Web 2.0 & Enterprise, Round 3: Enterprise Software for Small Businesses


This post is a continuation of Web 2.0 in the Enterprise – Round 2 in which I reflected on some thoughts brought up by Stephen Bryant in Five Reasons Web 2.0 and Enterprises Don’t Mix.

The Web 2.0 in the Enterprise TIE event I previously referred to was hectic, trying to cover way too many subjects in 90 minutes, with one common underlying assumption: Enterprise means large corporations. The theme of the night was how these Web 2.0 technologies and business/communication approaches will “seep in” to the large enterprise from the bottom up.
What is then Enterprise Software? Typically SAP, Oracle et al come to mind, and I can hear the roar “Enterprise Software is Dead” – well, is it?
If we define Enterprise Software as the traditional heavyweight, expensive, pay-huge-license-fees-upfront, then try-to-implement-forever model it is certainly challenged from two ends, by Open Source and the SaaS model. But there is another definition that is largely being overlooked:
Software that allows a company to conduct it’s everyday business, supporting most of the core, fairly standard business processes any company performs repeatedly.

With this definition, Enterprise Software has a whole new, largely unpenetrated market to enter: that of small businesses, referred to as the SMB or SME segment. Such enterprise functionality has traditionally been beyond reach for a typical small business, for two major reasons:

  • Cost (license, hardware, implementation, maintenance ..etc)
  • Lack of IT resources (integrating applications, designing processes, dealing with multiple vendors ..etc)

SaaS is the right answer for both, since it allows the SMB user to start using the functionality without an upfront investment, does not require implementation, upgrades, maintenance, worrying about backups and security ..etc.

Of course several Open Source packages are available completely free, which is a perfect solution for the cost problem, but I think most of these packages are by geeks for geeks; i.e. you really have to be quite IT-savy to implement, integrate, upgrade them, and as we stated most small businesses simply do not have that type of resource. Yes, that means the Silicon Valley tech-startups are not a true representation of the SMB world
Likewise, I don’t believe SOA, best-of-breed packages working together are an option for the SMB market, for the same reason. They will play an increasingly critical role in larger enterprises with a professional IT organization, but for a few more years SMB’s are far better off with integrated, All-In-One type On-Demand solutions.

Of the Web 2.0 companies Stephen mentions in Five Reasons Web 2.0 and Enterprises Don’t Mix two are offering Integrated On-Demand solutions:

  • NetSuite
    Stephen lists NetSuite along with, and while they are in the same club, the significant difference is that is only CRM, while NetSuite offers an integrated CRM+ERP package. They both are trying to become a “platform” via NetFlex and AppExchange, respectively. Both companies are definitely pushing upstream, going after the Enterprise market as in the first definition, i.e. large (or midsize) corporate customers.
  • 24SevenOffice
    Coming from Europe this company is lesser known. They focus on the SMB market and offer a modular but integrated system with a breath of functionality I simply haven’t seen elsewhere: Accounting, CRM (Contacts, Lead Mgt, SFA), ERP (Supply Chain, Orders, Products), Communication, Group Scheduling, HR, Project Management, Publishing, Intranet. Essentially a NetSuite+Communication, Collaboration. I’ve taken their test-drive (currently IE only) and liked it. I would debate how they structure their menu-system, as functions like Product, Inventory, SCM are all hidden under Financials.

Back to the economics: if SMB’s could not in the past afford Enterprise Software, the same held true for the Software Industry: they could not afford SMB’s, since there was just no way to make the numbers work. The cost of customer acquisition vs. the very low license fees made it an uneconomical model, whether via direct or channel sales.
Once again, technology comes to the rescue: the Internet, and largely Search Engine Marketing changes everything. Joe Kraus, Founder of JotSpot and previously Excite sums it up:
“ Ten years ago to reach the market, we had to do expensive distribution deals. We advertised on television and radio and print. We spent a crap-load of money. There’s an old adage in television advertising “I know half my money is wasted. Trouble is, I don’t know what half”. That was us. It’s an obvious statement to say that search engine marketing changes everything. But the real revolution is the ability to affordably reach small markets. You can know what works and what doesn’t. And, search not only allows niche marketing, it’s global popularity allows mass marketing as well (if you can buy enough keywords). “

Another benefit of SEM is that while traditional advertising can pick the right demographic groups, it cannot pick the right time, only a fraction of the target audience is in “change mode”, looking for a solution. That’s the beauty of Search Engine Marketing: obviously if you are searching, you have a problem and are looking for a solution, which is half a win from the vendor’s point of view.
Small Business Trends recently published a survey on “Selling to Small Businesses”, which supports the increasing importance of SEM: “A full 73% of vendors attract small business customers through search engine results”

Finally a quote from Ziff Davis again: “Products for the long tail and SMB market, where 72 million businesses spend $5k or less each year, are a much easier play” Wow, I don’t know where those numbers come from, but if I were a SMB-focused software vendor, I’d certainly like them … there’s a goldmine out there.

Update (2/22): Perfect timing for this report to come out just now: U.S. SMBs to Spend $2.2 Billion on Software in 2006, Says AMI-Partners

Update (4/17): Interprise Suite (recently debuted at Demo 2006) claims to be “The FIRST Accounting / ERP / CRM Solution to Bring the Power of the Internet to Small and Mid-sized Business“. While I take issue withe the claim to be “first”, considering the breadth of functionality it’s definitely an option to consider for SMB’s .

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  1. Zoli,

    Good write-up and I do think the growth market for both Web 2.0 and enterprise software will be in the medium to small “enterprise.”

    I covered a lot of this in my list of companies doing financially successful Web 2.0 plays, but I would love to see more examples of true Enterprise Web 2.0 (corporate mashups.)

    Anyway, keep up the great coverage.


    Dion Hinchcliffe

    CTO, Sphere of Influence

    Editor-in-Chief – Web 2.0 Journal

    ZDNet’s Enterprise Web 2.0

  2. Great article (actually both parts)

    I agree in particular with the SMB’s being the new Enterprise customers. They can benefit from new enterprise solutions without the large baggage (legacy) that the current encumbrants carry. Also the ondemand/web based offerings make it more cost effective and require a greatdeal less in terms of managment and resourcing.



    PS This meeting of minds between web2.0 and the enterprise has been fascinating me for a while, I have recently posted as such.

  3. Al,

    Thanks! The commenting facility this blog platform is not that great, for example even if I click on your name, I can’t contact you, or know who you are .. nor can I see what you posted .. so if you like, would you post the URL of your blog here?

    I’m hearing blogware will come out with enhanced commenting solutions in a matter of days … (weeks?). Perhaps that will take care of this nightmare.

  4. Ok Zoli

    I didn’t realise that, I expected it to some how link to my profile and then the blog.

    here’s my blog : Folknology

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  7. I purchased interprise in early 2008, had serious issues with regards to getting my site launched (the cart did not properly calculate provincial and country taxes) and after 2 weeks of working with the IS support team and the gateway provider, they finally said “yes there is a problem”. In November 08 Interprise gathered 3 of their US guys (a sales engineer, the salesman, and the head of ASPdotnet) and they told me they are going to help fix the problem. It’s now 3+ months later, and not only have nothing been fixed, over the past 3 weeks they will not answer my e-mails. These guys are so dishonest it is sickening. So I’ve invested thousands into the software, thousands into the setup and have lost tens of thousands in sales. Next step, I have to get a lawyer. Unreal.

  8. I have used interprise sutie and its proably the worst choice you can make. the product is super bugggy. Support is the worst in the industry. BEWARE! THIS IS THE BIGEST MISTAKE I HAVE EVER MADE! ASK FOR REFERECES AND CALL SUPPORT.

    Interpirssuite is not the choice!

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