Discussing 2015 SMB Top Tech Trends, Part 2: The Internet of Things (IoT) Comes Into Focus

Recently, I had the pleasure of kicking off the new year as a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2015 Top Technology Trends for SMBs and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The second of a five-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “The Internet of Things (IoT) comes into focus.

the-internet-of-things-300x210Kalynn: Now I would like you to talk to me about the Internet of things. First of all not everyone will have heard that term so describe what that means and what it means to us as businesses.

Laurie: Exactly. Internet of things is really interesting, and you’re right, a lot of people have no idea what it means and even if they have some kind of glimmer of an idea that’s kind of where it stops. The IT vendors out there and the prognosticators have been forecasting very big growth, or intelligent connected devices of all types, so think anything from Apple Smart Watch or Google Glass to sensors and manufacturing equipment or maybe you’ve heard of these smart parking meters. The whole idea between internet of things is that you can have these devices kind of seamlessly connected, and you as a user, you don’t have to necessarily do anything but the device is doing something for you. An easy to understand example is something called Tile, which is a little thing you clip on or paste on to your keys or your glasses or something like that, and when you can’t find those things you can get a signal from that tile as to where they are.

Kalynn: Oh that’s brilliant. I hadn’t even heard of that.

Laurie: Kalynn, it’s probably a must for us Baby Boomers, right?

Kalynn: Wow. I have a husband and three sons. Of the four of them, three of them lose their stuff all the time.

Laurie: You know, I really think, obviously for Baby Boomers this is probably going to be a huge hit, right?

Kalynn: Yeah, I love that idea.

Laurie: They’re inexpensive. I’m trying to think, I think they’re like $24.99 or something, but it’s a great way to find your stuff.

Kalynn: Now you know what? I’m even thinking that you could attach this to your dog or cat’s collar or to a tag?

Laurie: I don’t know what the limits are, but it’s pretty much designed for the stuff that we misplace, but I guess our dogs kind of misplace themselves.

Kalynn: Especially cats, they like to hide and you don’t know where they are.

Laurie: This is just kind of just starting to really spark imagination in the consumer end of things. People are starting to get an idea of things like this and smart watches, and FitBits, those are another smart device, right? But I think a lot of small, medium business owners, they say well what does that have to do with my business? I don’t get the business case for me, right? We’re starting to see some use case scenarios come out that I think just like Tile or FitBit does in the consumer space bring this into better focus to have people start getting more ideas about how they could use internet of things.

For instance, a couple of the examples I mention in the report are RFID, Radio Frequency Identification, which has been used in logistics and packaging and all that kind of thing, distribution for a long time. It’s usually been used in kind of closed loop systems for more high value goods because it hasn’t been necessarily easier and cheap to implement. With internet of things technology it will really bring down the cost and make it more practical let’s say for a small retailer to use it so they could track everything with devices that would be in concept very similar to something like Tile with RFID capabilities that would give them better inventory accuracy, if something is purchased in the checkout it would deplete the supply by one, and also of course help them reduce theft. Another idea I like is this whole idea of beacons. Not only could you use beacons in stores, beacons are like indoor positioning systems that communicate directly with the smart phone or other computing devices via computer.

Somebody was telling me the other day about a trucking company that is installing beacons. They have a fleet of about 100 trucks and the beacons are set up to monitor all kinds of things like fuel, mileage, and when maintenance is due and inspections are due. This can really help this company reduce their vehicle downtime and cut costs. I think we’re still very early going but I do believe in 2015 we’re going to see a lot of examples of SMBs putting Internet of things to work and getting value. I think one of the neat things about it is that with the Internet of things you as a user, once you deploy the solution, you don’t have to do much. For instance in that trucking example, the trucker doesn’t do anything, this thing is just hooked under the dashboard and that’s that. You don’t have to worry about user adoption and will the user learn to use it and like it and all that. I think at the end of the day this could be a really great area for small businesses. The trick will be a lot of this will probably be industry specific, so you have to see what are other people in my industry doing and that might help a lot of small businesses get good ideas.

Kalynn: You’ve already got my brain sort of turning because the trucking example reminded me, I have a car for the first time that has OnStar. People have either owned that kind of car or they’ve seen commercials on TV but the OnStar system sends me emails when my oil life had reached a certain level in the car. It sent me an email and said you really need to change your oil and stuff like that. I’m realizing that there are certain kinds of small businesses like HVAC contractors and businesses of that nature. It helps them, not just when someone has an emergency and they need you to come in, or you get a big project and it’s one time construction, but it’s the maintenance of people’s systems.

Laurie: Maintenance of anything really, vending machines, whatever, it just holds huge potential to change the way you get information about devices so you can service them.

Kalynn: You can be proactive.

Laurie: Yes, keep them shipshape.

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here

Discussing 2015 SMB Tech Trends, Part 1: Cloud is the New IT Infrastructure for SMBs

Recently, I had the pleasure of kicking off the new year as a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2015 Top Technology Trends for SMBs and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The first of a five-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “Cloud is the new IT infrastructure for SMBs.”

White Clouds in Blue SkyKalynn: Welcome, this is Kalynn Amadio and you are listening to ACT LOCAL Marketing for Small Business, and I want to introduce you to a previous guest of the show. I can tell you that Laurie’s previous podcasts were some of the most downloaded in this show’s history. Laurie, I’ll have to look up how many downloads you have altogether, I haven’t done that in a long time, it’s always fun.

Laurie: Hi Kalynn, great to talk to you again too.

Kalynn: I’ll tell you, I mentioned that the couple of other interviews you’ve done with me, because Laurie always looks into her crystal ball and tells us what is on the horizon, what can we be thinking about, and people must really like this Laurie because they download those two podcasts that have predictions more so than many of the other interviews that I’ve done over the years, so kudos to you.

Laurie: Thank you Kalynn, that’s great to hear. We try to put these technology trends into a language that us mere mortals that are not necessarily technologists can understand and relate to in terms of our businesses.

Kalynn: It’s important to have some smarty-pants people like you looking at all this stuff and making it understandable for the rest of us. Now you have a report that’s going to be coming out soon that are the small and medium SMB groups, Top Ten Small and Medium Business Technology Trends for 2015. We won’t have time to go through all ten of them but I have cherry picked half of them that I’m hoping that we will get through because several of them will impact local businesses, small businesses, a lot of the baby boomers that I deal with and marketing related things. The first one I want to ask you about is the cloud, right? A lot of businesses still get confused about what that means. I can’t tell how many times I’ve had to explain what the cloud actually is, but tell us about the cloud as the new IT infrastructure for small to mid-size businesses.

Laurie: Okay, fantastic. Our first prediction, as a matter of fact, is that cloud is the new infrastructure for SMBs.   What we’ve seen over the years, and believe it or not, this concept of cloud computing has been around since really the late 1990s, but it kind of got off to a rocky start for a lot of reasons that we don’t really need to go into in detail. Suffice it to say that maybe in the beginning the concept was a little ahead of its time in terms of the available technology and network bandwidth and things like that. We’ve basically seen cloud really take off in the last few years, especially since the recession. Interestingly what we’re finding is the cloud is definitely enabling a lot of smaller companies that no way no how could they have ever been able to implement a lot of different technology solutions on their own. The cloud is kind of leveling the playing field because they don’t have to have in-house technology expertise to deploy these solutions. We’re really seeing in our research more and more small businesses believe very strongly that technology solutions help them improve their business outcomes or run their businesses better. The cloud has really been a way for these guys to get those solutions that can really help them fulfill their business goals without having a lot of IT staff.

Kalynn: When you talk about cloud IT solutions, give us some household names.

Laurie: There are a million of them. You now have QuickBooks Online, Intuit QuickBooks Online, which has now I think probably 750 or 800,000 customers are running QuickBooks online. That’s something obviously kind of a household name for small businesses. Also vendors like Salesforce.com, InfusionSoft, or ReachLocal, which has a great marketing automation solution for local businesses. There are lots of them virtually in every solution category. Most of us are already using cloud-based email solutions for using Gmail or Office 365 or something like that. Really almost every single category of applications is now available in the cloud. What we see in our last survey that we did in 2014 earlier this year is that 92% of SMBs are now using at least one cloud business solution which is the kinds I just mentioned, like accounting, marketing and sales and things like that. 87%, almost as many, are using at least one cloud infrastructure solution. That could be for security, or backup, or file sharing like DropBox and Box.net, and things like that. We really see small and medium businesses it is already mainstream for them, but a lot of them are only using maybe one or two. I think as these businesses really see the benefits of automating parts of their businesses with technology and have a good experience with cloud solutions we’re going to see that cloud expansion rise even further. There really aren’t a lot of barriers to adopting a cloud-based solution.

Kalynn: Right, and it really saves you in your budget because you don’t have to maintain any of this infrastructure or these types of software yourself. They’re so helpful.

Laurie: It’s really helpful. One of the big sticking points for cloud is that while it reduces a lot of the technology barriers, it hasn’t helped a lot of small businesses in terms of reducing business expertise barriers. In other words, you may have a very successful business but you yourself may not be an accounting expert or a marketing expert, or whatever, but we’re starting to see especially in what I would call some of the newer cloud solutions more expertise built-in and more kinds of hand holding services provided, and a big emphasis on user experience, creating a user experience that makes it much easier for people that aren’t subject matter experts to understand how they can most effectively use the solution in their business for better marketing, accounting, or whatever.

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here

SMB Mobile Adoption Disrupts Traditional IT Habits and Spending

We just published SMB Group’s 2014 SMB Mobile Solutions StudyThe survey, which is our fourth annual study in this area, reveals many interesting findings about  how U.S. SMBs are using mobile solutions in their businesses.

For instance, A growing majority of SMBs now regard mobile solutions as essential business enablers, with 60% saying “mobile solutions are critical to our business” (Figure 1). We are also seeing that mobile solutions also account for a growing share of SMBs’ technology budgets, when we compare findings over the past four years, and the composition of spending is changing too:

  • SMB median spending on mobile technology and solutions as a percentage of total technology spending is up from roughly 12% in 2013 to 16% in 2014.
  • Mobile service and device costs still account for the bulk of SMB mobile budgets, but SMB spending in other areas is rising as a percentage of mobile spend
  • SMBs with 10 -999 employees spend 11% of their mobile dollars on apps, 10.5% on security, 11% on mobile management and 8% on consulting

Figure 1:

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The study also shows that mobile applications are becoming more important to SMBs, not only as a complement to traditional business applications, but even as a replacement in some areas. For instance, mobile access has become the preferred interface for collaboration social media apps for a significant percentage of SMBs.

Furthermore, adoption of bring your own device (BYOD) continues to rise: 59% of SMBs with 10 to 999 employees now support BYOD. The top driver for BYOD is that employees prefer to use their own, familiar devices. However, among the 41% not supporting BYOD, security and management challenges are top impediments to adoption.

As reliance on mobile solutions increases, SMBs have a growing number of mobile apps and more diverse mobile devices to manage. Consequently, adoption of mobile management solutions is rising as well. Currently, 45% of SMBs with 10-999 employees use mobile device management solutions, and 36% use solutions to manage mobile applications.

These results highlight just a few of the detailed findings in the 2014 SMB Mobile Solutions Study. Fielded in November 2014, the study surveyed over 700 U.S. SMB decision makers to provide a comprehensive view of SMB mobile adoption. The full study package includes findings for very small business (1-19 employees), small business (20-99 employees), and medium business (100-999 employees) across relevant areas, including:

  1. Attitudes about mobility
  2. Information sources and decision making for mobile solutions
  3. Mobile app adoption for internal (employee) users
  4. Mobile app adoption for external (customer, partner, supplier) users
  5. Top benefits and challenges in using mobile solutions
  6. Management of mobile solutions
  7. Budgets for mobile solutions
  8. How mobile adoption affects IT spending and behaviors
  9. Segmentation by industry, business outlook, technology spending, etc.

For more information and pricing for complete study results or for a focused segment, please see the study brochure. For a detailed table of contents, send and email to lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com or 508.734.5658.

 

 

How Scribe Software Solves the Integration Puzzle for SMBs 

This video interview was originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight. 

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe here with the SMB Group Spotlight and today I’m talking to Peter Chase, who is the founder and executive Vice President for Business Development at Scribe Software. Scribe specializes in providing integration solutions both in the cloud and on premise to help business integrate and get more value from their business solutions. So Peter, welcome and thanks for joining me today.

Peter: Thanks for having me.

Laurie: Before we get into a lot of detail about what you guys do can you give us a little bit of background on the company?

scribe logoPeter: We’ve been around for 18 years now, so 1996. We are in the same business we started out in, which is helping companies get their business systems to connect with one another. We sell across the globe so we have customers all over the world. We do about 25% of our business in Europe and we have a large partner network that we work with that help us deliver value to customers across that global footprint.

Laurie: Okay, that’s a good introduction, so given that what you do is integration can you tell us a little bit more about the kind of integration solutions that you provide to small and medium businesses?

Peter: Sure. Most small and medium businesses are using multiple systems. There was a recent Venture Beat survey that said small businesses use somewhere between two to five, on average, different marketing systems just to run their different parts of their business as well as now the advent of CRM and other types of system support, your back office systems. None of those applications were really meant to design to communicate well with one another, especially as we’ve added all of these new cloud applications. So how do we as a small business make sure that we have a single view of the truth around a customer, how do we make sure that we have efficient processes so that when, let’s say some marketing activity, say you’ve done a webinar, how do we know when that prospect shows interest that gets followed up by the sales team while they use different systems. We sort of sit in between and it enables companies to be able to define those data exchanges without having to write code in a visual environment, so it really lowers the barrier for small/medium businesses.

puzzleLaurie: So basically you’re helping them integrate those different workflows among the point solutions, which we’ve found in our research is a very big problem. Most small businesses and even medium businesses have barely touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to that kind of integration.

Peter: Exactly, and part of that reason is because the barrier to get that done has been so high. You need programmers, you need large IT staffs, and most organizations don’t have those staffs or those specialized skills to be able to do that effectively.

Laurie: Right, and the promise has been a long time from a lot of vendors is that we’re going to make integration easy. How are you guys trying to do that at Scribe?

Peter: Well, there has been a lot of progress in that area, especially in the cloud-based applications with better application programming interfaces, what they call APIs, which make those applications more open, but companies still have to define how they want that information to be exchanged, when it happens, how it happens, and that information isn’t always compatible so you might have to sort of build some business rules and some data rules around how you exchange that data. We provide this nice visual environment that allows you to be able to do that, and not having to be a programmer, just that you understand your data and how you want to exchange it. That really is critical to enabling small/medium business to affect that.

Laurie: So it sounds like it’s a storyboarding kind of thing almost, a WYSIWYG way of kind of way to say I want to integrate this with this, is that what’s really unique or differentiating or are there other things?

Peter: Well there are other products out there that are beginning to do this, I think probably the most unique differentiator that we have is that we work with so many systems integrators and value added resellers that so many of that and big organizations rely on because they don’t have the ability to have all those skill sets, and one of the things we built right into the product is a social capability where using social media type approaches where companies can collaborate with their systems integrators and their VARs and now whether that VAR, they could even have the VAR sort of manage all of that and do a turnkey, or they could collaborate on it, or they could just bring them in when they need them on specific issues. So that sort of building a technology platform that enables that to be an efficient process is so critical.

Laurie: Well that sounds like it would be a huge help because even if small and medium businesses have IT resources they’re often times generalists, so they’re still looking to the partner to help them.

Peter: Yeah, and there are some products out there that are very sort of simple where I can say if this happens then edit then send it here, but most companies need more than that, their systems are very unique to what they do, and their workflows are unique, so in the past they would have to go to either custom programming or very expensive platforms and tools. We sort of bring enterprise capable quality integration availability to small and medium business and that’s what makes us unique.

Laurie: So where can an SMB that hears about this, that wants to learn more, where can they go to learn more and get some way to evaluate the solution and see if it’s a good fit.

Peter: The simplest thing is to go to scribesoft.com. We have plenty of resources around videos and different information about what types of scenarios they can integrate easily, what applications they can integrate easily, but we also have free trials. Whether you want to trial our on-premise installed software product or you want to trial our cloud-based platform you can trial either one of those. We have a customer success set of resources in our company that will actually work with you through your trial if you have questions or if you’re looking for some best practices they can help provide those best practices and enable you to really prove out that you can do it effectively and get what you want.

Laurie: I’m sure you can also help them connect with a partner, right?

Peter: Oh well that goes without saying. We have hundreds and hundreds of partners across the world and we can connect them with them. If they’re partner is not our partner and they’d like to get enabled we have an on-boarding program for partners that’s very rapid, so we are all about enabling not just the small/medium business but the entire ecosystem that they rely on to be able to help them and collaborate together efficiently.

Laurie: Peter, thanks so much for joining me and it was very informative to learn about Scribe and it sounds like a great way for a lot of SMBs to integrate their business applications, so thanks again.

Peter: Well thank you, and we’re looking forward to helping companies make that happen. Thanks.

Laurie: Great, thanks.

Dell’s Strategy to Bring Game-Changing Technologies to SMBs

This is the second post in a two-part blog series discussing Dell’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. The first, A New Cloud Formation: Dell Cloud Marketplaceprovides perspectives from Dell World 2014. This second post, which is excerpted from SMB Group’s April 2014 report, Guiding Stars: Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs, offers additional insights into Dell’s approach to help SMBs capitalize on technology trends.

delllogoThe writing is on the wall for any business: With customers and prospects racing into the digital, mobile, and social future at breakneck speed, SMBs must proactively deploy technology to improve both business processes and the customer experience. SMBs that figure out how to use technology to stay ahead of their customers’ demands will thrive, while those that don’t face extinction.

But there are lots of vendors and solutions out there ready to help you on your journey, and one-size-fit all doesn’t apply in SMB. Is Dell a good fit for you? Read on for information and insights to help you decide.

Slide1

Dell’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs

Dell sees cloud, mobile, social, analytics and other technologies converging towards the next pivotal tipping point, where IT will change the lives and experiences of nearly every industry, country and person on the planet.

Dell articulates its view on top technology trends somewhat differently than other vendors interviewed for this report. However, the same technology trends—cloud, analytics, social, mobile and security—are core to Dell’s top picks. Dell sees the following trends ushering in new wave of business transformation, similar or greater in scope to how the Internet and web affected businesses:

  1. People will increasingly rely on technology to connect, collaborate and accomplish tasks and goals. Embedded in user-friendly solutions, cloud, social and mobile technologies enable SMBs to connect, collaborate and engage anytime, anywhere to better serve their customers and to work more efficiently.
  2. IT is changing from a support function to becoming core most business operations, and business decision-makers are increasingly involved in IT decisions to ensure the business gets the value it needs from IT.
  3. Amidst the growing volumes of structured unstructured data, SMBs that have the rights tools to find the needles in the haystack and uncover useful, actionable information and insights will gain competitive and market advantages.
  4. As SMBs rely more on technology to run their businesses and engage with customers, partners, suppliers and others, taking measures to secure and protect data, information and access are increasingly essential to business viability.

Some of the tangible ways that Dell is helping SMBs capitalize on these changes include:

  • Becoming an über-cloud provider: Dell has been steadily expanding the Dell Cloud Partner Program to provide access and end-to-end support for offerings from multiple cloud vendors.
  • Offering open, private-cloud solutions, which should help give SMBs more confidence in using OpenStack as an alternative to proprietary IaaS and PaaS (infrastructure and platform as-a-service) alternatives.
  • Expanding portfolio of mobile management solutions, such as Enterprise Mobility Management, a unified mobile management solution to managed devices, apps, and content, and Secure Remote Access Gateway to protect endpoints.
  • New intellectual property gained from acquisitions such as SonicWALL, Quest, Boomi, Compellent and Force10 is skewed towards the SMB world. In fact, Dell views SMB and midmarket as an ideal focal point for development and acquisitions since it believes large organizations also want scalable solutions that are easier to deploy and use too.

Changes in SMB Technology Expectations and Behavior 

Fueled by the web, mobile and social access, Dell sees changes in how SMBs evaluate and shop for solutions. Today, SMBs are more prone to have done their homework before they come to the sales table. Armed with a greater understanding upfront, they are looking for vendors and partners that will listen to what they are trying to do and offer authentic, objective and knowledgeable guidance. In addition, Dell believes that simply doing the right things for people works. To that end, Dell prefers having its customers tell its story rather than Dell telling it. For example, Dell cites the tornado damage in Oklahoma City last spring, where Dell served as a first responder, as exemplifying its commitment to doing the right thing to earn customers’ faith in Dell.

Dell sees both the role of SMB IT and business decision-makers morphing. More frequently, line-of-business (LoB) managers are not only customers of IT departments, but also co-owners of IT. This means that IT staff must work harder to meet increasing demands, and become more educated and engaged in business operations and strategy than in the past. SMB IT personnel need more practical and actionable advice and support from vendors and their channel partners to juggle ongoing IT management with innovation.

SMBs are also scrutinizing “calculated risks” much more carefully. For instance, SMBs are interested in the cloud because of affordability and ease of access/use advantages, but want to ensure that cloud solutions are secure and reliable. SMBs are also more likely to factor business disruption into the cost/benefit analysis for any given solution. They are getting wiser about the perils of bad decisions and implementations, so the bar keeps getting higher to deliver solutions with less business disruption and faster time to value.

Finally, SMBs increasingly recognize that the technology-performance connection is real, and can be used to accelerate growth disrupt industry icons with innovation and agility. The perspective is summed up in Dell’s latest ad campaign. SMBs can use new technologies not only to reshape their existing businesses, but also to redefine the economics of an industry and expectation of the market.

However, one constant remains. Most SMBs need capitalize on these opportunities without putting themselves in financial or operational jeopardy. SMB budgets, IT staff and expertise aren’t often able to both maintain what they have and innovate within the window of opportunity. So Dell is focusing on designing, delivering, supporting and financing solutions that take these constraints into account.

Perspective: Dell as SMB Technology Catalyst

Dell’s journey to transform itself has been in progress for a few years. While on Wall Street’s watch, it wasn’t easy for Dell to recast its image from a transaction-oriented hardware company to an end-to-end solutions provider and trusted advisor.

However, Dell’s entrepreneurial heritage is once again alive and well. Michael Dell not only started the company in his dorm room when he was a 19-year old student at the University of Texas, but took it private in 2013 to gain control over its destiny again. With genuine DNA at the heart of Dell’s commitment to SMBs and entrepreneurs, Dell can take a longer-term view on return on investment in new technologies. This should enable it to launch more innovative and affordable cloud computing, mobile, social, analytics and security technologies geared to SMB requirements.

In addition, Dell prides itself on listening to its customers and creating a mutually beneficial dialogue. Dell’s Social Media Command Center is one of the best in the industry, and Dell’s SMB and partner outreach programs are extensive.

While Dell is still in the midst of its own transformation journey, its attitudes and actions when it comes to SMBs should help it to significantly broaden its status as a trusted advisor in this market.

 

Intacct Collaborate: Bringing Sales and Finance Together

This video interview was originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight. 

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group and today I’m here on the SMB Spotlight at Salesforce’s Dreamforce 2014 Conference.  I’m talking to Aaron Harris, who is the Chief Technology Officer for Intacct.  Aaron, thank you for sharing time with me today.  Can you tell me a little bit about Intacct, who you are, what you do?

Aaron: Sure.  Thanks Laurie.  Intacct is a cloud accounting and finance solution that we have designed for small and medium-sized businesses.  We’ve taken a best in class approach, so all of our resources are targeted at building just what the accounting and finance team needs, the general ledger, payables, receivables.  We’ve got a strong relationship with Salesforce, so if you’re using Salesforce we’ve got a very nice native integration where Intacct and Salesforce synchronize data and processes and it’s a beautiful way to get your front office and your back office working together.

Laurie: So what are you highlighting here?  I know you have an announcement about some new collaboration capabilities with Salesforce.  What’s going on with that?

Aaron:      That’s right.  So at Dreamforce this year we are announcing Intacct Collaborate.  What Intacct Collaborate does it takes Salesforce Chatter and extends it into Intacct so that your sales and your marketing and support people who are using Salesforce today and who are collaborating on Chatter are using now the same network that the accounting team, the finance team, project managers are using on the backend.  So there’s one social network, there’s one collaborative network across the enterprise for the whole organization to work on.

Laurie: Good.  It sounds like that makes it easier for everybody to feed information into the whole financial process.

Aaron: That’s right.  There’s a lot pieces to it.  Obviously there are some great stories, right?  I’m a sales rep, I’ve got a deal that I want to get done, I need to get a 10% discount approved on that deal.  In the old world I’d write an email to the CFO, the CFO doesn’t know anything about what I’m talking about so the CFO has got to go do some research.  She responds to the email, there’s lots of back and forth, none of the communication is captured, right?  So it slows down the sale, it adds frustration, there’s no log to what happened.  So in this world that all happens via chatting and collaborating, and it’s all in real-time, it’s all captured, it’s all part of the record.  We also see this being useful within the accounting and finance team, getting them to collaborate over some of the more tricky business processes.  I was talking to a CFO the other day who said 20% of finance transactions are exceptional, they’re complex.  And we spend 80% of our time on those 20% of the transactions, the exceptions.  We have to find out what’s going on, what do we do?  Having Collaborate allows them to not only more efficiently communicate about these transactions and these exceptions, but it generates a log that you keep the communication around the transaction.

Laurie: I know Intacct is really aimed at small and medium businesses, but that’s a very diverse audience, so what segments of the SNB market are really the sweet spot for Intacct?

Aaron: Sure, so there’s really two categories of customers who are choosing Intacct.  The first is companies who have outgrown their first accounting product, usually it’s QuickBooks.  They’ll outgrow it when they need to automate processes that are manual.  Perhaps they’re now a multi-location business and it’s just too difficult to aggregate or consolidate data across the locations.  It might be that the reporting tools available in QuickBooks don’t give them kind of insight that they need, which product lines are the most profitable, which of my professional services engagements are losing money and which are making money?  This kind of insight is just not possible in some of the low-end products.  Or it may just be that this is a growing company that expects to go public, they need to have proper controls in place, they need to have a certain way they’re going to get through their Sarbanes–Oxley audits, so they need a product that will help them…

Laurie: Even if you’re preparing to be acquired or something like that.  If you sell the business you would need that.

Aaron: Exactly.  You need a product that cannot just assure external auditors that you’re following these controls, but that allows you to provide the evidence that you’re doing it.

Laurie: And that’s about half of your customers are coming from that.

Aaron: About half.  So the other half are people who have embraced the cloud.  They love Salesforce, they love some of the other cloud products.  They can see that with Salesforce they’re getting constant innovation, it embraces mobile technology.  You know what I’m talking about.

Laurie: Yeah, they just want to be able to do things on the fly, they way they want, on the device of choice.

Aaron: And no more headaches about hosting the infrastructure, that’s security, right?

Laurie: No, they don’t want to mess with that.

Aaron: So they want to take their accounting and finance processes and modernize them to the same extent as they already have sales and marketing.  So they’re choosing Intacct not just because it’s cloud and it gives them the same advantages they’re getting through Salesforce, they’re also choosing it because it’s fully integrated with Salesforce.  They’ve got the full front office/back office integration, data synchronization, process integration.

Laurie: It takes the integration headache away too.

Aaron: That’s right.  No more disconnect in the process.

Laurie: So how can a potential customer or prospect learn a little bit more or better evaluate whether this might be a good fit for them?

Aaron: The easiest way is to go to our website, go to www.intacct.com.  There’s a number of things you can do there, but maybe the easiest is just to get a trial.

Laurie: So you do still offer a free trial?  I think a lot of them don’t anymore

Aaron: We do.  We’re very proud of our product, we think it’s very easy to use, so get a trial.  We actually walk you through how to learn more.  It’s actually a really nice way to learn about Intacct.

Laurie: That’s great.  Well Aaron, thank you again for sharing that information with me about Intacct.  I think it will be really valuable for a lot of small and medium businesses out there.  Have a great rest of Dreamforce.

Aaron: Thanks Laurie.

Laurie: Thank you.

Intuit QuickBooks Connect: Where Small Business Is Big Business

This is part one of a two-part blog series discussing Intuit’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. This first post provides perspectives from Intuit’s 2014 QuickBooks Connect event. The second post, Intuit’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs, provides a detailed glimpse into Intuit’s approach in the SMB market.

QBconnectLast week, Intuit held its inaugural QuickBooks (QB) Connect event in San Jose. The 4,000-plus attendees included accountants, developers, small businesses, press, influencers and analysts. The agenda included a good mix of updates, announcement and inspiration from an all-star line-up of speakers. Below are my top takeaways from each of these areas.

Turning the Cloud Corner

While newer competitors, such as Xero, have made a lot of noise, they haven’t had much of an impact on the market. Instead, Intuit’s Small Business Group continues on its growth trajectory, especially in the cloud. QuickBooks Online’s U.S. subscribers grew 32% in 2014. QuickBooks is no longer just a U.S. solution, however. Intuit now sells QuickBooks in 124 countries, and has translated the solution into 12 languages. As of September 2014, the company has 705,000 paid subscribers for QuickBooks Online, and a total of 32 million customers worldwide.

cloudIntuit has clearly turned the cloud corner. In 2009, just 5% of new users were online, now the majority opt for QuickBooks Online over packaged QuickBooks products. In addition, 80% of QuickBooks Online customers are new to the Intuit universe, indicating the cloud version is doing a good job of pulling in net-new customers. The event signaled that Intuit will be doing more thought leadership as well, as evidenced by offering entrepreneurs one-on-one speed mentoring by Lean Startup Productions at the event.

Intuit’s QuickBooks Online development platform is also growing. Developer booths were in the spotlight at the event, and hundreds took Intuit’s Hackathon (link() challenge for a shot at winning a chunk of the $100,000 pot. Method:CRM took home the $55,000 grand prize for its Method:Donor app. Payments Cloud by Cloud Conversion, Safety Net by Jobber, and Service Titan won the $15,000 runner-up prizes.

Finally, Intuit’s Accountant Partner Network has always been essential to the vendor’s small business success. Throughout the event, Intuit speakers discussed “the power of we,” and ways in which the company is enhancing Intuit’s QB Accountant Edition to reduce the amount of time accountants need to spend on low-value data entry chores and increase the time they spend providing their customers with strategic business advice (some of which I note below).

Of course, the combination of a healthy pipeline of new QuickBooks Online customers plus a vibrant developer and accountant ecosystem bode well for continued growth.

Sometimes Less Is More

As Intuit CEO Brad Smith noted, Intuit is not focusing on creating more and more features for fewer and fewer small businesses. Instead, the company is looking for ways to make things easier for small businesses. According to Dan Wernikoff, senior VP and general manager of Intuit’s Small Business Group said, Intuit’s goal is to “make accounting completely invisible to small business owners.”

To that end, Intuit is plowing much of its R&D budget (which is about 16% to 17% of its revenues) into making its products simpler for small businesses, accountants and developers to use. Key announcements unveiled at the event included something for everyone:

Small businesses:

  • A full-service payroll solution, that handles payroll tax complexities
  • Automatic synching for bank and credit card transactions in QuickBooks Online
  • Easier ways to create reports, such as P&L and balance sheets in QuickBooks Online
  • Ability to accept credit card payments in QuickBooks Online in under a minute
  • A new payments offering that enables invoicing, accepting payments and updating books
  • A new QuickBooks Self-Employed solution to help freelancers, contractors and home-based business to separate personal and business finances

Accountants: 

The big news here was the new QuickBooks Online Accountant edition, which gives accountants the ability to work on their clients’ books anywhere, anytime and provides:

  • Customizable dashboards that provides snapshots of action items and deliverables.
  • Toolbox for one-click access to any client, from anywhere within QuickBooks Online.
  • Books-to-tax integration, so users can automatically push bookkeeping data to Intuit Tax Online.
  • Integration with Box, to give accountants a better, easier way to share content and collaborate with their clients.

Developers:

Intuit is striving to create a “drop dead simple environment” for developers to build and sell their apps. To that end, Intuit introduced:

  • New developer experience, featuring seamless cloud integration, new SDKs, and simpler documentation to make it easier to call on QuickBooks Online APIs.
  • New payments API to allow deep integrations with QuickBooks Online.
  • New Apps.com marketplace to enable developers to reach more QuickBooks customers with their solutions. Over 400 apps are already integrated with QuickBooks Online and available on Apps.com.

Inspiration On Tap

qbconnect speakersUnbelievably (this from someone who attends many events and co-manages a small business!) all the speakers featured at QuickBooks Connect were inspiring and informative. The speaker line-up was very diverse, but one commonality is that all are successful entrepreneurs. You can watch them on demand at www.qbconnectlive.com. Pearls of wisdom were flowing like water, but here are some of my favorites, which I hope will inspire you too! 

  • Arianna Huffington, chair, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post: Stop wearing “busy” like a badge of honor! It’s not! Success is more than the metrics of money and power. We need health and well-being to be truly successful and happy.
  • Debbie Blox, CEO of Goldieblox, and winner of Intuit’s 2014 Super Bowl ad contest: You need to put yourself out there, and ask for what you need, because it takes a village to create a successful, sustainable small business! Be specific about what you want, and get advisors.
  • Tristan Walker, CEO of Bevel: You don’t get what you don’t ask for, and trials are really blessings in disguise.
  • Martha Stewart, founder and Chief Creative Officer of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, reminded us that we need to work really hard to be successful but must be compensated fairly for our hard work, and that once you’re through changing–you’re through!
  • Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary: Find people who share your passion and empower them to break things. The future of business is to upend the unacceptable.
  • Marc Andreessen, cofounder and partner of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz: There’s a pivot happening with web, cloud and mobile enabling small businesses to use tech more aggressively.
  • Earvin “Magic” Johnson, chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises and NBA legend: Have the courage to say I don’t know everything and to get help! Also, know your customer, serve them well they’ll keep coming back
  • Scott Cook, Intuit Founder and Chairman of the Executive Committee: Every one of Intuit’s successful businesses takes off via word of mouth.
  • Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit: We strive to be the operating system behind small business success.

Perspective

Intuit may have been born in the era of green screens and DOS, but it is now all in with solutions for today’s cloud, mobile, social and analytics technologies. However, one thing that hasn’t changed at Intuit is its commitment to helping small businesses thrive. This combination of strengths bodes well for fueling the next era of innovation for Intuit and for small businesses.

Disclosure: Intuit paid for most of my travel expenses to attend QuickBooks Connect.

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