Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The 4-hour body and New application adoption

As I'm reading the 4-hour body by Tim Ferris (NY Times bestseller) I'm being reminded of difficulty of change, and thinking how software is really one of the toughest things to change and adopt across an organization. If you've ever tried to implement new software in an organization, you know how much resistance you face - seems like almost everybody will have a reason why they don't want to switch or adopt new software - "I have another tool I like better", "There's nothing wrong with the system we're using right now", "my people will never be able to learn new software", "this is too lame for engineers - we need to be able to do x,y,z", "the sales people won't embrace it - they are too busy" (feel free to add your own examples).

Tim is dealing with another stubborn change - change in behavior that's required in order to get your physical life in order, and he's talking about 4 things that influence the change:
  1. Power of 5
  2. Making it a game
  3. Making it competitive
  4. Small bites at a time
#1 is really important one in my experience - people will try something once or twice and consider it not working for them 99% of the time, but it really takes 5 times doing something in order for it to stick, so as you're introducing a new system, don't get discouraged at the initial lack of enthusiasm - it will take pulling, pushing, and kicking and screaming, but keep your eyes on the prize - 5 is the magic number :)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

VMWare and EC2 - a perfect marriage?

Earlier in the week Amazon announced ability to import a VMWare virtual machine. The press didn't seem to give it that much air time but I think it could be the game changer. So far EC2 has been mostly confined to proof-of-concepts, developments, and smaller projects, and it's been pretty successful at that, however they've been lacking serious customers hosting serious systems. Well, that's about to change.. VMWare image import capability means is that an IT system administrator can take any server that's already running on a VM and either move it to EC2 with one fell swoop or create a backup / hot swap / mirror of it using EC2. For an IT admin being able to do this quickly is a huge deal! And for EC2 this might be a perfect transition path strategy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Drag-n-drop a cell or little things that make a big difference

Zoho just released a drag-n-drop cell(s) feature in its spreadsheets product. By itself not a huge deal.. but what it does do is say a lot about how serious they are about their product's usability and business they are in in general. See, when you're a product manager, making a decision to prioritize drag-n-drop over some other big new feature usually faces an uphill battle from all the directions (engineers think it's to trivial to waste their time on and management has a tough time connecting this feature to dollars). It's only the companies that get that usability is at the core of adoption (I'm talking about really get it, not just a lip service) can be comfortable making those kinds of decision. So again, good job Zoho, keep it up!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Salesforce wants Developers!

Salesforce announced 2 important things this week:
  1. acquisition of Heroku (a Ruby Rails host)
  2. release of platform (data hosting and manipulation)
Both of these are aimed at attracting developers.
Independent developers have always been key to software companies (both Microsoft and Apple owe much of their success to independent developers) and perhaps Salesforce is realizing that getting ISVs to write their code using Salesforce's platform is a great way to influence what other services the developers can integrate with. It's obviously SF's growth strategy for the next couple of years which makes perfect sense to me.

So what about you dear reader? Should you care what Salesforce is doing? I think you should.. Here's why:

things are becoming polarized in the SaaS land - you have to choose to be in the Google camp (using their services and eco-system of applications around it), or you're in Microsoft camp (using MS's eco-system), Zoho camp(ound), or the SalesForce camp. This is fundamental decision you have to make and you will be stuck with it - that's why it's important for you to feel comfortable if you're leaning towards or away from Salesforce to understand what to expect as far as having your or independent developers create applications you need above and beyond what's already there.

P.S. If you're interested in reading more on this topic, Paul Greenberg (Author of CRM at the Speed of Light) has written a much more elaborate article

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Free the Chatter! Chatter is FREE!

A few months ago I wrote a post about Salesforce's new Chatter service and how Salesforce is being unreasonable charging money for this feature that should be a draw.. Well, as of today basic Chatter service is free as it should be.. This is going to serve Salesforce well as it provides a stepstool for getting onto the CRM train (how's that for a metaphor?)!

P.S. A great alternative to Chatter is Yammer

Monday, December 06, 2010

Microsoft is going for the KILL

Microsoft seems to be getting real serious about its CRM business! Today's $200 credit for each new license promotion is showing that those guys are not kidding around.. They are in it to win it. This type of an aggressive push is something that Microsoft has successfully done before, both with Office when it gave away free titles in order to grab market and with notoriously controversial Internet Explorer saga. Ballmer was likely the push behind both of those (speculation on my part) and he's not letting go this time.. If I was Salesforce I'd be worried..

Sunday, December 05, 2010

TeamLab and 2 new trends

While Project Management / Collaboration web apps are nothing new, TeamLab stood out for me for a reason that it highlighted 2 relatively new trends in SaaS:

1. Data Migration (this is a good sign that the market is maturing and new entrants are recognizing alternative solutions exist and those customers are the ones they want to woo first)

2. Self-hosting option. Call it private cloud version, call it open source - either way it does two things for the customer - it allows them to keep the app and more importantly the data in house and second, it creates a level of transparency by allowing the prospective customer to see the quality of code before they make their decision.

Aside from these two trends, TeamLab seems to be a capable PM/Team Collaboration Solution, alternative to the BaseCamp, Central Desktop, and many others.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Zoho keeps integrating..

When Zoho said that 2010 would be mostly about integrations, they meant it.. They keep integrating and these integrations keep making sense! Here's the latest on Zoho invoice integration with Gmail..

Monday, July 12, 2010

Microsoft brings online Dynamics to parity with offline with CRM 2011

also favorable terms for channel partners and 3rd party marketplace..

Full Article:

Who's evaluating Google Apps

By Irwin Lazar on Mon, 07/12/10 - 9:20am.

Over the last few months we’ve interviewed over 200 companies for our annual research benchmark. Around half are evaluating, using, or planning to deploy “office as a service” applications (not just Google, but also competing offerings such as Zoho, and Microsoft Office Live). But an equal percentage (50.2%), have strong reservations specifically about Google as a vendor.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Salesforce “Chatter” or is microblogging the killer feature of CRM

There’s been a lot of talk over the last 5 or so years about making CRM (customer relationship management systems) more “social network”-oriented. Pundits have discussed what that could mean to an organization – namely everything from knowledge management to drastically improving customer relations.

To be perfectly honest, I never really had a place in my heart for Salesforce – they always came off as arrogant and overpriced. However, they keep doing the right things – they nailed the platform-as-a-service with and now they are introducing “chatter” – a twitter for CRM that brings the records activity into one’s peripheral vision and allows level of collaboration that wasn’t possible before. Watch this video to get the idea:

I still have a bone or two to pick with Salesforce. I think their pricing is predatory by Web2.0 standards - $125/user/mo and they are charging a separate fee for chatter?!
Having said that I think this feature will be hugely successful as it finally makes the data stored in the CRM useful and actionable. I will be surprised if other CRM’s don’t follow the suite very soon..

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

PBWorks to introduce a CRM


Looks like PBWiki has been busy.. very busy..

It's been a while since I've looked at their offerings, and was pleasantly surprised at the amount of work they've done.  In time that takes most companies to revise a single-function software product, they've introduced an equivalent of 3-4 full-size SaaS titles. 

Specifically, PBWiki (or PBWorks as they call themselves now) now sports:

  • Collaborative Page Editing (this is the old wiki functionality)
  • Document Management
  • Tasks
  • Integrated Presence / IM / Chat
  • Microblogging
  • APIs

They wrap all this functionality nicely in "Workspaces" - the approach that I find very, very helpful and long overdue as the work is done by project anymore, not by companies or org units.

So with all that said, what is the natural extension of an already beefy feature-set?  Well, a CRM of course!  That is what PBWorks announced at the Enterprise2.0 conference.  Due out Q3 2010, workspace-centric CRM makes sense for “high-activity” sales.

Here’s a paragraph from PBWorks’ announcement:

How is this different from a traditional CRM solution?

  • Traditional CRM solutions are great for sales managers and CFOs.  They handle contact management, forecasting, and reporting.  But they don't actually touch the customer.  All the actual customer touches (sharing documents, coordinating activities, negotiating contracts) take place via other means that might get logged in your CRM system--if you're lucky.
  • PBworks Customer Relationship Edition supplements or enhances traditional CRM solutions by providing a customer-facing environment for vendors and customers to work together on presales (document sharing, coordination, negotiation) as well as postsales (project rollout, support & follow-up) activities.

This development highlights couple of things:

  1. All roads lead to a CRM!
    Regardless what functionality they start with, connecting to the customer is the holy grail of SaaS, and most SaaS offerings eventually end up offering a CRM function
  2. CRM selection is becoming even harder with all the would-be single-function-products embracing the CRM functionality

Exciting times!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Lazy, Hazy, Crazy: The 10 Laws of Behavioral Cloudonomics

for those of you in the SaaS business, a very insightful read from Joe Weinman via GigaOM:

Behavioral Cloudonomics — the intersection of psychology, economics, and the cloud — can help us to make the most of the appeal of the cloud and understand and address barriers to adoption.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Comparison of online spreadsheets

by TechJotter:

Unified Search from Zoho

Yesterday Zoho introduced a unified "actionable" search.
Now, maybe that doesn't sound too exciting at first, but once you start using it, you get the feeling that you typically get from Apple products.. Product managers call these features "delighters" - it's those largely unsolicited/unexpected features that give the user that special fuzzy feeling of "I didn't know I needed it, but it's so cool!"

I don't know about you, but my behavior as a user of windows completely changed when they introduced system-wide indexing - now instead of trying to find that application or remember which folder i saved the file to I just type a name into the app launcher and it finds what I'm looking for! What Zoho did is an equivalent of that - it looks through all the files, emails, discussions in Zoho world and shows results. The second part of this feature is being able to do something with these results without having to open the "application" - you can reply or forward email, share a document, etc.. right from there.

I've mentioned before that I like what Zoho doing and how they are doing it. They are not perfect, but they are innovating and showing their commitment to this product! And that is commendable. Not to mention that they beat Google to the punch at their own game (search).

Friday, May 28, 2010

Marketplaces galore

This is definitely the year of marketplaces. With Apple leading the way with successful marketplace for apps, now everyone from RIM (blackberry) to Google and Intuit are jumping into the fray trying to replicate Apple's success. It's the last two that I want to talk about, since they focus on the SaaS applications as the apps that make up their marketplaces. Both have a valid reason to do it - they want to be at the center of development activity. Both have very similar lineup of apps (a lot of SaaS app developers are hedging their bets, integrating with both systems)

Google's marketplace is centered around Google Apps (email, documents, contacts, etc), while Intuit's is centered around their very popular accounting software. Both offer developers single sign-on mechanism, some access to their own applications for integration purposes, billing (actually Google doesn't yet, but will soon) . Both offer developers to host their applications and provide different levels of development tools. Intuit even goes as far as to offer file storage ala Amazon's S3, which Google doesn't offer yet.

One thing you notice if you look closer is that 3rd party SaaS apps are not yet deeply integrating with either service. Most implement single sign-on. Some will make it easy to import / export data to/from the app they are integrating with; but lacking the level of integration that would be considered significant. Perhaps this is just the beginning and the integration will get better from here; but something tells me that these apps will try to keep a neutral stance and avoid putting the hard work into deep integrations.

Bottom line? Integrated apps are better than non-integrated apps. :) You'll have to choose which to start with Intuit or Google Apps, and this can be a bit of a hassle..
All in all, I'm excited to be watching these developments as they can mean significant improvement to ease-of-use and productivity. Happy SaaS'ing!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Deciding which platform to use

Deciding which communication/collaboration/CRM platform to use these days is a painful process. The choices abound! From Microsoft's feature-rich but bloated offerings to hosted SaaS options from both incumbent and new providers. The amount of choices may seem overwhelming and induces a lot of organizations into an analysis paralysis. One of the primary goals of this blog is to help with the decision-making process when it comes to today's choices in office software. I'd like to use this chart as a starting point. As always, comments and suggestions are welcome!

Friday, May 07, 2010

A case for Google buying out Salesforce

The San Francisco Chronicle makes a strong case for Google buying out Salesforce.. I especially like the part about injecting a sales culture into an engineering-driven company:

Google would acquire a sales culture. This is what’s most important to us. Along with leadership, culture is the single most important factor in a company’s success. Everything else derives from it. Google has an engineering culture, which is great, and it has plenty of salespeople, most of whom we’re sure are great, but having great salespeople is not the same as having a great sales culture. Google’s advertising products basically sell themselves, they’re so effective. This does not at all create the same culture as having to fight tooth and nail to bring the conservative, risk-averse IT departments of large corporations on board with a new, innovative product. Benioff is a technology and product visionary, but he’s also a relentless salesman down to the last fiber of his body, who has built a fantastic, sales-oriented culture at Salesforce. Google needs to add that scrappy, hungry sales mindset into its DNA. It could be argued that Microsoft’s tremendous past success is due to the fact that it was able to marry two often incompatible cultures: a great engineering culture and a great sales culture (each embodied by Microsoft’s historic leaders, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer), which allowed it not only to churn out proficient products faster than anyone else but to pummel its competitors in the marketplace with superior salesmanship. Google needs to take a page from the Microsoft playbook.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Salesforce will make it easy to find leads

In an interesting move, Salesforce announced its intention to acquire Jigsaw - an aggregator of business lead data.

Here's what Salesforce had to say about the rationale for acquisition:

The process of trying to acquire, complete and cleanse business contact data is far too taxing and inefficient to meet the modern needs of companies in today’s competitive marketplace. Historically, companies have spent vast amounts of time and resources to build a database of complete contact information for their sales organization only to see its quality quickly deteriorate. With the integrated Jigsaw and solution, companies will be able to better acquire and cleanse all business contact data. While Jigsaw will remain open to all CRM systems, current customers will find an integrated experience that includes an automated process for data cleansing. In addition, since Jigsaw products are already integrated with technologies, when Salesforce Chatter becomes generally available later this year, users will be able to receive real-time feeds when data changes or requires cleansing.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

SaaS CRMs - Salesforce still ahead but Zoho is encroaching

As you can see from the graph, Salesforce is enjoying a nice lead, but Zoho CRM is not too far behind. Yes, today they are catering to different audiences - Salesforce is a choice for medium to large enterprises that have decided to take a SaaS plunge, while Zoho is more popular with small business crowd; but we all know how this story can end..


Google Docs usage is growing at a clip of over 20% month-to-month

Although all SaaS (web-based) software is gaining good traction, Google Apps is dwarfing others with 15 million unique visitors monthly and a very healthy month-to-month growth rate.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Is Central Desktop a SharePoint killer?

Central Desktop announced document collaboration, which is a pretty cool feature allowing collaborators to work on a document together using MS Office applications, thus preventing the "version hell", while keeping the document neatly stored on Central Desktop hosted servers.

They are not shy saying that they are going head-to-head with MS Sharepoint and Office 10 which offers similar functionaity, but requires an expensive upgrade. This positioning against MS Sharepoint and Office 10 upgrade is probably valid for small business, however unlikely for larger companies as IT departments will not relinquish their grip on data and existing Sharepoint installs.

I've been a fan of Central Desktop over the years, and am excited to see them bring a big feature like this to market.

See this video for details:

GQueues and what Google Apps is all about

Think what you have to go through to try out a collaboration application you've found that you think might work for your office.. Mac or PC, doesn't matter.
You have to install it yourself, check that it works (while praying that it doesn't mess up your settings or interfere with other programs). You have to convince others to install it so you can try it together (while praying that it doesn't mess up their computers). Client software needs a server somewhere to exchange information.. If the application/plug-in doesn't get much use, you will ask everyone to uninstall it, and good luck trying another one - you'll have to go through the process all over again.

Now, compare that with what happens in the Google Apps world.. You just add the application you like to your domain.. it connects to all other Google apps services that it has business communicating with (authentication, email, calendar, docs, etc..) Voila! You and your office are ready to go.. No additional software to install, no databases to worry about.. And if you don't like it - no problem! Just uninstall it - it uninstalls (unlinks rather) for everyone.

One such example is Gqueues - it's a nice task manager that's well integrated into Google apps environment. It's connected to calendars, it supports task assignments, sharing over Google protocols, etc..

You can find many more apps in Google Apps marketplace -

So there you go - Google apps is not just about cheaper online office apps - it's about a much better platform and an eco-system!!