Zoho SaaS Perfect Solution for Bringing IT to Emerging Market SMBs

Yesterday I gave a talk on how companies, specifically SMBs (Small to Medium Businesses) can now take advantage of IT quickly and easily with SaaS and cloud computing.

IT, specially business systems or enterprise software, have traditionally been out of reach for SMBs of its complexity and high cost. With SaaS,
systems like collaboration software, databases, and transactional applications such as ERP and CRM are now made easily available in ways that are easily understood. For one thing, SaaS applications do not require complex IT infrastructure such as routers, firewalls and servers. To use SaaS apps, users require nothing more than an Internet-connected PC or even a mobile device to start using the applications. Another is that they are usually billed on a fixed monthly amount, according to what customers need or consume–similar to utility services such as power and water. SaaS apps are also usually designed from the get-go as tools for multi-user collaboration. This allows for improved efficiency and smoother coordination among company workgroups, departments and teams.

Now when people talk about SaaS the first thing people often ask is security, and the event where I spoke was no different. People are usually apprehensive about putting their company data into the intangible, amorphous Internet “cloud” so to speak. I made a point about how people have been comfortably uploading private data online with apps such as Google mail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail for years. Many have found it to be even better and more reliable than their corporate mail servers (I know of several companies who use Gmail as a backup for their mail systems on their own domain). Over the past few months, even become comfortable uploading with uploading sensitive personal data on the Internet with social networking sites such as Facebook and Friendster.

Now despite this, some key issues remain. Of course one is Internet access. To use SaaS, companies should have an “always on” Inernet connection. Integration with legacy apps can also be a challenge, as well as using SaaS for high volume, fast throughput, quick response type applications such as Point-of-Sale systems in a fast-paced retail environment. Another challenge is just simply navigating the abundant, sometimes confusing array of choices available in the SaaS market.

Good thing there is Zoho. Zoho is a SaaS company launched in 2005 that offers a wide range of online software. They offer everything from personal productivity apps such as e-mail, word processing, spreadsheet, wiki software; to business systems such as customer relationship management. All in all, Zoho has over 20 productivity and collaboration apps, all for prices that, by US and traditional software standards, are dirt cheap–but for emerging markets such as India (where Zoho came from) and the Philippines are just right.

For the whole lot of Zoho’s business applications, it costs a mere $50 per user per year or roughly the same amount one would spend for prepaid cellphone load locally in a year. By contrast, the Professional Version of Microsoft Office, sells for as much as a months to two months’ salary for most Filipinos.

Now cheap doesnt mean poor quality. So far have been very happy with using Zoho as an end-user. The breadth of applications is simply unmatched by any SaaS vendor, including Microsoft, Google or Salesforce. Its simple and easy enough to use for SMBs and priced just right. I also traveled to India and have seen their operations and have met their management (full disclosure: their parent company Adventnet is a partner of the company where I work). While there, I was impressed by their culture and their strategy, which gave me the impression that they really are into this business for the long haul–which as a partner and reseller gives peace of mind. They also have a 200 strong software engineering talent bench (with an additional 800 more from their sister company)–a number that easily beats many pure play SaaS vendors (including Salesforce.com?) in terms of technical resources.

Find out more about SaaS and Zoho today. Contact me via my LinkedIn page if you want to find out more or follow me on Twitter (webwonker).

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