Now that you are interested web-based applications, your first questions are, “What is available? Can I really replace the software I’m using now for little or now cost?”
Today, a look at the types of software that are available on the web. The breadth of offerings is enormous.
to do lists
web page builder
company research alerts
All these products are available using only two companies—Google and Zoho. There are other web-based application companies that expand and compete with these products, but this gives you a flavor for what is there. Not all the products listed are free, but most are, and the ones with a cost are reasonably priced.
Chances are, you don’t need everything from the list above, but once an analysis is complete, you can determine which web applications you can use.
Next I want to highlight the offerings of Zoho, then afterward, Google. Let’s look for specific products as replacements for your current software to see what’s possible.
This series looks at the availability and the usability of web-based applications that are becoming more of an option for small business every day.
In the previous article, I asked some questions about applications, and in this article we’ll start by examining some basics.
Let’s start with whether web-based software is right for your small business.
What software are you currently using?
What Office Suite bundled version is currently installed?
What applications are currently in use?
What features are currently in use?
What features do you need to run the office?
Needs Based Analysis?
Did you conduct a needs-based analysis before you bought business software? Most businesses don’t. The relationship usually begins with either pre-installed software or a recommendation from a salesman. Those early beginnings blossom into a full-fledged relationship with money exchanging hands. Then the upgrade cycle takes over, and now and forever, you belong to Microsoft.
Most employees use only the most basic features of their software products—features like bold, italics, or underline. They will manipulate font sizes, columns, tables and occasionally move text around. Very few use themes, styles, or macros.
In spreadsheets, sums, averages, and small flat-file databases (like address and telephone numbers) are the most common uses. Again, most don’t use the advanced features of auditing, data importing, scenarios, or goal seek.
Are Web-Based Applications Real?
Web-based applications are improving in features and speed, and now rival installed software with more and more users. When you start a new document or spreadsheet in Zoho Writer/Sheet or Google Docs/Spreadsheet, it all looks familiar. Presently, Google and Zoho dominate this market.
Here is the toolbar you see when you start a new word document in Google.
Here is Zoho’s toolbar.
As you can see, both have an abundance of features available. All the basics of word processing are covered by both of these applications. Other features are available as you enter text and work with your document. Advanced users will like the easy access to tables and columns.
Most small businesses need basic word processing and a simple spreadsheet program. After that, their needs vary, but as you’ll see in the next few days, whether you need a database or presentation software, you’re covered.
Are They for My Company?
Web-based applications aren’t for every company, but most small businesses can benefit from web-based software.
Available from any location
Available from any computer
Quickly share documents with colleagues
Quickly share documents with clients
Great spam filtering for email
Easy to develop content for the web
Stretch your software budget
Stretch your hardware budget
Reduce learning curve for new employees
Provide an internal knowledge database
Stop paying for software upgrades
You might be thinking, “I could never go to a web-based application because I require access to my files all the time. If the Internet connection drops, I’m out of business until it comes back up.” That is a valid issue that needs addressing before we continue the series.
The solution is to take some of the money you are currently spending on installed software and buy a redundant Internet connection or two. With the options most business have (DSL, cable, satellite, FIOS, cellular, T1),there is no reason to be un-connected because of an outage.
Regardless, a redundant Internet connection is a wise investment for companies. Most offices already use email and the web for many of their business functions, and are currently shut-down when connections are lost anyway. With a second connection, this becomes a non-issue.
Are you interested in learning more? Good!
Next: an overview of the variety of software available.
Are you following the buzz on web-based applications? More and more companies are wondering if this form of software might be a good fit. I’d like to explore these application with an eye toward business use.
What is a web-based application? It is software that runs on a remote server rather than your desktop computer. Consider word processing software. Most companies have Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect installed on the local desktop and employees access that copy of the software to write documents.
Web-based software is not installed on your local computer, and employees access the software remotely to write documents.
Questions to ask
Are web-based software applications ready to use in a business environment?
Does your business require installed software?
Can you ditch expensive software installed on every computer?
Will web-based software meet your needs?
What business software is available on the web?
What choices do I have with providers?
Stuck in a Rut?
While many small businesses are struggling to stay afloat, they continue to think every employee needs a copy of Microsoft Office Professional to conduct business. With a retail price tag of ~$500, Microsoft Office Professional is an expensive investment for any business, but is it really needed?
What about this proliferation of free and low-cost web-based solutions? Can you run a business on these applications without spending a lot of cash?
The answer is not simply yes, because some businesses do need the extra features available from installed software, but the features gap is shrinking as web applications become better, faster, and more feature-rich every day.
They are a very real option for many business, and by examining them closely, a small business owner can make a good decision.
The next article in this series answers the question, Are web-based applications for real?