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Facebook and T-Mobile Launch Bobsled. With Huge Privacy Glitch. Or is it By Design? Skype, Google Voice and Telcos Beware, Anyway…

Out of left field, T-Mobile and Facebook launched Bobsled, a VOIP service that allows voice calls to anyone on your Facebook list for free.  At this moment the entire blogging world is busy writing about it, so I skip the basics… and just run to some funny experience while testing it.

First, here’s how you call from your Chat list: click the phone button.. then voila!:

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As it happens, none of my contacts pick up my test call – I suppose the feature is too new, nobody knows where the funny sound comes from or how to react.  They will get used to it.  But here’s the real surprise: it has VoiceMail.  To the World.  Literally:

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Trouble with My Feed

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feedburnerI’m experiencing trouble with my Feedburner feed – apologies and I certainly hope to get it fixed soon.

(Oh, and Googlers who read this are most welcome to chip in to helpSmile )

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Zoho Rounds Out Small Business Suite with Accounting App–Zoho Books

This morning Zoho, known for SMB focused SaaS offerings in the areas of productivity, collaboration, business processes launched an Accounting app: Zoho Books. I typically don’t do detailed product reviews, when I see the first good ones, will link to them – just a few points here and then let’s discuss how it rounds out Zoho’s overall strategy.

The following video introduction is a bit “cutesy”:

-and that’s quite intentional.  In fact simplicity is one of the key points in Zoho Books:

  • Clear, streamlined UI, tabs, easy terminology –i.e. Money In, Money Out. This service is clearly targeted at non-accountants, which is most of us in a small business – hey, even I can understand most of it.Smile
  • That said, Books offers the opportunity to share data and collaborate with accountants (Ouch, did I really needed that reminder for tax time?;-) )
  • Multi-currency support – this is typically a later add-on in many systems, but Zoho has a wide international presence with most of their other services
  • Integration with Zoho CRM, Invoice, Mail – somewhat basic now, will be improved as we’ve seen with the rest of Zoho’s offerings
  • Support for electronic payment systems like Paypal, Google Checkout, Authorize.net. This is a “hidden treasure” inherited from twin service Zoho Invoice, which is a subset of Book’s functionality and can be easily upgraded. Why hidden? Because relatively few know that Paypal offers 50 cent (yes, that’s $0.50 per transaction) Business Payments NOT available through the Web, only via their API, i.e. apps like Zoho Invoice and Boooks.

Having said that, is Zoho Books a Quickbooks killer?

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Is HP about to Ditch Oracle Siebel in favor of Salesforce.com?

Today’s big news is that HP is dropping Siebel CRM now owned by Oracle in favor of Salesforce.com.

It’s a bit unfortunate that this is presented in the context of personal ego wars – unfortunate, but understandable,  considering that Oracle has been on a warpath with HP ever since former CEO Hurd got ousted, in fact they launched a global manhunt for incoming HP CEO Leo Apotheker.  But ego clashes make good stories. :-)

That said, the real story …

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No Longer a Prank – Defections from Sage to NetSuite Continue

I called it a Software Marketing Prank, but hey, apparently customers do listen…

…and they vote with their feet checkbook.  Today NetSuite claims over 500 customer defected from Sage to NetSuite.  Make no mistake, this is not simply one software company “stealing” another one’s business…

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SaaS Growth, Dogfood, and Images :-)

SaaS PlaneFellow Enterprise Irregular Evangelos Simoudis is definitely worth following.  As an active Venture Capitalist he often focuses on his portfolio experience – but through that micro-lense gives us an overview of the market, “The State of SaaS” per se, confirming / contradicting based on real life, real companies what many of us see as trends.

One such essay is Insight as a Service.  It’s about what I called the “hidden business model enabled by SaaS” in 2006: using aggregated data for benchmarking.  Four years later it’s no longer hidden, but a growing business with great future:

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SAP Business ByDesign Video – Plain and Simple, Making Fun of …Wow, ERP!

We’re just having an intense internal debate in the Enterprise Irregulars group whether SAP’s Business ByDesign (ByD) is late to the market and what it all means, when hot off the press here’s a promotional video, that’s not so much ByD advertising but a SMB / SME SaaS 101, and a very good one at that (now, that was a mouthful of acronyms).

Ironically, the video makes fun of the Big Ugly Beast, ERP – which happens to be SAP’s bread and butter. (Hey, I’ve long been saying SAP should have copied a chapter from Larry Ellison’s book, invest in a SMB Startup and let it grow independently…)

Hat tip for the video: Timo Elliot.

See our (more serious) Business ByDesign coverage here.

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Is SaaS Dead? No. Neither is Debate.

cemeteryWe’ve had email dead, resumes dead, wikis dead themes, now it’s apparently time for the SaaS is Dead meme, thanks to a recently published Gartner report.   My favorite quote from the report:

SaaS is not a panacea, and companies need to evaluate and understand the trade-offs that SaaS presents

Indeed. Here’s another quote from Gartner VP Rob Desisto:

If you’re a small business with no IT staff then the math is a lot easier. You need to buy the hardware. With a larger company, the math doesn’t always work out in favor of SaaS.

Now, where have I heard that before?  Wait… I said it, 4 years ago:

…While it’s easy to declare that for small businesses without their own IT resources there is no better option than SaaS, there is no clear “winner” for large corporations. There shouldn’t be. This is not religion; it should be business decisions that these organizations have to make individually. Analysts fighting the SaaS vs. On-premise war often forget that software exist to resolve business problems. As Charles so eloquently points out, it’s the complexity of these business processes, the need for customization, the number of user seats..etc that matters, and as we move up on this scale, increasingly “traditional” Enterprise Software is the answer. I happen to believe that eventually SaaS will grow up to meet those requirements, but am not going to guess how many years it will take. In the meantime the SaaS-fans (admittedly I am one) can claim that SaaS is the future – but that does not mean Enterprise Software is dead.

OK, ego trip done, let’s look at some of the specific points that sparked a debate between Krish  @ CloudAve and Ben Kepes:

The TCO Myth

Gartner argues that long term TCO of on-premise software can be lower for businesses that don’t upgrade often. Krish’s counterpoint is that businesses that stay on obsolete versions of their systems will fall behind competitors.  Ben argues that many businesses are simply satisfied with their current system functionality and would derive little value from upgrades (well he refers to moving to SaaS, but that was not the original point by Gartner).

My take: sorry guys, it’s not so black-and-white.  Yes, many businesses avoid software upgrades like the plague, but not necessary because they would not benefit from it: it’s all about avoiding the major cost and business disruption traditional Enterprise Software upgrades bring about. (As a background, I spent the 90’s selling and implementing SAP solutions. I still chuckle when I hear there are SAP consulting teams at my 1990-93 clients: the upgrade cycle never ends)

SaaS typically comes with more subtle and more frequent updates that don’t disrupt business.  Now, let’s be fair: the SaaS market is still quite nascent, despite the fact that Gartner is ready to bury it. Our experience is with seemless Google and Zoho upgrades, or not-so-seamless but still not disruptive Salesforce.com, NetSuite ..etc upgrades.  There is still nothing on the same magnitude of a SAP or Oracle Enterprise Suite, so we really do not have a lot of realistic comparison on that level…

For further details I suggest Ray Wang’s excellent piece on How To Compare Total Ownership Costs.

The Pay as You Use Myth

Gartner says the old enterprise practices are seeping into the SaaS market and we are seeing push for long-term, multi-year deals with upfront payments.

Krish argues that many enterprise customers actually prefer to pay long term to avoid the hassle of monthly billing, while Ben points out the root cause of the issue is SaaS vendors not having the right tools for more granular use-based billing.

Both are right, I don’t even see this a debate (?).  Years ago I had been a NetSuite customer, and was given several choices, with multi-year contract carrying significant discounts.  But still, the plans were mostly seat-based, with no chance to adjust downward and not enough flexibility to account for functions used / not used.   But let me say this: a lot of what we’re saying today is just business decisions, SaaS providers have better technical bakcground to offer very granular, real-usage based pricing for two reasons:

  • They can actually monitor what is being used (unique vs concurrent users, actual functions not just major modules)
  • They can invoice accordingly – the systems are now available, and I think competition will push them t create the business framework.

Coincidentally, NetSuite just announced their integration with Zuora, the billing system for the subscription economy. This is an offering for subscription-based businesses who uses NetSuite – in other words NetSuite’s customer.  Now, what I really wonder about is whether NetSuite will take this opportunity and consider themselves a customer / user of Zuora’s services: i.e. step up the plate and offer true usage-based subscription models – most likely as an alternative to the current ones.

The Shelfware Problem

No, for this to come up as a SaaS-specific problem is just pathetic. Shelfware is as old a concept as Software licencing: it’s the phenomenon of being locked in to more user seats and entire modules you don’t use, often without knowing about it.  Here’s a choice quote from Gartner VP Rob Desisto again, although he used it in another context:

many organizations have CRM already because it was bundled with their ERP licenses

There is nothing inherent in the nature of SaaS that would promote shelfware, in fact as I‘ve just pointed out above, technically SaaS vendors have better ability to monitor actual usage than the major nightmare of software audits in the on-premise world.  There are good initiatives, like RightNow promising to end shelfware, and I trust competition will lead to more of this.

Again, I offer two great pieces on the subject by Ray Wang:

The debate is on – feel free to chime in.

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I’m Lucky To Have Bet on Mint vs. Wesabe…

I’m sure as hell lucky to have bet on Mint when Microsoft Money died… but to be honest it was a flip of a coin decision, Wesabe, the other web-based personal finance management program looked just as attractive.   Good product, perfect pedigre, strong VC funding.   Now Wesabe is in the deadpool while Mint essentially became Quicken Online.

A comparative analysis of the two, and why one died why the other thrives would be a very educational startup story – if somebody close enough to the fire has the facts.

Wesabe users have until July 31st to export their data (a rather short period, if you ask me, given the importance of such data.).  I certainly hope Mint (Intuit) will step up the plate and offer streamlined migration.

In the meantime, I’m just lucky having bet on Mint. :-)