a hard time managing disconnected marketing services, you’re not alone. SMB Group Research shows that most small businesses cobble together different tools for different sources and then get frustrated because they can’t tell what’s working and what’s not.

If you face this problem, you might want to check out Yahoo! Marketing Dashboard, which Yahoo! launched earlier this month. Marketing Dashboard pulls together a few core tools into an integrated marketing management dashboard designed for small business owners–not marketing pros.

The Dashboard provides a unified view into:

  • Reputation Management, to see the latest online ratings, reviews and mentions about your business from blogs, Yelp, Facebook, and thousands of other sites. The free service gives you the two most recent reviews and/or mentions. Premium (priced at $19.99/business/month for 12 months) provides unlimited reviews and mentions, and the ability to see this info for your competition too.
  • Local Visibility for search engine and directory listings, to make sure details about your business are available and accurate in top search engines and directories (e.g. Yelp, Citysearch, Google, etc.) so that customers find you. The free version pulls in info from over 100 directories, and highlights in red anything that isn’t consistent so you can fix it. The paid version ($9.99/business/month for 12 months) lets you submit business information in bulk to over 100 search engines and directories so that you don’t have to update them individually.
  • Email, search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine management (SEM) campaign tracking, to give you visibility and reporting so you know how well your web site, email, and search marketing activities are working. The catch here is that at this time, the service works only with Constant Contact email marketing and  OrangeSoda SEO and SEM.
  • Site traffic, a free service that gathers web site traffic data from Yahoo! Web Hosting, Yahoo! Merchant Solutions, or Google Analytics (depending on which of these services you already use).
  • Online sales, which pulls in order and revenue reporting for companies using Yahoo! Merchant Solutions online store.

Yahoo! has been plagued with many crises over the last few years, but the company still has a vast presence in the small business market, and supports $3 billion dollars in merchant sales. When he briefed us, Yahoo! GM for Small Business, Tom Byun told us that small business continues a key focal point for the company, and that despite the turmoil, Yahoo! is doubling-down to remain a leader in the small business arena.

The solution seems well-suited to small local or digital businesses who need to use digital media to drive traffic into  physical stores and/or to their website. If you are already using one or more of the marketing services noted above, why not take it for free test drive? It could make your life simpler. And if you’re just getting your feet wet with online marketing, this could help you take an organized approach from the start–again, with little risk.

InsideView

Are your sales reps tired of cold-calling? Are you tired of them coming up short on their goals every month? If you are an SMB with a direct sales force, InsideView’s “social selling” solution can help your sales people spend less time doing research to find people and the ice-breakers necessary to start conversations with them, and more time talking to qualified prospects and customers.

What the heck is social selling? In a nutshell, social selling taps into the fact that customers are smarter, more connected and more socially engaged than ever. The Internet and social media make it easy for people form opinions about brands and products–and influence others about them–without seeing an ad or hearing a sales pitch.  With smarter customers, cold calling isn’t likely to work. Sales people need to get to the right customer, at the right time, with the right conversation to establish and nurture the relationships that can lead to sales.

InsideView goes beyond contact management to give reps the richer, more personal information that they need to start and nurture relationships. It harvests structured and unstructured information from over 25,000 sources, including social sites, news networks and research groups. It compares and rationalizes similar information from multiple sources to develop detailed profiles, reports and alerts. Just getting this information in one place would be nirvana for many sales people who I know.

But, you also want to know if all this social selling stuff really pays off. So earlier this month, InsideView announced a new ROI dashboard to help businesses track ROI for social selling activities. The dashboard identifies opportunities that InsideView influenced as they move through the sales pipeline. This enables businesses to gauge the value of InsideView to the building the sales pipeline and generating revenues, and helps sales management fine-tune their tactics to improve results. It’s available now for Salesforce.com, and will be ready for Microsoft Dynamics CRM later this quarter.

InsideView also launched new, customizable Sales Team Activity Reports, which give sales managers a visual summary of how reps are using InsideView, so they can more easily set and monitor social activity goals and drive team performance.

InsideView has a free, standalone edition for small businesses that don’t use CRM–or just want to get a feel for what they solution does. The standalone version is limited but can still provide significant value. But the biggest bang for the buck is for companies that use CRM. Pricing for InsideView with CRM integration starts at $29.99/user/month.

Sage’s Rebranding: More than a Name Change

Love it or hate it, the first results of Sage North America’s brand transformation strategy have started rolling out in North America. Sage North America CEO Pascal Houilon announced the rebranding initiative last year, which aims to strengthen Sage’s brand–especially in North America. The initiative is designed to address the fact that while many individual Sage products (think ACT!, Peachtree, etc.) enjoy strong brand recognition, the overall Sage brand must be stronger to optimize cross-sell, upsell and connected services opportunities between its products.

Sage reasons that a stronger Sage brand will both increase the odds that existing Sage customers will turn first to other Sage products when they need new solutions, and elevate consideration among small and medium businesses (SMBs) who don’t currently use Sage products. Under Sage’s new naming convention, most products will have a number and descriptor (as Sage has been doing in Europe for a while). So for instance, Peachtree is becoming Sage 50 Accounting–U.S. Edition.

When initially announced, many derided the strategy on the grounds that the numbers were boring, Sage would lose much of the hard-won equity of the individual brands, and partners would need to shell out to support the rebranding. Last but not least, would the rebranding go beyond name changes to encompass significant product and services transformation as well?

This past week, Sage launched its new website for its North American business, www.na.sage.com, and kicked off a new integrated ad campaign to highlight how it can deliver value to small and medium businesses. The campaign will run on national print, radio and online outlets (including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Business Journals, BusinessWeek, Inc., Entrepreneur, Fortune and others) and will expand to television (CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg Television and others) in the summer.

Along with this, we can also see some initial results of the transformation in the new Sage 50 Accounting (aka Peachtree) and Sage One, a new offering. Prior to the launch, Sage provided us with briefings and demos of both. Here are my first impressions of how Sage’s strategy is playing out in the early going.

Peachtree Becomes Sage 50 Accounting, the New Era of Peachtree (add photo)

Although Peachtree, with its 34 year history, has been one of the biggest brands in Sage’s portfolio, it has also led the rebranding charge in North America, so it’s tempting to view it as a bellwether for how well Sage can execute on it’s transformational strategy.

Sage has given the product a fresh new look and added “the New Era of Peachtree” to the Sage 50 Accounting label to help preserve Peachtree equity. The little American flag on the box denotes that this is Sage 50 Accounting for the U.S. (Sage Simply Accounting, its Canadian counterpart, will also get the new Sage 50 Accounting handle, but the Canadian maple leaf will fly on its box instead). Sage is messaging the change to current customers through its newsletter, resources in the product, its channel partners and social media.

There’s ample evidence that the change is more than skin deep. In addition to doing a painstaking review of in-product taxonomy and labeling, Sage has put the new version through its paces in its usability labs, and made some significant changes to make it easier to use and get value from, including:

  • Sage Advisor Technology. Sage continues to improve this service, which provides real-time, in-context guidance within the solution. For instance, if you’re working in Sage 50 Accounting, and you manually enter your banking information several times, a message will pop up and offer you advice for an automated feed. You can choose to look at the advice or save it for later, and see a historical list of all the messages you’ve gotten when you have time, and change the rules determining when you get these messages. According to Sage, the service has a very high opt-in rate, and Sage can also use it to inform customers when a Sage Connected Service–such as Sage Payments–may be of interest.
  • Sage 50 Business Intelligence (BI). Sage had been partnering with Alchemex to provide customers with a connected cloud BI service. Sage liked it so much they bought the company. Sage 50 BI is integrated into Sage 50 Accounting, giving customers the ability to run what-if scenarios, standard and custom reports. The solution is Excel-based, so it has the familiar look and feel that bookkeepers and accountants love. But once you create your report template, you can re-run and update reports with new information from Sage 50 Accounting with the click of a button.
  • Connected Services Strategy. Sage says that most of its customers aren’t ready to put accounting in the cloud. This jives with SMB Group data, which indicates that while plans for cloud-based accounting are rising, this area is moving much more slowly than areas like sales, marketing and customer service (Figure 1). Sage’s Connected Services for Sage 50 Accounting include direct deposit, 401K administration, payment services, tax filing, document management and online backup, and with this release, Sage is adding integrated e-marketing via partner Swift Page (who has been offering this as a connected service for Sage ACT! for a couple of years).

Figure 1: The Cloud Becomes the New Normal–But Accounting, ERP Lag

  • Sage Business Care. This provides customers with upgrades, updates, unlimited support, a dedicated account manager, online training, and an HR resource center. Up until now, this had been a premium service except for top-of-the-line Peachtree Quantum customers. But with Net Promoter scores for Business Care customers are 3 times higher than for those not using the service, Sage has decided to bundle it into all Sage 50 Accounting offerings.

Sage One

Sage One U.S. Edition, is Sage’s new online business management system designed to help the smallest of small businesses (less than 10 employees) manage money, time and projects. Many of these businesses currently manage their businesses with shoeboxes, pencil and paper and/or a jumble of personal productivity tools.

As part of product development, Sage spent a lot of time watching micro-businesses work and getting their feedback. The Sage team went to their sites, brought them into Sage’s usability lab to test prototypes, and ran focus groups for input. Not surprisingly, it found that most entrepreneurs and sole proprietors don’t get into business to do accounting–they want to teach karate, style hair, or install lighting–basically to do more of whatever it is they love and that makes them money.

Sage also found that these customers want workflow consistency–the ability to create proposals, track projects, assign and mange work, create and send invoices, record payments, and manage expenses. In a nutshell, they want to simplify business management and streamline collaboration. But they have very little time to learn new things: in a Sage survey among businesses with 0 to 9 employees, 66 percent said they use three or more software applications to manage their day-to-day operations–which leads to wasted time, inefficiencies and errors.

Sage One U.S. tackles this problem by bringing money management, invoicing, project tracking, task assignment, messaging and reporting into a single integrated web-based application. Accounting is at the core, and connected to other management functions to reduce data entry time. The solution provides collaboration capabilities to help businesses with distributed teams of employees, contract workers, partners, clients, etc., share and communicate, so no one works in isolation. Automatic notifications, reminders and tracking of in-progress or completed tasks are built-in to keep everyone on the same page. Pricing is $29 per month, which includes two administrative users, unlimited collaborative users (who can share projects, files, etc.), and five gigabytes of storage–as well as online and phone support. Sage is offering a special deal for the Sage One debut–customers can subscribe for just $1 per month for the first three months.

Sage is working with organizations such as the Future of Entrepreneurship and the Community College Association of Entrepreneurship, and plans to also leverage its Sage Accountant Network. These initiatives should help get Sage One onto the radar of very small businesses.

An Early Assessment

The paint is barely dry on these first steps in Sage’s brand transformation, and it’s much too early to tell if Sage will be able to truly reinvigorate its brand and its customers. But the early steps bode well.

With Sage 50, Sage is providing significant new benefits through additional services for BI, and raising the support bar by bundling Sage Business Care across the product line. And, Connected Services give customers a clear path to consume additional connected services in an incremental, yet integrated way (which is how most SMBs need to deploy them). I think that Sage’s existing customers will get over the name change (and eventually, so will partners). But, product differentiation isn’t enough–Sage will need to double down to reach and penetrate more of the non-Sage base in order for Sage 50 to really spread its wings and grow.

Meanwhile, Sage One is a good start at giving micro-businesses an all-in-one solution. The pricing model–which includes unlimited collaborative internal and external users–should appeal to small businesses that need flexibility and are wary of per user, per month pricing. Some of the things that I think it will need to add to really cover the bases for these businesses are email integration, some light document management, and some tools to automate basic marketing functions (such as email marketing and social media marketing). But the solution is built on Ruby on Rails, and should have ample flexibility to evolve–the question will be how quickly.

Finally, Sage’s new ad campaign seems significant and should also help it get on the radar with the new prospects that it needs to reinvigorate growth. However, Sage will also need to make sure that it has a solid social media plan in place so that it can engage with new customers and re-engage with those who have dated perceptions of Sage.

Making Small Business a Bigger Business: Intuit’s Acquisition of Demandforce

Intuit announced last week that it was acquiring Demandforce, which provides an integrated suite of Web-based social media and marketing tools for small businesses, for $423.5 million in cash. Demandforce automates many of the internet and social media marketing tasks that small businesses increasingly need to do, giving Intuit a proven front office play: Demandforce already has about 15,000 customers, books about $50 million annually in revenue, and is growing at about 80% annually.

This is Intuit’s second biggest acquisition (Digital Insight, which Intuit acquired in 2006, was the largest). What makes Demandforce so attractive to Intuit? Let’s count the ways!

1. Broaden Intuit’s Front-Office Presence

Intuit has a very strong footprint in small business “back-office” applications, such as accounting, payroll and payments solutions. As important as these solutions are to running a businesses, they do little to address small companies’ top challenges–which according to SMB Group studies, are to  attract new customers and grow revenue.

Intuit has made some acquisitions over the past few years to provide customer-facing application to small businesses. The most notable is Homestead, which helps small businesses build web sites and create an online presence.

Demandforce builds on this acquisition, and can help Intuit capitalize on the broader shift to digital marketing that’s being fueled to a large degree by the adoption of social media and mobile solutions. Now, Intuit can provide it’s five million QuickBooks desktop users, and over 400,000 QuickBooks Online customers with Demandforce, which is designed to help services-based businesses grow revenue, retain clients and strengthen their online reputation. Demandforce has already done the integration with QuickBooks and now they can mine the Intuit installed base for service businesses that would benefit most from Demandforce.

And, at roughly $300 per company per month, Demandforce figures to be one of Intuit’s most profitable offerings over time.

2. Gain Industry Solutions and Go-to-Market Expertise

Demandforce’s customers span the true small business service universe–veterinary, pet services, dental care, automotive repair, medical spas, salons, chiropractors, and fitness centers, to name a few.  (The company recently added a solution tailored for accountants–which should turn into a doubly nice move as about 250,000 accountants use QuickBooks).

Demandforce gives these small businesses affordable, easy to use tools similar to those that large enterprises use–and tailored to their industry-specific needs. It’s model is to select an industry, study it, and identify the top industry solutions in that area, such as Henry Schein for dental. Then Demandforce engineering does the integration work, and looks for partners that sell into the relevant industry. The vendor markets through industry trade shows and conventions, and closes sales through telesales and partner feet on the street.

Many vendors say they’re going to target small business vertical markets. But I’m hard-pressed to think of another vendor that has done this type of holistic, industry-by-industry block and tackling. This has paid off for Demandforce, and should reap even bigger rewards with the added muscle and money of Intuit behind it.

3. Flying Higher Into the Cloud

Intuit has been steadily progressing from being a traditional desktop company to an online cloud services provider. This is also where small businesses are moving, as shown in Figure X. The Demandforce acquisition adds to Intuit’s cloud credentials in the very hot marketing automation area.

Figure 1: Small Business Purchase and Plans for Cloud-based Solutions

4. Serving Up SoLoMo to Main Street Businesses

Three big tech trends are reshaping businesses today: social, mobile and local. Demandforce hits all three of these bases for Intuit. On the social front, It brings together many of the social media tools into a unified service, making social media more manageable for small business to manage their interactions across social networks. In terms of mobile, Demandforce makes it easy for small businesses to engage with their customers using mobile devices. So for instance, your salon can send you a text message to remind you about your next appointment, Finally, there’s the local element. With Demandforce, small businesses can invite and collect user reviews and feedback, building up their local reputation. To date, Demandforce has helped its small business customers gather about 1.5 million reviews, which can also be syndicated out to Google, Yelp and other review sites.

Adding it Up

As I discussed in an earlier post, Intuit: From Products to Services, Applications to Platform, Intuit has already made great strides in transforming from a products to a services company. Demandforce gives Intuit the fuel it needs to more fully tap into small businesses’ hunger for solutions that can help them grow their businesses–and in doing so, accelerate its own transformation.

Tech Tidbits for SMBs: PaySimple and BizSlate

I’m back to serve up the second edition of Tech Tidbits, with a new sampling of SMB solutions that you might not know about, but could provide just what you’re looking for.

On the menu this time are PaySimple and BizSlate. If you use or try either of these solutions, please let me know what you think!

PaySimple. Our SMB Group studies consistently indicate that improving cash flow is a top SMB business challenge. But many small businesses still collect payments the old-fashioned way–handwriting invoices or using word processing or spreadsheet apps to create invoices. This can slow down receivables cycles, or worse, make it easy to forget to invoice or follow-up on overdue payments.

PaySimple’s solution automates and simplifies billing and collections with a cloud-based (aka software-as-a-service) solution so you can manage everything from one place. The all-in-one service integrates multiple payment types (credit card, ACH and eCheck), multiple payment channels (virtual terminal, recurring billing, email invoicing, web payments and mobile payments). PaySimple is great for service businesses that are built around repeat customers, offering capabilities for things such as subscription billing and automated communications.

If you don’t have a merchant account yet, PaySimple will get you up and running. PaySimple also provides an import/export function that can map custom fields for integration with most small business accounting solutions, and offers a mobile app so that you can use it when you’re on the go. With this type of solution, SMBs can cut the time they spend on billing and collection, save money and get paid faster. PaySimple is available direct and through private label partners such as American Express Open, Chase, Western Union, among others. Pricing direct from PaySimple is $34.95/month, plus transaction fees.

BizSlate. It’s not too often that customers guide product development from inception, but BizSlate, which provides cloud-based ERP for small businesses, took exactly this approach.  In his prior role as CEO of eZCom Software Inc., a cloud-based EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) provider for SMBs, BizSlate founder Marc Kalman saw that many customers needed to move beyond entry-level accounting software to an ERP solution, but hadn’t found a solution to fit their needs and budgets. So Kalman left eZCom to start BizSlate–convincing over a dozen of his eZCom customers to kick an average of $18,000 each into the venture and join a steering committee to guide product development.

He conducted extensive interviews with each, asking them to throw out their old ideas about software and focus instead on helping him better understand what they really needed to solve their business problems. What he came up with is BizSlate, an ERP system that spans areas such as customer management, vendor management, order management, product management, multiple warehouse and inventory management, receiving from vendors and shipping to customers.

Interestingly, BizSlate doesn’t aim to create another accounting system, so you can, for instance, strap QuickBooks right onto it. BizSlate’s initial focus is on manufacturing, wholesale and distribution industries, but the company plans to extend into the services verticals also. The original 12 customers/investors are using BizSlate now, and the public beta starts this week–so check it out if you’ve been searching for this type of solution.

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