Saturday, December 31, 2011

Geoffrey West: The surprising math of cities and corporations

I ask you where would we be without the knowledge and thought sharing like this?!  I also wonder where we are headed with knowledge and thought sharing like this?  A perfect but boring society where everyone knows everything? :)  Happy 2012!!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thinking in Barriers

The single most important KEY to ensuring success of a product or a successful switch to implement a new technology that will benefit your business is USER-LEVEL ADOPTION.

Whether you're a vendor to the industry or a customer (someone who's looking to deploy the product for their organization) it often helps to think in terms of BARRIERS.  For example:

  • Systems Pull (how many other internal systems rely on files being in that format or integrate with the old system)
  • Re-training Required (this might be drastically infuenced by the demographic make up of the organizations that you're targeting or deploying for - younger people are much more interested in embracing new technology)
  • Satisfaction (or Lack of) with the existing systems.  How much are current systems broken.. Obviously the more dissatisfaction, the easier it will be to instigate a switch.
  • Grass Roots possibility.  Does the new system require IT or an executive committee to sign of on it or can it be started grass roots and they catch on fire?
  • Level of Noise.  How much noise is there in the marketplace that pertains to this set of functionality?  Are there tons of competitors pitching this and incumbents assuring the customer that this will be delivered in the "next release"
  • New Solution Fatique.  Have a bunch of other solutions been tried recently to address this set of functionality?   If true, there will be a lot of resistance and distrust from the user base.
If you map out these barriers, it will help you figure out how to address them or serve as a filter for taking a solution to market or deploying it in your organization.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

AgileWords shows how to do one thing well

In the world of SaaS, PaaS and software in general there are 3 main types of solutions:
  1. Platform (covers lots of functionality and is very extensible)
  2. Industry-specific (provides a comprehensive solution for particular industry)
  3. Point (solves one problem, integrates well with existing systems)
(more on this later..)

While GoogleDocs and Zoho have done a good job with platform-type SaaS offerings, there are far from becoming ubiquidous.  There are many reasons for that - some have to do with letting the data outside of the company walls, some with lack of support for "diconnected" use model, some with not wanting or not being able to undertake the re-training effort.

Be it as it may, what is one to do if they want to use the collaborative, single source nature of the SaaS applications for document review and approval for example, but not ready to convert everyone to GoogleDocs?

AgileWords take a stab at solving the document reviews problem the "point solution" way.  

Today document reviews involve a lot of back-and-forth via email with redline and side notes or comments.  All these edits are hard to reconcile and the intent or context is quickly lost, not to mention the version hell. 

AgileWords came up with a clean solution for merging the benefit of the SaaS ability to collaborate on something real-time and keep track of the changes in one place with the format that most documents that need to be reviewed (contracts, product documentation, marketing literature) exist today - MS Word.  

They import the MS Word document keeping the formatting (very important as the document needs to stay 100% consistent with the original).  To keep the formatting, they actually do a clever combination of converting what they can to text and what they can't - to images.  

They then allow comment insertion and discussions around a particular session.  Once a revision has been made, the new document is uploaded replacing the original one optionally showing the changes made.

A very nicely designed and thought-through point-solution product that doesn't disturb existing systems, but adds the much-needed element.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Plaxo and Staying Relevant (or not)..

Remember when Plaxo was relevant?.. Keeping the contacts up to date was a real problem..  Still is to some degree, but much less so now with LinkedIn and Facebook where the contact info is attached to real people and doesn't need to be maintained separately anymore.

The problem of relevancy faces any successful project or business as the problems shift, but the organizations and the thinking has already been built to solve a specific issue and the more successful the product was at solving that problem, the harder it is to detach from it going forward.  However, detaching from the yesterday's problem is exactly what needs to be done in the modern world as the ground shifts all the time..

So what's my solution?  If I was Plaxo, I would look at what other problems/opportunities exist around the address book.. It doesn't take long to notice that contact info (business card) exchange is one of the hot issues.. If I was Plaxo, I would look at acquiring Bump App or building equivalent functionality..

In Today's world it's Stay Relevant or Die..

Sunday, December 04, 2011

SuccessFactors acquired by SAP for $3.4B

Congratulations to Success Factors!  Again, hate to see a successful SaaS company get gobbled up by a large incumbent, but happy to see them making room for new nimble and innovative entrants in this space!

The company had 3,500 customers and 15 million users in 168 countries and was publicly traded. Clients include Comcast and Siemens.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Interoperate or Die - BlueJeans Videoconference Exchange

I met this new company at the Enterprise 2.0 show last week and was immediately intrigued by what they do - which is solving the interoperability problem for the video conference market.  The problem is real - everyone has something different in terms of video conference technology and unless you do all the video conference inside of the enterprise and none with clients or partners (although even that stands to be challenged), they are facing a problem of having spent a pretty penny only to learn that you can not use it 90% of the time because of interoperability issues.

BlueJeans Network provides interoperability among the following systems (which is quite respectable):

Conference Room EndpointsCisco / Tandberg
H.323 Systems
Conference Phones (Audio-only)

Desktop / Mobile EndpointsCisco / Tandberg
Google Talk
Skype for PC/Mac
Desk Phones (Audio-only)

Desktop / Mobile DevicesAndroid Smartphones
Android Tablets
Skype for iPhone
Skype for iPad
Mobile Phones (Audio-only)

Pricing ranges between $69 and $199 per month, with $199 being "all-you-can-eat" plan, and if you're any serious about videoconference that's probably the one you'll use.  Considering that they do both protocol translation and in most cases transcoding on the fly, the pricing is very reasonable..

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Products vs. Platforms

I stopped by Enterprise 2.0 Conference this afternoon - a solid event with good exhibitors and speakers (highly recommend to visit if you haven't done so already)

One session that I sat in on that was of particular interest to me was Products vs. Platforms.  Here are some interesting thoughts that came up there:

"Usability Matters"!!! (as in it's often the reason a product succeeds or fails) 
"Discretionary efforts is the key to productivity" (as opposed to mandated activities) 
"Start with a product, finish with a platform" 
"Profiles are the basis for collaboration" 
"Pushing all information into one system doesn't work" (making a case for connecting information that resides in different systems) 
"Sharepoint: most used or most licensed?"

I will be covering some vendors I met at the conference in the next couple of days. 

If you happened to be in the area and have some time, definitely check out the event!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dealing with Darwin

One of my favorite companies in the Office 2.0 space, the Outsystems, gave a talk at the Cloud Expo last week about "Avoiding a Zero-value Cloud" (presentation below).  One of the things that I really appreciate about what they are doing is that they are not disconnected from the customer's real problems - which is "how do I manage this web of skunk projects, legacy systems, and new releases" - this is precisely what their platform is addressing and what they tried to illustrate with the talk they gave.

Monday, November 07, 2011

But what about Michael Scott??

Forbes ran an article on Social Power And The Coming Corporate Revolution couple of days ago.

It paints a picture of the inevitable "open" enterprise where everything is out in the open - from employee peer performance ranking, to the manager effectiveness, to the customer feedback, making the system very efficient and fair..  So the days of "The Office" as we know it today might be numbered, and we're entering the brave new world of Transparency..

The article is full of good insights and quotes:
I don’t think it’s crazy to ask if your CEO is the next Mubarak,” says Gary Hamel, one of business’ most eminent theoreticians of management. “The elites—or managers in companies—no longer control the conversation. This is how insurrections start.” Says Marc Benioff, CEO of, Inc.
“‘Information is power’ used to mean that hoarding information gave you power. Now we’re seeing that sharing information is power. The more you can share, the more you can help other people—and the more it becomes apparent you’re an expert and a valuable employee.” David Sacks, CEO of Yammer: 
Definitely a good and empowering read..

Some of the companies/products featured in the article:
Rypple -  employee performance management
Yammer - enterprise social network
Jive - enterprise social network

Monday, October 24, 2011

Watch out, Oracle is coming!

Oracle is playing a game of Risk or Monopoly or whatever buying up more and more properties.  This time it was RightNow.  I'm sorry to see another one sell out - they really didn't have to.. They had liquidity and were profitable.  It was pure shortsighted greed.  Kind of sad.. But that's ok, make room for the new kids on the block.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Redefining Project Management with Trello

It's not often that you see a completely fresh approach to an old problem, so it's always very exciting to see something like this pop up!  This time it's Trello from FogCreek Software (for those of you who have been in the world of software development, it's Joel Spolsky's company)

Project Management is an area that concern everyone, whether you're managing clients or building a rocket, you're facing the need to keep track of tasks, dole out responsibilities, monitor the progress, remove obstacles, look for ways to leverage the resources effectively, estimate the completion, etc, etc..

Traditional tools like MS Project put you in a very rigid framework of having to plan everything ahead of time and god forbid something should go not according to the plan (that never happens, right?? ), managing the change becomes a nightmare.. And this is where the task completion is predictable and dependencies are few.. What if you have dependencies that are very hard to predict or manage or the tasks that are hard to estimate, or you loose a resource, or ..

In the world of high productivity and "Agile", it's clear that a better approach is needed - an approach where monitoring and re-prioritization are woven into the fabric of the solution.

Trello hits the nail on the head with it's Project Board approach.  It allows a bird's eye view of the projects and instant re-prioritization of the tasks.  It makes it easy to delegate the tasks and publish the projects for others to see (reporting anyone?), but it also passes a very important test for a tool that is essential - it makes you WANT to use it!!

With time I expect to see more status indicators like if the task is in danger, addition of dependencies perhaps..   Another component that can light the adoption on fire is to integrate it with large touch screens that can be hung in the halls or conferences rooms!

P.S.  One other very attractive thing about Trello's approach is that the "stacks" don't have to be projects - they can be stages in the process for example, creating a great workflow app.  Very flexible indeed!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 raises $81M from Salesforce, SAP Ventures, others has raised a total of $162 million.

Aaron Levie, who helped start in 2005, is its CEO. The company makes online file sharing software.

While I like, the amount of capital raised is staggering!!!  And this is not capital-intensive business (at least it shouldn't be - after all they don't build factories or buy a ton on material)..  I understand they want to attract the best minds, but still.. throwing money at it and hiring people just because is never a good thing.

My problem with this level of capitalization is that it pipes the companies full of steroids and should something go wrong in the market or with their execution, the company will crumble..

Just saying..

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Visual Basic for the 21st Century

Like it or not, but Microsoft's Visual Basic did a TON for PC industry back in the 90's.. It opened up programming to non-professionally trained and non-hacker types, it cut the application development time from years to months, and expanded the pool of programmers exponentially.. Yes, maybe it created a slew of bad code, but who's to argue what bad code is anyways - at the end of the day good code is a code that works and can be maintained.

Over time Visual Basic transitioned into a Visual Studio where novices are NOT welcome.. Not only that, but it didn't keep up with the other technology transformations, specifically moving the client to the web browser.

So what is a modern-day equivalent or Visual Basic?  There are a few options out there.. If you're on - you can use their tools to create custom screens, workflows, etc.. Then there are a few PaaS platforms that address the data-driven, web-based applications, however very few of them go deep enough to really provide a viable platform for the type of applications that people had built with Visual Basic and MS Access.  The other pitfall many of them share is by going the publicly hosted route.. This chops off the predominant use case of wanting to connect with internal data sources.

I spent some time learning about OutSystems over the past couple of months and it really impresses me with the both depth and breadth of the implementation.  It's easy to get started, yet packs a ton of power.  It's web based, but is hosted by the customer and ties into customer's data.  Speaking of tying into customer data, it has the right adapters and import tools to either develop an application on top of an existing data source, or to import the data from that spreadsheet that's no longer cutting it.  At the heart of the system though is a visual logic designer making programming easier for non-programmers (and probably programmers as well)!  I have seen visual logic designers before, but not since Macromedia's Authorware have I met one that was actually usable - this is a huge feat in itself..

Another point worth making is that most of the PaaS (platform-as-a-service) vendors stop at implementing web forms and workflows.  OutSystems however is showing its understanding of the market by providing things like visualization widgets and newsletter templates.

OutSystems Server runs as either .NET or Java and can be run on Amazon EC2 if you so desire.

From the deployment standpoint (again illustrating the depth of the offering and the marketplace connectedness), OutSystems provides very robust and streamlined mechanism to deploy changes to staging, production, or roll the changes back.

Reading through the community board and some consultant pieces, it's pretty clear that the platform gets some good REAL use, which is a good indicator that it's not just smoke, but that it's bringing real value to folks.

OutSystems gets my unofficial VB replacement award and a big thumbs up!

From the few things I think are missing, notable are 1) a Mac client for their IDE, and 2) a version of a UI designer that's targeted to non-data-driven apps (such as Point-Of-Sale systems)..  But I'm sure these guys are looking at both ;)

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Microsoft Office 365 - Game Changer or a Flop?

Microsoft Office 365 was finally officially released last week. This was supposed to be a BIG DEAL!! After all Microsoft was talking it up for years.. So how good is it you ask? I went through it over the last couple of days and my conclusion is that it's mostly a lipstick on a pig.

 Here's what I expected:

  • An improvement to Web version of the Outlook that would make handling attachments much better by using the online version of Office
  • Automatic syncing of the documents to the cloud ala or Dropbox
  • Full-featured (Google Docs or better) in-place editing with build-in versioning
  • Lotus Notes style database integration
  • Good CRM integration
Instead here's what we got
  • A sub-par Office document editor suite (it lags Google Docs big time).  Simple things like typing in a document are subject to some buffering artifacts.. 
  • No attachment editing integration
  • No document synchronization to get the documents in 
  • No CRM integration
  • No DB as part of the Office Suite
Yes, you can do basic email, pretend like you're editing documents, create shared pages, and chat with others inside the app, but the bar is higher these days.. Much higher!  And usability-wise, the apps have got to feel more dynamic, like I should be able to create an appointment by clicking on the calendar itself instead of the "+" button on top.

C'mon Microsoft!  Aren't you supposed to get things on the 3rd try?? This is at least try #3 for you with online office...  So you're either not serious about it and this is a stalling tactic, or you don't have the right people in charge!  Office productivity category is yours to loose and you're doing a marvelous job of it allowing others to sneak in..  

Friday, June 24, 2011 and Google Docs - I don't get it :(

So this announcement was all over the tech news the other day, but I must say I'm having a bit of a hard time understanding the rationale behind this big integration effort..
I mean while Google Docs may have provided an API that allowed to "hijack" their app, is this really the model they will support going forward? Isn't their business to get people over to their Google Apps platform? And havent' they been actively building out their own document management solution?
While I really like what has done - they've found a lot of value to add around online document backup - this is great, kudos, but this move just seems amateurish to me. If this was about providing online document editing, they could have licensed or developed their own technology (afterall didn't they just raise $48 million?). If this was about fending off the threat from Microsoft's Office 360 and buy them time to develop their own, there might be some merit to that, but seems like confusing a customer is a high price to pay for a questionable benefit.
I would like to see keep developing value around document management (workflows, approvals, etc.) and develop their own online editor.. That would make things clean and understandable to the customer.. What do you think??

Google Calendar adds Appointment Slots

If you run a time slot based business (coaching, counseling, dental office, photography, beauty salon, spa, medical office) scheduling and rescheduling is a full-time job, and one that is prone to errors and misunderstandings.. An office manager or provider themselves will usually spend time with each client when scheduling the appointment, then come rescheduling and cancellations and last minute trying to fill the slot.

Google Calendar's new Appointment Slot feature is a FANTASTIC attempt to deal with this exact problem and could very well be the biggest PRODUCTIVITY ENHANCER of the year!

The fact that it's combined with your personal calendar means that you can design the appointment slots around your schedule and your clients will be able to book/rebook the appointments online without the disruptive phone calls.  Just mark those available for appointment slots on your calendar and embed some code on your web site and off you go!  And if you needed a reason to switch to an online calendar, this feature should go a long way to convince you to do that.. :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Email Marketing and Auto-Responders - What's New and Who's Best?

Email Marketing is an established category that has been around for a long time (over a decade). Having been around for that long, a fairly stable set of features has emerged over time and deliverability which used to be all over the place, has stabilized. The pricing has come down to affordable levels and market leadership has been established (arguably) with Constant Contact going public.

Some of the new directions, however, that email marketing has been evolving includes segmentation, surveying, multi-step auto-responders, and A/B split testing. Of these segmentation in general (and conditional or auto-segmentation in particular) is probably the feature that has the most potential to change the email marketing landscape. Sending the right email piece at the right time based on what a prospect clicked on or opened in the past is a powerful concept and can easily mean a difference between another email that I don't open and something that triggers my attention.

Below is a brief summary of the email marketing players and their strength and weaknesses. Please let me know if you disagree on any of it, and feel free to use it to help you make your decisions!

Constant Contact iContact Aweber GetResponse
Email Limits excellent excellent excellent excellent
Deliverability excellent excellent excellent excellent
Segmentation weak fair good excellent
Follow-up Sophistication weak fair good fair
Signup form flexibility fair good good fair
Surveys good good none good
Split Testing weak none good excellent
Templates fair fair fair good
WYSIWIG editor weak excellent fair good
Pricing fair good fair excellent
Special Features email-2-speech

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Real Group Collaboration is Finally Here

After taking a look at newly launched, I declare 2011 the year of group collaboration.

While group collaboration is not new and products like Yahoo Groups (yet another squandered opportunity) and Google Groups (what's taking these guys so long to realize the potential there) have existed for almost a decade now, the marketplace is ready for the 2nd wave of the group collaboration that is going to draw on many other advances that have been made in the internet technologies world. Advances like Activity Streams, App Stores, clean and dynamic designs, etc..

There are many startups and incumbents vying for this lucrative market - Salesforce, Jive, and Yammer are the ones that come to mind. I'm going to rule out Salesforce due to the amount of other weight they have to carry around - they are not going to be the first ones to get this right..(I'm also obviously ruling out Microsoft and Google for similar reasons - they've got too much legacy and too many other projects clamoring for attention to be able to come up with a dominant design for group collaboration). Yammer has something big in the hopper having raised $25M a few months ago however!

Podio is a brand new player that's coming out onto the marketplace swinging for the fences. I've briefly reviewed the product and it seems very solid and very formidable. You've got all your basics - work is organized into workspaces, each workspace has got an activity stream, a task list, and a calendar. This is far from IT however.. The user then starts adding Marketplace apps to the workspace, which there are plenty of - deliverables, documents, designs, product input, processes, presentations - the list goes on and on.. In addition to read-made modules, Podiohas an app builder out of the gate.

Podio is not naive to think that they can get a market overnight by doing a slightly better job at implementation and packaging of the features. No sir! They are making a very gutsy move by opening a retail (yes, you heard me right, retail! presence right on their opening day). Not even Salesforce had the foresight (I'm assuming money is not the problem here) to do this. I'm really curious to see how this is going to go down and look forward to using the product!

The address is 224 6th Street San Francisco, CA 94103.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Google Docs Sprinkles a Bit of Wave to Make it Taste Even Better

Google Docs adding discussions is very cool and sets a new standard for online document editing! But Google guys, if you want to be taken seriously by professional public, make up better examples! I know working on a contract is not as sexy as discussing an April 1st prank, but who's your target audience for this?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Wavemaker gets acquired

I've had it on my To Do list to do a review of Wavemaker for a while. Well, VMWare beat me to it - they acquired this young (less than 2yr old) startup.

WaveMaker describe themselves as an Open & Easy-to-Use Web & Cloud Application Development Platform - essentially a Platform-as-a-Service solution, or Visual Basic for the Cloud (my words, not theirs)

I'm not entirely sure why VMWare is pursuing this space - I see little reason for them to attract developers or even business people writing business apps - they don't own or host the underlying data (this is a much more obvious fit for companies, but they obviously have something in mind.

Here's a snippet from Wavemaker letter on their site:

According to Gartner, only 20% of IT staff have expert app development skills – WaveMaker is the tool to enable the other 80% of IT to build web apps quickly and deploy them to the cloud with a single mouse click.

As WaveMaker went from 3,000 downloads a month in January, 2010 to 135,000 downloads a month in December, 2010, we realized that we had created the perfect “on ramp” for cloud computing. WaveMaker can play a big role in bringing large numbers of developers to the cloud, but on ly if we team with the right cloud partner.

Whatever the reason it VMWare is going in this direction, this acquisition stands to add legitimacy to the Platform-as-a-Service in general and situational business apps in particular. Professionals can write apps on WaveMaker's platforms without worrying what's going to happen to their app if something was to happen to the startup..

Security Risk is the Price of Freedom

Good article in itself that talks about precautions that smartphone users need to take in light of recent malicious applications for Android, but also helps to put the trade-off between convenience, freedom, and security into perspective. This triangle applies to more than just mobile platforms - it applies to fundamental cloud questions very well as well (not to mention the subject of airport security :) )

Friday, March 04, 2011

Salesforce Service Cloud 3

Key Takeaways:
  • customer interaction is not your grandmother's "pick up a phone and call" model - it requires reaction speed, mining of the cloud, and proactive approach
  • Salesforce Service cloud now has good connectors for Twitter and Facebook
  • Pretty slick workflow integration from escalating the issue, to filing it to the knowledge base, to dynamics diagnostics and knowledge base mining, to video chat
Overall, looks like a decent offering staying in step with the time - which is what SaaS is all about - quick product release cycles and most importantly quick deployment cycles by the customer (when compared to on premise model where just to deploy a new version might take months or even years)

P.S. I wish all those public speaking coaches would stop telling execs to move around the stage so much - all this pacing is really irritating.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Skype + GoToMeeting = Nirvana

Today Skype and GoToMeeting announced a partnership that is so exciting, I can hardly contain myself! As a long-time user and fan of Skype for its audio calls (specifically for awesome audio conference calls), an integrated web meeting has been on the top of my wish list for quite a while. Yes, Skype added a screen sharing function a version or two ago but it only worked between 2 people and was using video compression protocols meaning that the text on the screen was often unreadable.

Anyways, talk about a match made in heaven! Skype has been trying to break into the enterprise market and GoToMeeting has been trying to increase its market share. Both of them were facing a steep curve. Now, all of a sudden, they pull a rabbit out of the hat that makes their prospects ever so bright!
I don't know why I'm so surprised - guess haven't seen a partnership that made so much sense in a while (like ever?) This is 1+1=3, or the stuff Business school case studies are made out of.. The only reason this might fail is if either of the companies will feel that their partner is getting a lot more out of this relationship then they are, or if they screw up the pricing. Otherwise I think this is going to be an enormous hit!

So, to sum it up:
  • great news for small businesses and telecommuters
  • good news for businesses of all sizes (eventually it will make its way into larger and larger businesses)
  • good news for both Skype and Citrix
  • bad news for WebEx
  • bad news for all other Web conferencing solutions (including Salesforce's DimDim acquisition)
Citrix / Skype merger on the horizon? This is like watching oil and vinegar come together in a perfect Yin/Yang fashion.

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Look at Three E-Mail Newsletter Tools

Nice review of Email marketing tools on

Review covers the usual suspects - Constant Contact and MailChimp as well as an often overlooked option of Microsoft Outlook. I will try to review MS Outlook 2010 soon for its Email marketing prowess..

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Constant Contact suddenly a CRM

Constant Contact is suddenly a CRM.. and a pretty good one at that..

Last week Constant Contact announced that they were acquiring Bantam Live - a little known newcomer on a social CRM scene (according to their site Bantam Live was started in 2009). This is an interesting development and I can think of a couple of possible explanations:
  1. Constant Contacts feels that bulk email is becoming commoditized and wants to protect their position and margins
  2. Constant Contact feels that their customers (small businesses) are not well served by integrations with existing CRMs (Constant Contact integrates with most CRMs like SalesForce, Microsoft Dynamics, Zoho, etc.) and is doing what's right for the customer.
Be it as it may, it's a pretty bold step for Constant Contact, likely to make other CRM players nervous and rushing to develop their own bulk email capabilities (especially since cloud-based services that support bulk email like AWS bulk email and Google App engine Email are now becoming readily available), but I think their customers are going to be happy with new functionality. If CC's stock wasn't already at sky-high valuation (310 P/E ratio) I'd consider investing.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Intranet (self-hosted) Project Management, Ace Project

So say you're looking for an MS Project / Sharepoint alternative.. You have considered BaseCamp and the likes but they seem like shiny toys. You've looked at Wrike and LiquidPlanner - they seem capable alright, but you really want to own your data and be able to tweak things your way or integrate it with your inhouse data sources.. What do you do? If only there was a web-based project management alternative that came with the source code that was easy to understand and work on and data source that was portable?!

Enter Ace Project.. While not the flashiest project management tool around, it has an extensive list of modules: project management with portfolios, task dependencies, gantt charts, calendars, project templates; document management with document sharing, versioning and file locking; time sheet management; expense management with approval workflows; collaboration complete with internal mailbox; HR management, reporting, and other essentials. What's more important, it comes with a license that allows users to take over the code!

Bringing SaaS apps inhouse is a hot topic these days as rules and regulations make leaving data one someone else's servers a risk that a company must be willing to take. If you get a standards MS project suite, it will cost you a pretty penny and while it will be extensible, it will bring the MS development costs and complexities with it. Taking all that into consideration, I think products like ACE Project are going to be a good fit for many companies that are looking for real ownership of the IT products they deploy.

The self-hosted version of Ace Project for 50 users runs at $1,995. Hosted versions are available as well.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

LiveChat integrates with Zoho

This is a useful integration that creates a smooth path between chatting up with a web site visitor and creating a potential in CRM (or adding a note to an existing client).

Having said that, I think LiveChat is overpriced at $36/operator.. How long before Zoho rolls out similar functionality?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Salesforce adds light project management with Manymoon acquisition

Today SalesForce announced their acquisition of Manymoon (a light project management app that's well integrated with Google apps). This is an interesting one because SalesForce is trying to attract developers to build on a platform exactly the kind of applications that Manymoon represents. The minute they get into that treacherous territory, they are making developers think four times before plunging ahead with their development plans. Add to this that the customers that were using Manymoon are mostly small consultancies (speculation) and I'm not sure I see the point.. Wonder if the pressure from Microsoft Dynamics is getting so high that SalesForce is grasping at every straw it can get it's hands on ( I mean hosting companies, small application providers??)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hardware + Software + Retail

I saw this Cash Register package at Fry's the other day. Great idea combining software with specialized hardware and putting it into retail, but while I haven't had any hands-on experience with it, I can almost guarantee that it's not a well integrated offering (Intuit makes some pretty good software, but integration between the products is almost non-existent).

If you read closely on the box it references a download into Quickbooks format, which probably means that the user has to download transactions from the terminal (which has to be powered by a pretty beefed up PC) and import it into Quickbooks. This kind of manipulations leads to disconnected processes with a lot of manual steps and no real-time visibility or centralization.

This however creates a great opportunity for SaaS accounting solutions to provide a well integrated experience where all the transactions are immediately synced to the online database, the management can see and react to real-time data, all the refund/corrections are immediately processed and don't have to be re-synced, and any and all communication can be triggered off the transaction data right at the time the transaction went through.

One thing that has to happen however is software providers have to get their hands dirty with hardware. Yes, I know, you guys hate that, it's capital intensive and creates logistical headaches, but I'm afraid that is what it takes to get a product into mass market, and mass market is what you want, is it not?

SaaS accounting companies - don't snooze - this is your chance to really break into this market, use it!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Product Introduction: Amazon Simple Email Service

I received this letter from Amazon Web Services today about launch of its Simple Email Services. This is a big deal as bulk email has always been more of an art than a science and no good Platform-as-a-Service solution existed to my knowledge, so web application developers had to resort to writing their own email distribution systems that were prone to black-listing and couldn't scale well or use very expensive solutions from a few software providers. This functionality available from AWS means that more SaaS applications will implement email marketing as part of their offering and those that already do will make it better and more affordable to use.

Dear AWS Customer,

We're excited to announce the beta release of Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES), a highly scalable and cost-effective bulk and transactional email-sending service for businesses and developers. Amazon SES eliminates the complexity and expense of building an in-house email solution or licensing, installing, and operating a third-party email service. The service integrates with other AWS services, making it easy to send emails from applications being hosted on services such as Amazon EC2. With Amazon SES there is no long-term commitment, minimum spend or negotiation required - businesses can utilize a free usage tier, and after that, enjoy low fees for the number of emails sent plus data transfer.
Building large-scale email solutions to send marketing and transactional messages is often a complex and costly challenge for businesses. To increase the percentage of emails that are successfully delivered, businesses must deal with hassles such as email server management, network configuration, and meeting rigorous Internet Service Provider (ISP) standards for email content. Additionally, many third-party email solutions require contract and price negotiations, as well as significant up-front costs.
Amazon SES eliminates these challenges and enables businesses to benefit from the years of experience and sophisticated email infrastructure has built to serve its own large-scale customer base. Through a simple API call, developers can now access a high-quality, scalable email infrastructure to efficiently and inexpensively communicate to their customers. You can be confident that Amazon SES will scale with your needs. A built-in feedback API provides the metrics you need in order to monitor the quality of your email, and to maintain good relationships with your customers.
As an Amazon SES customer, you don't need to build your own email solution from the ground up, or incur the costs of licensing, installing and operating third-party software. Instead, you can start sending messages in minutes using the AWS software development kits for Java and .NET, or code directly to our HTTPS interface using your favorite programming language.
Amazon is able to pass on the efficiencies of its scale to customers, and pricing for Amazon SES is only $0.10 per thousand email messages sent. Additionally, a customer can send 2,000 email messages for free each day when these emails originate from Amazon EC2 or AWS Elastic Beanstalk.
For more information on Amazon SES and details on how to start using the service, please see the resources listed below:

God is in the details (Zoho please take a note)

A tell sign of any successful product is how much attention is given to details.
You can hit everything right on feature checklist and have the most amazing interface, and integrate your products into a clever eco-system, but at the end of the day if I'm going to use your product for actually doing something, I will want little things to work..

I've been raving about Zoho for a while - they've done an outstanding job of putting together a lot of slick functionality and doing a pretty good job integrating the pieces, however having used their (paid) CRM product for a while I do have a bone to pick..

When I create an invoice I expect the description information that I entered in products to show up in the description information of the product once it's been added to the quote. When I print create a pdf of the invoice to be emailed I expect the description information that I've re-typed to show up on the invoice. And finally when I go to edit an invoice template so the darn description information is there, I expect the edit to work.

And to make sure that I'm picking on one little detail (not so little when you think about it), this is not the first time I've run into a glitch like that.

Zoho, you have a good thing going.. Please don't screw it up!

Update 2/1/2011
Looks like the issue with template editing has been solved. I was able to pass the product description on to the quote template!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Zoho Accounting - another step towards a complete online suite for small business

Just on the heals of my accounting solutions review, Zoho comes out with an announcement about Zoho Books, making its own claim to the small business accounting space.

I must say - it makes sense.. And Zoho has a lot going for it! It will integrate with the CRM, Reports, Scheduling, existing user hierarchy.. Sure, it's not as feature-rich or automated as some of the other products, but Zoho has got no lack of development zeal to fill in the gaps real quick.

The only thing stopping Zoho now in my mind is the fact that they are not a public company.. I don't know how many businesses will entrust their finances to an unregulated entity.. On the other hand that is the case with the rest of up-n-comers. How about that IPO, Zoho?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Meet for business

Those who've used and have a business are probably wishing they had an accounting system as frictionless as that! I certainly am and for a while I've kept an eye on web-based billing and accounting applications out there, of which I must say there's no shortage. My criteria has been to find something that would replace Quickbooks entirely while providing a kind of experience, that would offer effective cash flow management, and would be integrated with CRM systems and credit card terminals.
Problem with accounting software has always been that it required dedicated time to collect and enter the data and the more data has to be entered, the more daunting the task becomes, so most business owners would just relegate the job to the bookkeeper / accountant and thus would rarely use it as a business intelligence and forecasting tool that it could be. I think this is about to change however. I think we're nearing a point where business owners are actually going to start living inside of their finance systems much the same way they currently live inside email/calendar.
Why you ask? Due to a new generation of online accounting solutions that do more, make it much more than simple double entry accounting. The new systems have integrated invoicing, automated collection, multi-user access, reporting, and most importantly - bank account sync! This last point is what I think is what could tip the scales for these solutions, and is a reason why I want to highlight Wave accounting.

Wave is the only one out of half a dozen solutions I’ve looked at that places the “frictionless” experience high on their priority list. From getting the bank transactions into the system (which is done via an automated sync) to auto-categorization. To me this is really the key to moving from “get the books done once a month” experience to “use it to manage your business” one. Specifically, it allows the manager to:
  1. get a good handle on your cashflow
  2. review the categorization
  3. and most importantly, not wait for your bookkeeper to get through the transactions in order to generate an up-to-date report
And yes, other system too can import financial report from your bank, but there’s a big difference between having to log on to the bank account, go the right section, dump a report, import it into the system, repeating it for each account.
Wave is missing a few features that their competitors have like time tracking, expense handling, estimates/quotes/proposals and other CRM-type of functions) but those are not rocket science and I’m sure Wave is looking at adding those soon (just like the competition is probably going to look into adding live sync and auto-categorization.)
In any case, I think the train is about to leave the station and Intuit has some serious competition to worry about. I’m really excited about watching this space.
Other very capable online accounting packages:
Freshbooks (time tracking, contractor handling), Kashoo, Yendo, Xero (handles expense claims), Free Agent (handles estimates, quotes, proposals), (has a payment portal that accepts ePayments and Paypal)
Update (2/1/2011)
Add to this list Outright - it has auto-sync with credit card and bank accounts like wave, and also has tax estimation. This is not a ledger product however, so don't expect to do serious accounting with it. It will produce a schedule C. No access to other parties. Best suited for single proprietors from what I can gather.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Intuit GoPayment "Free" plan or battle of mobile credit card readers

Maybe this is the day that my barber will start accepting credit cards!? Probably not.. but Intuit's GoPayment system that added a free plan option today, and along with half a dozen other players in the space is workign on making it easier for small businesses to collect payments on the go or to forgo more expensive and binding credit card machine options.
"Free" means that there's a plan without a monthly payment (which otherwise costs $12.95/mo). GoPayment also offers a free card reader (valued $60-120) so not a bad deal at all!

What is does NOT offer (and this is my beef with other Intuit's offerings) is integration with Quickbooks online! To which I say "reallY? You guys have got to get your internal groups to work with one another!" This creates a perfect opportunity for online accounting startups to offer a similar package that actually avoids the grunt work of double entry!

ReadWriteWeb had a nice review of the few mobile credit card solutions today.