In the cloud computing era, just about every small/medium-sized business task has a cloud-based solution. There's simply no longer any need to own a server, and purchasing desktop software should be the exception and not the rule.
I don't make this statement lightly—I actually live it in my company, enStratus. I thought I'd share how we run our business on cloud services.
Core Business Software
The most critical application for most businesses is the financial software it uses. I was a prisoner to QuickBooks for a long time until I discovered Xero. Xero is almost everything a SaaS SMB finance package should be. It costs about as much as paying for one QuickBooks license each year, supports multiple users, and even does some things QuickBooks doesn't.
After your finance software comes the core business productivity software: email, calendar, documents, spreadsheets, and general collaboration. Google Apps for Business does all of the above well, an it costs only $5/user/month (or free if you don't care about support).
The calendaring piece of Google Apps for Business works well for internal organizational calendaring. While certainly better for scheduling meetings with external parties than the enterprise mainstays Exchange and Notes, it's still fairly weak in that area. That's where the free service Tungle comes in.
With Tungle, you can provide a unified view of all calendars you might have (I actually have three different calendars) and enable individuals to schedule meetings with you just by giving out your Tungle URL. They view a list of your available times and then book your calendar. Perhaps more important, you can propose a meeting with multiple individuals (none of whom need Tungle accounts), and each attendee can "paint in" their availability.
No more back-and-forth scheduling multi-organization meetings!
With your internal systems in order, the next thing you need is a way to track your customers and prospects. SalesForce.com is the poster child for SaaS software and a must-have component to any SMB software infrastructure. It enables you to enter in leads, keep track of your pipeline, and manage your entire customer lifecycle. It even has a very simple tool for capturing leads directly from your web site.
SalesForce.com has price points that match every size of business. Licensing options range from the cheap-end CRM on-demand to full web service integration capabilities.
Beyond being a SaaS-based CRM system, SalesForce.com is also a complete eco-system of software products, many of which are aimed at the SMB.
Speaking of your web site, you should never be executing campaigns that lead people to your home page. Successful marketing campaigns draw people to focused landing pages with a coherent message and specific call to action. Valtira is an on-demand landing page solution that enables you to rapidly build campaign-specific landing pages without mucking with the complex workflows of a content management system or impacting your core web site. Like SalesForce.com, it has price points to match all business sizes.
Disclosure: I own a minority stake in Valtira.
Successful marketing has full awareness of the impact of your campaigns, how successful landing pages are, and what people are doing on your web site. Google Analytics is a free software tool that integrates with Valtira as well as most content management systems and blogging tools to provide you with the ability to slice and dice your web site, blog, and landing page traffic.
At enStratus, we use some other tools specific to our role as a software company.
Most people don't consider how important it is to have your help desk infrastructure be separate and distinct from your core enterprise infrastructure. After all, it's when your systems are completely inaccessible that it's most important for your customers to reach you. enStratus uses Zendesk to provide on-demand help desk software. enStratus customers can fill out trouble tickets, track progress against those tickets, and access a variety of customer knowledge bases in an infrastructure managed by Zendesk.
When it comes to credit card processing, most SMBs either avoid accepting online credit cards or engage in risky behavior hoping the PCI people don't come after them. As an SMB, you can accept credit cards online—even for recurring or subscription charges—and be PCI compliant using a credit card processing service like Aria.
enStratus staff use Replicon for time tracking. It enables you to establish different staff bill rates for different projects and supposedly integrates with QuickBooks, though we obviously don't use QuickBooks.
enStratus follows an Agile software development process and we've recently begun using Pivotal Tracker to manage that process. The verdict is still out on whether it will succeed for our needs, but we did look at a number of options in this space. My gut feeling is that the ideal solution is Pivotal Tracker working together with AgileZen. We really liked AgileZen's user interface and sprint management capabilities, but it lacked the planning capabilities of Pivotal Tracking.
What We Own
We actually own some servers, but they are related to running the enStratus service. Part of the enStratus value proposition is that our software is monitoring the clouds we manage. We can't very well monitor those clouds from inside the target clouds, therefore our business demands that we own those servers. If we were just about any other kind of SaaS business, however, we could run our servers in the cloud using an Infrastructure as a Service provider like Amazon Web Services, Cloud Central, GoGrid, Microsoft Azure the Rackspace Cloud, ReliaCloud, or Terremark.
We still have some licensed desktop software:
- People in the organization charged with writing proposals have Microsoft Office licenses. Google Apps for Business, however, minimizes the need for everyone in the organization to have copies of Office on the computers.
- UI developers get copes of Photoshop.
- Some developers use Eclipse, some use IntellJ.
- Most developers and QA staff have VMwareFusion with various testing operating systems installed.