Got Apps? GetApp Introduces CloudWork to Integrate Them

Last week, I spoke with Christophe Primault, CEO of GetApp, about GetApp’s new CloudWork platform, which provides a growing catalog of pre-built connectors to integrate cloud-based business and social media apps. Listen to the podcast or read the summary below.      

 

Laurie: Good morning, Christophe. Could you start by describing what GetApp is and what it does?

Christophe: Okay. GetApp helps small businesses be successful with cloud business applications. We started a couple of years ago by building a marketplace where small businesses can discover business applications that are suited for their needs.

Laurie:  Great. I know you got started around 2010, a couple of years ago. About how many apps are available in the app marketplace now?

Christophe: Today we have close to 5000 different applications available, and they are split in about 300 different business categories.

Laurie:  Now, I know that GetApp is a little different type of marketplace than say Google Apps marketplace or Salesforce AppExchange. Can you just describe a little bit about what makes it different?

Christophe: Sure. So what we are trying to do is be independent and inclusive and let small businesses see everything that is available in the market. We are not tied to any particular vendor or systems. We access apps that are integrated with Google Apps or Salesforce or any application, but by coming to GetApp you will be able to see all the applications in each category that can be of interest to you.

Laurie: Okay. So kind of like the Switzerland of small business app marketplaces?

Christophe: Yes. Exactly. It’s like a Swiss Army knife for small businesses looking for business applications.

Laurie: And about how many visitors do you have coming to GetApp these days?

Christophe: This has been ramping up month after month, and today we have close to 150,000 visitors coming to the marketplace every month. Overall 95% of these are small and medium businesses (SMBs).

Laurie: Great. And how do you define an SMB? What size company?

Christophe: We are mostly targeting the low-end of SMBs. It’s companies with between 0 to 100 employees, but we do have also larger companies that are coming to GetApp to find applications for their own departments.

Laurie: I understand that you have a new offering from GetApp called CloudWork. Can you tell us what it is?

Christophe: Absolutely. CloudWork is a new solution that we launched one month ago, and it is a continuation of GetApp. While GetApp is the first step for small businesses looking for business applications to discover what they need, CloudWork really comes in when you start using more than one application in your organization. Let’s say you are using four or five, and you have developed silos of data in each of your applications and you realize that these apps don’t talk to each other. You want to integrate these applications together to increase productivity, so this is what CloudWork is doing. It’s an easy to use platform and you don’t need any technical knowledge to get apps to talk to each other.

Laurie:  Okay. Yes, I think most of us that are small businesses, we can relate to that. We start by using one application to fit a certain need, and then as we need another we add another. Before you know it we have a few different cloud apps, but they don’t necessarily talk to each other. So we’re trying to manually coordinate what’s going on. What was the genesis for deciding that you needed to do this?

Christophe: Yes, that clearly came from our users. We found applications on GetApp or anywhere else, and now we run integral applications, but they don’t talk to each other so we developed processes attached that are repetitive, that are not bringing a lot of value to the organization that could be automated. So, we decided, maybe this is something interesting to do. And then we asked ourselves, as an SMB using over 20 different cloud apps, is it a problem we have?  How could we address this problem and how much value will it bring to us? We realized that we could save a lot of time and be much more productive in doing more value-added tasks in the organization if we had the ability to automate many of the internal processes and tasks. This is how we decided to build the CloudWork platform to do that.

Laurie: So, how would it work for me? Can you walk me through it? Once I go on the CloudWork site, what would I need to do? How much work would it take on my part?

Christophe: I am going to take a very precise use case to tell you how you can use CloudWork. For example, cloud-based CRM is one of the most common applications for an SMB. So, assuming you are using let’s say Zoho CRM, you will come to CloudWork, you will sign up for an account and you will authorize CloudWork to talk to Zoho. You will do that with just a couple of clicks, and then we will show you a list of applications that can integrate with Zoho with the objective of capturing your client’s profile in Zoho all the customers, all the interactions your company had with your customer.

So let’s take an example. You start with Zoho CRM and then you decide that any e-mail that comes in via Gmail to your organization should be logged under your customer profile on Zoho CRM. So you integrate Zoho with Gmail. If you want to see which invoices and payment status of invoices, then you will integrate with Freshbooks. If you want to see when your client has received an e-mail campaign then you will integrate Zoho with MailChimp. If you want to have all your data in Zoho to be backed up on an online storage platform, then you will integrate with Dropbox, and so on.

So, in this specific case,  in just a few clicks you are adding different applications and building a unified view of all your company’s interactions, which of the apps you are using in your company under your customer profile in Zoho. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to set up. No code is needed. You don’t need to have any particular knowledge, and with just a few clicks you can set up your account and then the tasks run in the background.

Laurie: So, at the end of the day you’re saving a lot of time because you don’t have to be manually trying to connect these things. And you’re gaining productivity and cutting down on manual kinds of errors so your information is more accurate.

Christophe: Yes, you’ve covered what are the main objectives of CloudWork. Increasing productivity of your sales people or your customer support people, avoiding making errors when you’re cutting, pasting, or exporting files from one application to another, making sure also that you always back up data outside each of the applications that you’re using. So productivity, saving time, more security are the main benefits of CloudWork.

Laurie: If someone wants to try CloudWork, how can they try it? Is there a free trial?

Christophe: Yes, absolutely. It’s very easy. You go wwwcloudwork.com. You get started. There is a free trial. In fact, the product is currently free for all to use. There will always be a free version of the product. Most companies they will be able to use CloudWork for free. For very heavy users that will be automating a lot of tasks during the month it will be a paid version, but today it is free. We integrate with 15 very popular applications, and we are adding new different applications every week.

Laurie:  So with GetApp, you addressed that discovery challenge, how do I find applications that I might need to run my business. I know people will also find there is a lot of guidance in terms of reviews, and evaluations, and discussions that small businesses can look at to get information about the apps as well as just getting the apps. So, you’ve addressed that discovery, with CloudWork you’re addressing a lot of the integration issues, what’s next? What’s the longer term vision for GetApp and CloudWork?

Christophe: You’re absolutely right. We are not going to stop there. Our plan is to be what we call a cloud operation center for small businesses. Really the idea is you start with GetApp where you discover applications. You also get a lot of education material on how to get started with cloud applications, what are the pros and cons, which ones you should keep for your business, and then as you start to be a heavier user of applications you will have integration needs. This is one of the first services we offer in CloudWork, but in the future you will be able to access different applications with a single password as an example, or you will be able to have a better view of who is using which kind of application in your organization. So, basically we are going to add additional services to CloudWork so it becomes a single place in your organization where you can manage all your cloud services.

Laurie: That sounds fantastic. For small businesses, if you have not been to the GetApp.com site, I would advise you to check it out because there are a lot of great applications and advice on there. Thank you so much for your time today, Christophe, and for talking to me and sharing this information with us.

Christophe: Thanks a lot Laurie. It’s been a pleasure talking to you and sharing with your listeners the benefits they can get out of GetApp and CloudWork. Thanks a lot.

Are Business App Stores Gaining Steam with Small Businesses?

I’ve been reviewing data from our latest survey, the 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study, which zeros in on how SMBs discover, learn about, evaluate and purchase software and service technology solutions.

This study was a refresh of our 2010 SMB Routes to Market Study. In both years, we asked customers, “Do you use/plan to use business app stores or marketplaces (e.g. Salesforce AppExchange, Intuit Workplace, etc.)?” As shown below (Figure 1), 28% of small businesses are using app stores. The good news is that this is up from 23% last year.

Figure 1: Small Business Use and Plans: Business App Stores and Marketplaces

This year, we also asked respondents how frequently they use app stores. As you can see, only 6% of small businesses use them on a regular basis–which pales in comparison to the 42% that use search engines regularly–and also falls far short compared to sources such as email newsletters; colleagues, friends and family; vendor web sites, and Facebook–among other things.

In this 2011 survey, 17% medium businesses (100-999 employees) indicated that they use app stores on a regular basis, which may mean that as businesses get larger, and their integration requirements increase, app stores provide more value.

Source: SMB Group 2011 (click to enlarge)

App stores focused on the needs of small and medium businesses (SMBs) have been proliferating quickly. Some of the SMB-focused app stores that have set up shop include:

  • Intuit’s Workplace App Center, which provides a central location where small businesses can locate and try business applications that work with QuickBooks and with each other.
  • Google Apps Marketplace, which offers Google users apps that integrate directly with Google Apps.
  • Zoho’s Marketplace, which provides applications that work with Zoho’s solutions.
  • Constant Contact Marketplace, which offers small businesses with applications that integrate with Constant Contact’s email and marketing tools.
  • GetApp.com, which, unlike most app marketplaces, isn’t organized around a core application or platform, but positions itself as a neutral, “meta-marketplace” that is application and platform agnostic.

There are also many business app stores that aren’t exclusively focused on SMBs, but feature plenty of apps relevant to SMB requirements, such Salesforce.com’s AppExchange and Sugar CRM’s SugarExchange

Theoretically, these sites should make it easier for users to find, try, evaluate and purchase applications. But our study analysis suggests that app stores will need to do more to live up to their promise of becoming a premier and potentially disruptive SMB information and purchase channel.

Pervasive Puts Its Galaxy Integration Community Into Orbit

–by Sanjeev Aggarwal and Laurie McCabe, SMB Group

At its annual Metamorphosis conference earlier this month, Pervasive announced Pervasive Galaxy, which merges an online integration marketplace and community into a single, streamlined platform. Pervasive has designed Galaxy to remove boundaries between buyers and sellers and make it easier for end-user customers to understand options, review vendors, figure out what’s best for their needs, and shop for/purchase integration solutions. Galaxy’s built-in community capabilities help vendors connect with customers to gain input, gather feedback, exchange ideas and help crowdsource new solutions.

As we noted in our SMB Group Top Ten 2011 SMB Predictions, better, faster integration is becoming a critical business solutions differentiator. Cloud computing has made business solutions more accessible and affordable for a wider swath of companies, but integrating them can break the bank. This is especially the case for SMBs, who usually don’t have the money or appetite for complex or time-consuming integrations.

This reality drove Pervasive, a long-time leader in the integration space, to send Galaxy into orbit on the heels of some very big players making significant acquisitions in the integration space; IBM’s purchase of Cast Iron earlier this year, and Dell’s recent deal for Boomi.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the announcement, and our take on what it means for the integration market and the stakeholders in it.

The Integration Challenge

Integration is one of the biggest and costliest hurdles for companies that need to adopt new applications. Companies need to integrate applications and data sources to maximize productivity, reduce redundancy and inaccuracies, and streamline workflows. Yet integration between and among external cloud and on-premise applications, different data sources and existing business workflows can be costly and complicated. This is particularly true for SMBs, who lack IT staff that can develop integration between applications, or the budgets for solutions that require time and labor services.

How Galaxy Addresses the Integration Challenge

With Galaxy, Pervasive is creating a place where customers can easily identify and access affordable and capable integration solutions and vendors, and also provide vendors with feedback about their integration requirements. Galaxy will offer data integration products, solutions, connectors, plug-ins and templates, and serve as a community platform for customers, developers, integrators and other relevant vendors. Pervasive’s intent is that this convergence will nurture a strong ecosystem which will facilitate more rapid, innovative and accessible integration solutions.

Vendors on Galaxy will offer customers both integration components and turnkey cloud integration services. For instance, integration components available in Galaxy include engines, workflows, connectors, agents and rich data services that can support a range of needs, such as data loading, data matching, profiling, transformation and business analytics. Galaxy will also offer ready to run solutions for point-to-point solution integration in a subscription-based SaaS model.

How Galaxy Works for Customers

Galaxy enables community participants to build, preview, test and buy integration solutions. These might include pre-built data integration solutions, connectors, plug-ins or templates that enable faster integration solution development.

Instead of starting with a Google search, or contacting a VAR or consultant and trying to figure out if there is an existing integration solution that’s right for their needs, customers can go to Galaxy and see if there’s an existing solution that fits the bill. They can also use Galaxy to locate a partner than can customize an available integration to their individual needs, or build a custom solution from scratch.

Building an integration community is Galaxy’s other primary focal point. End users will not only be able to shop for ready-made solutions on Galaxy, but will also be able to view and rate templates, connectors, plug-ins and solutions. They can also use Galaxy to inform developers and integrators about their needs, request new integrations, and link to others with similar needs to share the costs of getting a new integration developed. End-users who build integrations themselves can, if they want, also sell them to others via the Galaxy platform.

How Galaxy Works for Partners

Pervasive Galaxy offers developer and system integrator (SI) partners an integration marketplace platform, development tools, store, community collaboration and revenue sharing–basically everything they need to build and sell their solutions. There is no charge to build integrations. Once partners build the solution and start selling it on Galaxy, they keep 70% of the sale and the other 30% goes to Pervasive. Partners retain their intellectual property, and can offer documentation and the required technical support (possibly for an additional fee).

Galaxy should help developers get their integrations to market more quickly, and make their offerings more accessible to a broader constituency. For instance, Galaxy’s “try and buy” program gives developers a way to demonstrate ROI before they commit to a purchase–giving skittish and/or cash-strapped SMBs a risk-free way to try the integration and see if it pays off before they have to spend money for it.

In addition, partners can take advantage of Galaxy’s community to tap into integration requirements across a range of businesses. This should enable them to tune their integration solutions more closely to actual requirements, to explore potential new markets for their products and meet customer needs in a more repeatable and profitable manner.

What Does Galaxy Do for Pervasive?

Galaxy gives Pervasive a centralized mechanism to market and provide access to its growing array of development and testing tools–including Pervasive Data Integrator, Pervasive DataCloud, Pervasive Data Profiler in a more streamlined way to developers and integrators–and build a new revenue stream based on the sales of the integrations that partners build and sell.

Pervasive has initiated, built and will maintain and manage the Galaxy marketplace platform. As the Galaxy community grows, Pervasive should also be able to extract a lot of insight about customer and partner integration requirements and demands across different horizontal, vertical and geographic markets, which it can use in its own product planning efforts. Pervasive and its community members will jointly develop and participate in demand generation and building visibility for the Galaxy market, vendors and community.

At some point, Galaxy could serve as a launch pad for integration testing and certification, conducted either by Pervasive or by the community, helping to reinforce the company’s position as a leader in the integration space.

Quick Take

The integration challenge is becoming increasingly more complex because of trends such as cloud computing, mobile solutions, social media and the exponential growth of data. These trends will continue to drive the need for companies to integrate more applications and data from an increasingly dizzying array of sources.

These trends are also driving Pervasive and its integration competitors to tear down some of the barriers that have made integration so difficult in the past (see Dell and Boomi: Doubling Down on Integration, for our view on Dell’s approach to this challenge).

With Galaxy, Pervasive has built a streamlined, in-context ecosystem for customers to search for, identify, evaluate and purchase integration solutions. As important, Galaxy gives users a place where they can voice their integration experiences, concerns and requirements. Meanwhile, Galaxy should help partners market their solutions, and gain insight on integration gaps and requirements from a much broader audience, and amortize the costs of developing their integrations over a larger number of customers. The ecosystem approach puts vendors and customers on the same page and fosters the collaboration that should result in a win/win for all involved.

However, while Pervasive has built Galaxy, the question remains whether enough users and partners will come to make it a true integration destination point. To fuel customer interest, Galaxy needs a strong cadre of actively engaged developers, SIs and integrations in the Galaxy ecosystem. Conversely, to attract partners, it needs a lot of customers that partners can sell their services to. Pervasive will need to double down on its social media, marketing, partner engagement and other related activities to ensure Galaxy reaches its goals–especially as it faces strong competition from the big guys–in our opinion, particularly from Dell-Boomi, which appears to be thriving under the Dell umbrella.

But, Pervasive’s smaller, independent status can also play in its favor, as noted in Top Takeaways from Pervasive’s 2010 IntegratioNext Conference. The company can keep a laser-like focus on the integration needs of customers and the business development needs of partners. And its independent status may appeal to prospective partners that may having differing agendas than or encounter red-tape challenges when working with Pervasive’s larger rivals. If Pervasive can use this agility and focus to its full advantage, and rev up marketing and social media engagements, Galaxy should succeed in it mission to create a vibrant integration marketplace.

Intuit and Salesforce Partner Up: Who’s the Big Winner?

Last week, Intuit and Salesforce.com announced that they would partner to integrate Intuit QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online small business accounting software with Salesforce’s small business CRM editions (Contact Manager, Group and Professional).

Under the terms of the deal, Intuit will resell a pre-integrated version of the Salesforce CRM application via Intuit’s App Center (as well as Intuit channel partners). Data will be automatically synchronized across QuickBooks and Salesforce, giving customers a real-time, unified view of the data, regardless of which application the customer is working in.

Intuit and Salesforce indicated that the integration should be completed this summer.

Above the Surface

Clearly, the deal provides Salesforce with a great entrée to Intuit’s 4.5 million QuickBooks users, gives Intuit a marquee CRM partner in the App Center.

This is also a very big deal for customers. While the small business CRM market is fragmented, Salesforce is a top CRM vendor in small business. Demand for integration between QuickBooks and Salesforce is evidenced by the fact that so many integration vendors—Dell-Boomi, Pervasive, Informatica, IBM-Cast Iron and others—offer this integration, which is typically priced at about $50 to $75 per month. With a direct QuickBooks-Salesforce integration, small businesses get a seamless way to synchronize data between QuickBooks and Salesforce.com without having to buy an additional integration service or solution. (Although pricing has yet to be announced, I’ve been told that it will be more economical than using third-party integration tools).

Below the Surface

The partnership also provides Intuit with substantial validation for the approach it has taken with the Intuit Partner Platform  (Intuit Partner Platform: Changing the Rules of Cloud Platforms with Federated Applications). Intuit’s “federated applications” approach means that instead of having to rewrite applications from scratch, partners that have built their applications on other cloud platforms can use basic XML integration to configure or “federate” their solutions with key integration points, including the user interface, billing, account management and permissions, data and single sign-on to ensure that their solutions integrate with QuickBooks and other solutions on the Intuit Workplace.

This approach removes a lot of development and partnering barriers—in fact, it seems that it removed enough barriers for Salesforce that it is, for the first time, providing its solutions via a partner’s platform, rather than requiring the partner to develop on Force.com.

Salesforce also gains a new venue for Chatter (free with all of its CRM offerings, including the small business editions noted above). As I’ve said many times, collaboration is the only activity that every employee in every company engages in everyday. In addition to getting another on ramp for CRM, Salesforce can also make new market inroads for Chatter and its collaboration strategy ( Salesforce’s Dimdim Acquisition–Adding to a String of Collaboration Pearls).

Quick Take

Many analysts and pundits have been asking (and arguing about) whether this is a bigger win for Salesforce.com or for Intuit. At first blush, my take was that Salesforce would potentially have more to gain because Intuit would be promoting and selling Salesforce CRM and Chatter to its installed base.

Giving it a little more thought, I’m thinking it’s a pretty balanced deal. Having a high-profile partner such as Salesforce should help Intuit attract more end-user customers to its App Center, and pull in more developers as well—in line with its goal to establish the App Center as “the” app store for small businesses.

Small businesses win big too. Integrating business solutions shouldn’t cost more than the business solutions themselves, and this partnership should make integration and the benefits it provides more attainable for more small businesses.

Furthermore, there’s nothing exclusive about the deal for either party. Salesforce, will, of course, continue to partner up with FinancialForce, Intacct and countless other financials vendors, and Intuit can do the same with CRM and collaboration vendors.  Which is a good thing—because small business is anything but a one-size-fits-all market, and neither vendor should presume that this is the best accounting-CRM pairing for all of their small business customers.

Zoho Books: Big Plans for Small Business Accounting

I was just briefed yesterday by Raju Vegesna on the launch of Zoho Books, Zoho’s new on demand accounting solution for small businesses. With Zoho Books, Zoho fills in a critical application that has been missing in its portfolio of more than 25 cloud-based applications for small businesses.

The first version of Zoho Books will be a standalone accounting solution, but later this year, Zoho will add tight integration with some of it’s other apps, such as Zoho CRM and Zoho Support (see my recent post). According to Raju, Zoho wanted to get the accounting functionality right before focusing on integration and other extras. Some of the key takeaways from my briefing include:

  • Zoho has covered most of the accounting basics. The solution features a dashboard, with tabs from which you can create and send invoices, see profit/loss statements, look at income and expenses, etc. Once you create an invoice, you can email it to customers, and set up a link so customers can make direct payments to you online via PayPal, Google checkout, and Authorize.net. You can set up automatic notifications, reminders and thank-you emails as well, and create recurring invoices. Snail mail is also an option.
  • Zoho Books will help users to manage bank accounts, and view bank and credit card statements. Right now, users need to enter third-party financial information manually via a .csv file, but later this year, Zoho plans to add direct connections to banks to automate the import process.
  • Zoho has also taken steps to reduce the fees that Zoho Books customers pay for PayPal transactions by teaming up with PayPal on the Business Payments on the PayPal X platform. This cuts PayPal transaction fees for Zoho Books users to a flat $0.50 per payment—instead of the standard 2% to 3% of each transaction. Since 70% to 80% of Zoho customers use PayPal as their primary payment method, this is a pretty big selling point for the solution.
  • Zoho Books was designed with non-accountants in mind. The interface uses terms such as “money in” and “money out” instead of accounting jargon. But small businesses that use an accountant to manage their financials can set their accountant up as a Zoho Books user. Accountants can also use the solution to manage multiple small business clients simultaneously, as separate organizations.
  • Zoho is addressing multi-currency needs. At launch, Zoho Books enables users to define multiple currency types. Initially, the user will need to supply the exchange rate manually, but later this year, Zoho intends to automate this through an integration with XE.com currency exchange.
  • The look and feel are very customizable. Users can configure logos, signatures, tax settings, email settings, etc. from the settings module.
  • Integration is basic today, but Zoho has big plans. As I noted, today, you can import data into Zoho Books from spreadsheets, Zoho CRM, Zoho mail, etc. You can also view every module of Zoho Books in Zoho Sheets as a spreadsheet, or export it to Excel. Zoho also has a data migration tool to migrate Intuit QuickBooks data to Zoho Books. Looking ahead, Zoho plans to tightly integrate Zoho Books and Zoho CRM to create a seamless order-to-cash workflow. Zoho also plans to integrate Zoho mail with Zoho Books.
  • Pricing starts at $24/month for 2 users, and $5 per user for additional users. If you sign up for an annual subscription (instead of paying monthly) you get two months free. The solution is launching with a 30-day free trial.

With Zoho Books, Zoho is taking aim at Intuit QuickBooks in the U.S., and similar entry-level accounting solutions in other countries. In its first iteration, Zoho Books maps to QuickBooks Online Essentials, but down the line, as Zoho adds more functionality, it could add a higher-end solution more comparable to QuickBooks Online Plus.

Interestingly, Zoho recently announced Zoho CRM integration with QuickBooks, and according to Raju, Zoho will continue to support this even as it introduces its QuickBooks rival. But coopetition is nothing new for Zoho. And, you don’t need to look any further than its relationship with Google to see that this is an area in which it excels. Although Google and Zoho have several competing applications, Zoho apps are a top seller on Google Apps Marketplace and integrate with Google Apps. Zoho Books, of course, will be in the Google Apps Marketplace from day one.

While many on demand accounting start-ups have set their sights on the QuickBooks market over the past few years, they haven’t really made much headway. Zoho, however, is a different animal and should give Intuit a bit more pause for concern. Not only does Zoho already have millions of free and paid users around the globe for it 25 solutions, Zoho is just one part of Zoho Corporation, which provides enterprise level business, network, and IT infrastructure management applications, and software maintenance and support services to some of the largest companies in the world. This not only gives Zoho a lot of expertise to draw on to add new functionality, but the financial staying power to be a serious contender.

SMB Group Top Ten 2011 SMB Technology Predictions

Here are the SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions for 2011! A more detailed description of each follows below.

1. Mobile Commerce Lifts Off

2. SMBs Demand that Vendors Bring Order to Social Media Chaos

3. App Stores Become a Key Information Source and Channel for SMBs

4. The Shift to Cloud Computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Becomes Irreversible

5. A New Cloud Channel Model Forms

6. The Transition to the Insight Economy Gets a Bit Easier

7. Tablets Add Fuel to the Mobile Applications Explosion

8. Better, Faster Integration Becomes a Key Business Solution Differentiator

9. Hybrid Computing Requirements Accelerate Virtualization Adoption

10. Continued Convergence of Unified Communication and Collaboration Suites

2011 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions in Detail

1.     Mobile Commerce Lifts Off: Today, mobile commerce is in its infancy, but with the Internet in our pocket or purse, it’s only a matter of time before it takes off.  As big retailers and companies invest to make mobile commerce easier, more convenient and more secure, the pressure mounts for SMBs to develop mobile commerce capabilities to stay competitive. The SMB Group’s 2010 Mobile Solutions Study reveals strong SMB plans for mobile web sites, payments, product and service tracking, document sharing and sales/support/service in the upcoming year.   However, key drivers for mobile commerce and adoption plans vary by industry, phase of business and other factors. Vendors will need to tailor messaging and solutions to resonate with these different requirements. As SMBs become more dependent on mobile commerce, they will also look for ways to integrate mobile commerce with ERP/accounting and CRM systems to save time and increase efficiency.

2.     SMBs Demand that Vendors Bring Order to Social Media Chaos. SMBs are jumping on the social media bandwagon to help attract new customers and improve customer relationships. But managing marketing, branding and reputation across and between social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) and other digital marketing venues (email marketing, search engine marketing, etc.) as well as more traditional CRM solutions can be a nightmare—and surfaces as a top technology challenge in our 2010 Routes to Market Study. In 2011, SMBs will demand converged solutions that streamline inbound and outbound interactions across different channels, and help  measure their effectiveness. Vendors are stepping up efforts to help meet this challenge. For instance, BatchBlue “Social CRM” integrates contacts sales and social media feeds for small businesses; HubSpot’s inbound marketing helps companies create, optimize and promote content to “get found,” convert and close more business, and link to relevant conversations across the Web in a unified dashboard; Sage CRM Solutions integrates social media with opportunities and contacts to help sales, marketing and support people prioritize and focus sales activities and marketing campaigns more effectively; and Salesforce.com makes Chatter available for free to all Salesforce users to integrate profiles, groups, online document sharing, task management, contacts, web forms, status updates, newsfeeds with CRM.

3. App Stores Become a Key Information Source and Channel for SMBs. In our 2010 Routes to Market Study, respondents rated “figuring out how different solutions can help the business” as their second most vexing technology challenge. SMBs most often turn to search engines, vendor emails and websites to help sort through this confusion, and keep up with information about technology solutions.  SMB app stores—aka marketplaces—go beyond search engine listings to provide user-generated ratings and guidance to help SMBs determine best-fit solutions. They offer single-sign on access to apps and integration capabilities. Google Apps Marketplace, Intuit’s Workplace, GetApp.com, Constant Contact Marketplace and Zoho Marketplace are just a few examples of SMB-focused app stores that have launched recently. In 2011, they will become a more important source and channel for SMBs—our survey results show that more than half of all SMBs use or plan to use app stores. Vendors that run their own app stores will need to stay ahead of competitors not only by offering the best selection of applications, but by providing superior information, community, guidance, integration and ecommerce experiences.

4.     The Shift to Cloud Computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Becomes Irreversible. SaaS and cloud computing vendors have been pitching the mantra of easier, faster and more affordable solutions for SMBs since the late 1990s when pioneers such as NetLedger (now NetSuite) and Employease (now part of ADP) launched. But the great recession has accomplished what marketing alone could not. From 2009 to 2010, SMB awareness, interest, consideration and adoption of SaaS and cloud solutions has spiked. Our 2010 Routes-to-Market Study reveals that more than 25% of small and 12% of medium businesses now use collaboration, customer management, online marketing and business analytics as cloud-based services. Economic necessity has driven more SMBs to the cloud, and once in, they are seeing mostly positive results–not only in terms of cost savings and time to solution, but in being able to re-deploy scarce (if any!) IT resources from application support and management to more strategic activities. As important, they are getting significant business value from real-time visibility and collaborative capabilities that are intrinsic to cloud computing–and provide a compelling case to expand their use.

5.     A New Cloud Channel Model Forms. Cloud vendors deliver many of the things that IT channel has traditionally provided–software and hardware sourcing, installation, management, etc. As a result, cloud computing doesn’t neatly align with the traditional IT channel provider role, and many VARs and SIs have been wary of cloud computing. But as customer demand catches up with early hype, and the lure of annuity revenues and higher value services grows, more channel partners are inclined to get on board—even if they’re not yet sure how to straddle two very different business models. At the same time, more cloud solution vendors are acknowledging that partners will be critical to fuel future SMB market growth. After all, while the cloud removes technical barriers to adoption, SMBs often need the one-on-one guidance to derive maximum business value from solutions. In 2011, a new channel model will begin to take shape, incorporating greater collaboration and joint goal setting between cloud vendors and partners; a selective partnering framework that gives fewer partners more opportunity to make money; more transparent and simplified partner programs; and increased incentives for customer satisfaction, cross-selling and renewals. Vendors to watch here include Intacct and Acumatica.

6.     The Transition to the Insight Economy Gets a Bit Easier. Experts tell us that 1.2 zettabytes of digital information will have been created in 2010. A zettabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes (that’s 21 zeroes!) Whew! Online video, social networking sites such as Facebook, digital photos and cell phone data all contribute to the data pile-up. No wonder that SMBs in our 2010 Routes to Market study said their #1 technology challenge is “getting better business insights from the data we already have,” and that 40% of medium businesses plan to spend more in this area in 2011. Luckily, SMBs have more options than just a few years for digestible BI solutions. Vendors such as  Adaptive Planning, IBM/Cognos (and now Clarity), SAP Business Objects, Rosslyn Analytics and Xactly offer function-specific and/or modular solutions that zero in on a specific task such as performance management, spend analysis or pipeline management. And several on demand/SaaS BI solutions (check out Birst, Cloud9 Analytics, PivotLink, Zoho Reports)  are designed to be easy and inexpensive enough for many small businesses to use and get those important “aha moments” from.

7.     Tablets Add Fuel to the Mobile Applications Explosion. Smartphone apps have already caused a seismic shift in the IT industry—and in how SMBs use and interact with technology and the world. Increasingly, SMBs have mobile workforces that need real-time information and access to applications no matter where they are. The iPad’s swift rise and a slew of new tablets from vendors such as Dell, HP, RIM, Samsung has led to a quick ramp up in tablet adoption. Our Mobile Solutions Study reveals that 10 % of small businesses and 22% of medium businesses have at least some employees using tablets to help them get more done on the go. However, while SMB adoption of calendar, contacts, email and web access is almost ubiquitous, the mobile business solutions market is still largely untapped. But, SMB plans to invest in mobile marketing and advertising, customer service management, social media solutions are on the rise. Innovative, versatile tablet designs and capabilities will further accelerate the availability, quality and adoption of mobile solutions among SMBs. However, fast-paced traction of newer devices, such as Android-based tablets underscore that SMB device preference is highly volatile—so look out for the next new thing that can shift the landscape

8.     Better, Faster Integration Becomes a Key Business Solution Differentiator. Integrating business solutions with each other and with other applications shouldn’t cost more than the business solutions themselves. This is especially the case for SMBs, who usually don’t have the money or appetite for complex or time-consuming integrations. This reality has driven IBM to acquire Cast Iron earlier this year, Dell’s recent purchase of Boomi,  and Pervasive’s strong growth. Because simple, clean integration options save SMBs time and money, they will increasingly become a vital factor in SMBs ‘short list selections. The good news is that options in this area are growing, and include: comprehensive integrated business suites, such as NetSuite; solutions that come with embedded integrators for typical integration scenarios; app stores that streamline integration among participating solutions; and on demand integration marketplaces, such as Pervasive’s DataCloud marketplace.

9.     Hybrid Computing Requirements Accelerate Virtualization Adoption. Even as SMBs embrace cloud computing, they will continue to use packaged applications that are working just fine. In addition, some businesses will purchase new on premise solutions because they best meet their needs, or due to privacy, security or regulatory considerations. For the foreseeable future, most SMBs will need to combine on-premise and cloud solutions in a hybrid computing approach. As virtual server desktop and storage options grow, more midsize businesses will consider cloud enabled high availability and disaster recovery solutions, which until now, have been desirable, but largely unaffordable for SMBs. They will also look to managed services providers for remote management of their on-premise IT infrastructure, and for help in implementing and managing virtualization and cloud-based business continuity/disaster recovery solutions. Look for VMware to lead the way, with others, such as Citrix and Microsoft playing catch up. A growing mobile workforce combined with next-generation virtual desktop solutions, such as IBM Virtual Desktop for Smart Business, will also spark greater interest in the virtual desktop area. However, vendors will need to continue to invest to educate SMBs about the cost savings, management, and provisioning benefits to further SMB understanding and adoption.

10.  Continued Convergence of Unified Communication and Collaboration Suites. In 2010, the collaboration battle swung into full gear, with many vendors introducing integrated solutions that pull together suites to help make it easier for to find and share information, extend and enhance shared knowledge, and connect with people more easily than with email and disjointed point solutions. Because collaboration is the only business activity that every employee engages in every day, large vendors such as IBM, Cisco, Google and Microsoft, as well as a slew of smaller ones from HyperOffice to Zoho will continue to ratchet up efforts and add more capabilities to expand their market footprints. Vendors are also filling in gaps in their unified collaboration and communications portfolios, such as Cisco did with its Tandberg acquisition; Google has done with Google Voice, to add VoIP and softphone capabilities; and as HyperOffice and IBM LotusLive have done with Skype. And of course, all are integrating social networking capabilities as well. As the kinks get worked out and the integrations become smoother, these converged services can help SMBs to declutter their in boxes, improve productivity and save money.

Four Top Technology Solution Trends and How They Can Help Your Small Business

A couple of weeks ago, I was a presenter at Ramon Ray’s Small Business Technology Tour in Cambridge, MA. My presentation focused on top technology trends, and how small businesses can take advantage of them. A few people have asked me to post the presentation, so I’m providing it here.

At the event, I prefaced the presentation by telling the audience why I picked these four trends from among the myriad of bright and shiny technology innovations bubbling up out there. It’s really pretty simple: in our 2010 SMB Group Routes to Market survey, small business owners and decision-makers told us that their top three business goals are, in this order: 1) growing revenues; 2) attracting new customers; and 3) improving cash flow.

Meanwhile, they said that their top four technology challenges are to: 1) get better business insights from existing data; 2) figure out how different solutions can help the business; 3) implementing new solutions and upgrades; and 4) integrate social media with Web site, marketing tools, etc.

The four trends I selected center on areas where vendors are providing accessible, affordable technology solutions that can help small businesses meet their top business goals and at the same time, wrestle down their top technology challenges. They are (in no particular order):

  • Social Media Management
  • Mobile Commerce
  • SMB Application Marketplaces
  • On Demand Business Intelligence and Analytics

In the presentation, I look at each of these trends individually, and what each means for small businesses. I also discuss solutions that are geared to small business needs and budgets, and key considerations to evaluate when you’re looking for a solution in each area.

Let me know what you think about these, what your experiences have been, and what other new technology and trends you’re thinking about taking advantage of to move your business ahead.

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