Top Takeaways from Pervasive’s 2010 IntegratioNext Conference

Wow the déjà vu is just too strange! In June of this year, I attended Pervasive’s Metamorphosis Partner event–during which IBM announced that it would acquire Cast Iron. Now, in November, during Pervasive’s very well-attended IntegratioNext User Conference, Dell announced plans to buy Boomi.

As I wrote after the Metamorphosis event, IBM’s acquisition of Cast Iron put the spotlight on the tremendous demand that cloud computing is creating for integration software to bridge the gap between on-premise and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications—as well as between SaaS solutions. This drumbeat has continued to strengthen, leading Dell to the conclusion that Boomi’s integration capabilities are an essential ingredient to making its Virtual Era solutions and services strategy a success. Integration is very strategic and critical for both IBM and Dell, and each has vast marketing and technology resources to invest in these acquisitions. As a result, Cast Iron and Boomi are likely to become more formidable opponents for Pervasive.

So how will Pervasive, which has arguably been the market leader in the integration space to date, fare as competitive pressure continues to mount? Based on what Pervasive announced at IntegratioNext, and as importantly, the conversations I had with many customers and partners at the event, I think Pervasive will manage just fine, for several reasons.

1.     Pervasive has an innovative, stress-tested integration portfolio that’s growing stronger. Pervasive has been a leader in helping end-user customers, ISVs and channel partners solve the tricky problems of data and application integration since 2003. Today, Pervasive’s integration line-up includes a wide range of integration options for on premise, cloud to cloud, between cloud and on premise, including:

  • Data Integrator, an integration platform that connects a plethora of databases, flat files and legacy formats and applications, including virtually any software-as-a-service (SaaS) and on-premises applications. With the latest release, Data Integrator V10 in now available the cloud as well as on-premise.
  • DataCloud2, initially launched in 2009, is a fully multi-tenant, on-demand integration platform that combines the Data Integrator platform and DataSynch with Pervasive Integration Agent, a lightweight agent that sits behind a company’s firewall to connect on-premise apps with the cloud. Developers can tap into Pervasive data services, including its catalog of data adapters, to accelerate development.
  • DataCloud Marketplace, where both customers and partners can shop for integration tools. End users only buy the solution the need, they don’t have to purchase other technology from Pervasive. Pervasive has already created several small business integrations, such as to Intuit QuickBooks and to Freshbooks–pricing starts ad $19.95 per month.  Developers that create integrations with Pervasive technology can put them the marketplace, set their own price, and create an ongoing annuity revenue stream.

2.     Pervasive enjoys a great track record with ISV partners. About 60% of Pervasive’s business today goes through the channel, mostly via ISVs that embed Pervasive integration within their solutions. Embedded ISV integrations are becoming a key differentiator for business software and cloud vendors because they ensure that the integration won’t cost more than the solution.

3.     More focus on the SI and consultant channel. While embedded ISV integrations are a great, friction-free way to provide integration, they won’t solve for an endless combination of integration scenarios—particularly in the SMB market. Pervasive is providing more tools and marketing programs that SI and consultant firms are also finding very attractive. Strategic Growth, for instance, uses Pervasive technology to provide reasonably priced, repeatable and easy to integration between and NetSuite. Since these software vendors won’t integrate with their competitors, partners can seize on the opportunity to build new revenue streams by creating integrations to serve their own customers, which they can also sell in the Pervasive Marketplace.

4.     The integration challenge has always been complex, and is becoming more multifaceted. More applications need to be integrated both in the cloud and on premise. In addition, adoption of new mobile and social media solutions is on the rise. By providing more turnkey (and less costly) integrations Pervasive and its partners can alleviate the problems of one-off custom integrations and costly updates.

5.     Pervasive is taking significant strides to boost its marketing capabilities. Pervasive hasn’t always articulated what it does and how it helps as clearly as some of its competitors. But, the vendor has hired new marketing people to help it articulate its strategy, messaging, and the business value of Pervasive integration solutions in a clearer, more compelling way. At the event, I did notice that Pervasive sessions seemed much more tuned to business value than in the past–now they need to keep it going.

Finally, Pervasive enjoys its freedom. Although I don’t believe that IBM and Dell will squander their respective acquisitions of Cast Iron and Boomi, each of these acquired companies is now a little fish in a very big pond. As such, they are likely to sacrifice some agility as part of these larger, more bureaucratic companies. In contrast, Pervasive, as an independent company, can keep a laser-like focus on integration, without worrying about having its focus diluted and/or dispersed within a large IT company that has many other irons in the fire.

Zoho Support: Big Business Customer Service for Small Business Budgets

Zoho, one of the pioneers in cloud computing solutions for small and medium businesses (SMBs), has added a new customer support management application to its line up of 20-plus cloud-based collaboration, communication, business and office productivity solutions.

Zoho Support helps streamline the process to create, capture, process and manage support tickets. Zoho has combined its own experience with an internally developed support system with that of its sister division, ManageEngine (also part of Zoho Corporation) to build Support. ManageEngine has been providing commercial help desk and support solutions for the past four years to a stellar list of large enterprise customers–giving Zoho a lot of stress-tested experience to draw on.

Zoho Support lets you create support requests in four ways:

  • By manually enter information while on the phone
  • Via emails that come to you
  • From a website from that you create
  • From self-service capabilities which you can embed on your web site, which enable both you and your customers to monitor and track the request in the same real-time view.

Other modules in Support include a knowledge base, dashboard and reporting, and integrated chat.  Zoho will add capability to initiate and track support requests via chat in the near future.  Support also has a contracts module so that you can set service level agreements (SLA) for different support plans, specifying things like response times, hours available, etc. It also features a workflow module to create rules to automate escalation, resolution and other processes, and is integrated with Zoho CRM so that sales and support teams can easily share customer information.

Like other Zoho offerings, Support is offered in a freemium model (pricing here). The free version gives companies the ability to  create up to 25 support requests a day, but limits the methods by which you can initiate a support request, and lacks more advanced functionality such contracts and workflow. Support Professional, priced at $12 per agent per month, includes all of the functionality except contract management, and the Enterprise Version offers everything for 24 per agent per month.

Notably, Zoho will also introduce an alternative pricing structure for Support which should be very attractive to many small businesses. As I discussed in my post, Prescription for Subscription Fatigue? Time for New SaaS Pricing Models, the cloud/SaaS per user, per month pricing model has hardly changed in the past 10 years! Although the model been a huge leap forward from packaged software in so many ways, vendors have not taken the next big leap to more innovative pricing models.

While per user per month pricing for an individual solution may seem quite reasonable, subscription fees can quickly get out of control for many small businesses as they start adding more services. This is because most people wear many hats in a small business. In fact, the same person may be selling at 10:00, taking a support call at 1:00 and checking inventory at 5:00.

Zoho Support’s alternative pricing, which should be available within a month or so, is based on requests, but doesn’t limit the number of users. So for instance, if you buy the middle level, Express 100 for $49 per month, you can create up to 100 requests per day, and have an unlimited number of agents handling those requests.

I expect that many small businesses will welcome this more creative and flexible approach–and hope that it will motivate other cloud vendors to create their own pricing innovations.

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.