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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Customer Data in Cyberspace: What was the tipping point?

Somebody at one of the LinkedIn groups I am a member of posed an interesting question. His question was (and I paraphrase a bit here: “what was the tipping point for customers to start entrusting online services like Salesforce.com with sensitive customer information?”

The entire post I reprint below:

LinkedIn: Discussion: CRM Experts

Salesforce.com , an asp log-in CRM system that involves no downloading of software, now has 55,400 enterprise customers world-wide and has even spawned imitations (eg., SugarCRM.com ).

I must confess to initially running with the herd – the cynics. It was easily done. The conventional wisdom was that large, medium and small organisations would not accept the risks (real and perceived) of hosting their customer data (arguably their most valuable asset after their people) outside of the enterprise – no matter how secure the site. What a PR disaster it would be if their customer data records were ever compromised.

As this orthodoxy has been shattered, pundits are left reflecting on what exactly was the tipping point? Was it improved internet security, broadband availability, increased trust in online systems or a rise in teleworking?

Or did the company simply build a damn good product that was better than traditional CRM systems managed and maintained by the IT department, especially those for SMEs, with much higher price tags?

Did the rise of sensitive data held by online retail, gambling, networking (like LinkedIn) and dating sites also lower tolerance thresholds?

And if such an entrenched orthodoxy can smash like a glass beaker on a marble floor….what’s next?

My take? The tipping point I think happened long before Salesforce.com came. It happened when people began using web-based email systems to store sensitive (business and private) information. It began when people started using websites like eBay and Amazon, or B2B exchanges and marketplaces to transact and share credit card information online.

Using web-based (oops the term is now cloud-based) services was I think just a small step from what people were already doing anyway.

What’s next? Perhaps the idea of having all of our services and data residing in the “cloud” and the death of personal or enterprise computing as we know it today may not be far off. Perhaps a “utility” based computing model makes sense after all.

Top 5 Low Cost SaaS CRM Alternatives for Small and Midsized Busineses

In continuation of my last post, I want to tackle this time low cost CRM packages or services for small and mid-sized business looking to implement CRM in their organization. In this post I will focus on five CRM SaaS Vendors:

  1. Salesforce.com. Salesforce.com is an acknowledged pioneer in Software-as-a-Service applications and market leader in CRM. When you sign up for the service you can choose from different editions–ie Personal, Group, Professional, Enterprise and Unlimited. The system itself is broken down into several applications:
    Sales, Service & Support, Partner Relationship Management,
    Marketing, Content, Ideas and Analytics. Updates are done acording to seasons of the year–so they have a Winter release, Spring release and so on. Pros: Large user base; stable company; long term viability; mature infrastructure and feature set; rich ecosystem of third party apps to extend functionality; highly configurable and extensible platform called Force.com. Cons: Purely online service; lock in a real danger; the really nice features are only available in the high end editions; expensive for large deployments.
  2. Rightnow. RightNow’s suite of applications includes multi-channel Service, Sales,
    Marketing, Customer Feedback Management, Voice Automation, and
    Analytics. Rightnow started off as a traditional on-premise CRM  vendor but now seems to focus on On-Demand. Pros: Really strong in customer service; rich feature set in customer service type applications and workflows; close partnerships with telephony vendors make it a good choice for a contact center. Cons: Premium pricing; can be expensive over time; not much third party support developing on the platform.
  3. ZohoCRM. Zoho CRM is a new entrant to the SaaS CRM market and is gaining a lot of interest I believe because of its low cost, and its relationship and integration with the Zoho suite of online SaaS applications. Its feature set seems to be primarily focused on sales force automation (like Salesforce a few releases back) and has some basic features to extend and customize its features and functionality. Updates like many of the Zoho applications are frequent. Pros: low cost; integration with Zoho apps; unique features such as online spreadsheet integration; good choice as an entry level solution. Cons: little or no extensions or 3rd party support, basic APIs, functionality geared towards small teams.
  4. LongJump CRM. Technically speaking LongJump positions itself as an application platform when it started out which can easily be configured for CRM (this is the opposite of Salesforce.com which started out focused on CRM and is now repositioning as a platform provider, or Zoho which is more of a suite of different apps than an integrated platform). Longjump is easily extensible and configurable, and templates exist to reconfigure the application into something else. Overall a promising vendor although not as well known. Pros: Highly extensible and configurable; integrated platform. Cons: Seems to have a low customer base, small company, not as well known as other competitors, purely online service; lock in a real danger.
  5. Netsuite. Netsuite originally was focused on hosted ERP but has now reached a point where they now offer a comprehensive CRM solution as well. Everything is intergated together and offered as a suite, and on top of CRM you have a mature ERP product as well as modules for SCM, E-commerce, PRM, Analytics and others. Pros: mature product; wide breadth of features and functionality; complete beyond CRM. Cons: Expensive, purely online; vendor lock in a danger; limited third party extensions.

Next time I’l try to post CRM solutions from open source vendors. If I missed anything let me know!

A new way to work with Zoho | FastCompany.TV

Interview with Raju Vegesna, evangelist for Zoho–a suite of online services for collaboration, productivity and workflow software. Interesting points: Zoho’s breadth of services make them a good starting point for anyone who wants to start with cloud computing. Regarding their market positioning–they like to see themselves as “an IKEA and not a Walmart” where you have access to quality products for a good price. They also have an online market place for community contributed applications developed using the Zoho platform. Interesting as well is their Cloud SQL which provides the ability to work with data in Zoho using SQL. Check it out! Interview done by Robert Scoble of Fast Company TV.

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more about “A new way to work with Zoho | FastCom…“, posted with vodpod

Defining a Framework for Cloud Computing

David Linthicum of Cloud Computing Journal has a great post on coming up with a framework to define cloud computing models. He posts:

While I’m sure many can debate the components, I see 10 major categories or patterns of cloud computing technology, including:

  • Storage-as-a-Service
  • Database-as-a-Service
  • Information-as-a-Service
  • Process-as-a-Service
  • Application-as-a-Service
  • Platform-as-a-Service
  • Integration-as-a-Service
  • Security-as-a-Service
  • Management/Governance-as-a-Service
  • Testing-as-a-Service

Read more from Cloud Computing Journal here.