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?
Have you developed a strategic technology plan (STP) for your business? Have you decided what technologies to consider? Do you know when to implement a new application, and how to judge a viable and valuable return on investment?
Who is Your Technology Consultant?
Most companies get their technology advice from a commissioned sales person who can rarely see and understand the long-range goals and planning needs of your company. That sales person’s goal is to sell you something—today. The phrase, "If you sell hammers, every problem looks like a nail" seems to fit here. The failure of this approach is that each problem is looked at in isolation, rather than as an overall part of a business strategy.
Consider these questions as you look at technology.
Is the source of the problem identified?
Does the STP include a method to determine the best solution?
Is there a mid-range and long-range STP in place?
Does the solution fit into the long-range STP?
Does the process provide a controlled testing environment?
Does the STP include a provision for this problem?
Does this solution provide the BEST fix for the problem?
Who benefits the most with this purchase?
Who is looking out for the company’s best interest?
Is the solution a hammer looking for a nail?
Mistakes are Expensive
What happens if the wrong technology is installed? What if you needed a screwdriver, not a hammer. Implementing the wrong technology is a costly mistake. Costs associated with a bad solution are:
The cost to purchase and implement the wrong technology
The training cost associated with the wrong technology
The lost productivity from the wrong technology
The cost to re-evaluate the purchase decision
The cost to re-evaluate the right technology
The cost to purchase and implement the correct technology
The new training cost for the right technology
The learning curve for the new technology
Put the right technology in place the first time, and work according to your strategic technology plan.
Technology is too important and too expensive to leave to chance.
The word technology means different things to different people. To some, it refers to a specific item, like a cellular telephone or a computer. Others use the word generically to describe an industry, equating it with the steel or farming industry. It really is both.
One of the earliest technologies was the lever. It completely changed the way people moved and lifted objects, regardless of size. It allowed one person to do the work of many, thereby increasing the efficiency and productivity of a single person. Later, applied to many people, huge stones were placed just right, forming the pyramids. That technology has seen many improvements through the years, but the fundamental lever still works.
The wheel is another great technological advancement still in use today. It has advanced with new shapes, sizes and processes, but the basic concept is still unchanged; A round device that spins on an axle. We install them on automobiles, wagons, dollies, and vacuum cleaners, making them easier to push and pull.
A little History
In school, I was not allowed to use electronic devices in math class. We were taught to use slide rules instead, because they required a degree of intelligence that the calculator did not. Today calculators are present in every classroom, and if I’m not mistaken, allowed in SAT/ACT testing rooms.
I converted a 6-volt Plymouth sedan over to 12-volt so I could install a 4-track tape player. Yep! Open top, manual levers, and two speakers! Tunes to go for 1967. Today an iPod can hold a hundred times more music than I even own, playing digital tunes for hundreds of hours. In fact, the iPod can play for over a month, 24/7, without repeating a song.
My first mobile phone was a Motorola bag phone, like the one pictured above. It was analog, plugged into the cigarette lighter for power, and worked like a charm. Yes, it was big and clunky, but it beat using pay phones at the quick stops. Today, my cell phone is so small, it gets lost on a messy desk.
Change in Technology
The technology industry is advancing so rapidly that computers are “out-of-date” before they’re unboxed and put into use. The accounting software you bought a few years ago, won’t run on the computer you bought yesterday. The small businessman fears the industry is moving too fast, and is feeling the pressure to either keep up or die. Getting a handle on this is of major concern to most small businesses who operate without full-time IT people.
The World Today
The rapid changes that are taking place in the technology industry, as a whole, require a small business to work with a better plan. Strategic planning keeps companies from purchasing the wrong products, buying too quickly, and getting something that won’t integrate with their existing technology.
Planning requires the answer to these questions and many more.
Will the accounting software run on the new computer?
Will the new computer connect to our network?
Will the new computer talk to the server?
Do we need a server?
If we need a server, should it run Windows or Unix/Linux?
What’s our plan for backups?
What is our catastrophic recovery plan?
Do we need to upgrade our software to the latest version?
What are these web applications all about?
How do we keep our remote workers productive?
Are we a viable candidate for home-based workers?
What affect will Windows Vista/Mac OS X Leopard, Ubuntu Linux have on our business plan?
As a salesman, I lived by, “Plan your work, then work the plan,” which is also appropriate for a business technology strategy plan. Plan the strategy, then work plan.
The questions above, and others like them, will form the basis for the future of this web site. I will explore how to form and implement a plan.
Motivation on the Run is about motivation, leadership, management, goal setting and goal acheiving. It is a topic of great interest to me and I have spent years reading books and articles and listening to cassette tapes on the subjects. I have read and listened to Brian Tracy, Tom Hopkins, and Zig Ziglar to name a few popular speakers and a bunch you have probably not heard of. Leadership and motivation are important to our lives and my goal is to encourage people and plant the seeds of leadership in them and help it grow.
Business Unusual is subtitled Business, Technology and Life because it is my place for things that fit into those categories. I am in the technology business which covers two of the three and the last one is obvious. If you prowl by categories, you will see the way I think about them. It is the accumulation of 18 months of blogging and has all the posts from former blogs, “What a Country” and “Have a Great Day” in this one location. While moving the posts from the other blogs, and re-reading the posts, the name Business Unusual seemed to be the perfect fit.
Letters to Mom is dedicated to my Mom and others who are latecomers to the computer age. The basics are covered in “plain English” with pictures, and step-by-step instructions for regular tasks.