Small Businesses Serve Small Businesses Best?

In a recent article at eWeek, Nathan Eddie wrote about a very interesting survey conducted by online marketer WebVisible. They survey found that 83% of consumers surveyed prefer smaller, local companies to larger chains due to lesser prices, higher quality goods and more personalized service.

Although the survey wasn’t conducted with the online business collaboration market in mind, the conclusion applies.

In a market dominated by Google and Microsoft, and their ability to monopolize airwaves, we found that one of our major unique selling propositions was the ability to offer personalized services, being a small business. We found that a certain segment, the small business consumer segment, especially valued this.

Google and Microsoft claim to be “everything for everyone” – the two are having a well-chronicled battle for the enterprise segment, and at the same time regularly talk about being imminently interested in the SMB segment. But their business model, and size, doesn’t allow for them to offer truly “personalized” services – hand hold customers with free training and consultation to get them started; have real people around to call when issues arise; allow for exceptions; or offer concessions and be flexible in diverse business situations.

All this is especially important for cash constrained smaller businesses which may not have an in house IT department. Offering such services to millions of consumers is not viable for mega businesses, which is why they cultivate a vast network of resellers and MSPs.

Similar themes are discussed in other articles I have come across recently. Keith Farrell asks the all-important question in his recent article – considering the multi-billion dollar size of the enterprise market, does Google even want your small business buck?

Phil Whitewright in an article last year titled “Web giants and the helpless individual” speaks about the frustration faced by users of big business web products experiencing mission critical problems.

With the inherent difference in the negotiating power of a small business user, and that of a mega firm with millions of similar small business users, such situations are bound to arise.

Veteran Saas Collaboration Software Suite releases biggest upgrade ever

Today marks a major milestone in our company history, as we release a modern interface built with on AJAX. This release is a culmination of more than a few years of feedback from hundreds of thousands of our customers. As of today our flagship product, HyperOffice Collaboration Suite has two versions available simultaneously, referred to as the Classic version and the Modern version.  We expect that some of our customers have become accustomed to the Classic version and may not need the additional features which the new version affords, and will continue to support the classic version for the foreseeable future.

So what’s new? Here are some highlights, or you can check out this video.

– Modern Intuitive Design and User Interface

– New Color Calendar System

– Simple Customization and Branding

– Easier Administration and Onboarding

– Robust Project Management System

– New Wiki and Site Publisher

What did we do differently this time?

Since our humble beginnings in 1998, the way teams collaborate has undergone many transformations. As our target customers, small businesses and distributed teams, began to embrace new ways to work, we added new capabilities to our core messaging and collaboration suite. For example wikis became popular, and we added group wikis, people wanted more sophisticated project management tools,  so we beefed that up, road warriors wanted calendars and emails pushed to their mobile devices, so we rolled out HyperSynch, web conferencing became the norm, in comes HyperMeeting.

As you can imagine when you make so many improvements incrementally things may not gel as well as they could. 3 years ago we took a fresh look at our product and began planning for these developments. Along the way we proactively collected feedback from our customers on improvements which needed to be made. With today’s version, you will notice a fully integrated suite of collaboration and messaging tools that fit together elegantly , while being the most comprehensive in the market and simple to use.

Once we re-architected HyperOffice from the ground up, we interviewed customers, went on a many road trips to meet our clients in person.  We also stood up a Product Development Committee which is exclusively made up of customers who we meet with on a regular basis. They help us prioritize our roadmap, get specific feedback on features, designs, etc. Lastly, we spent 6 months in beta on the new version.

So here we are. A new and improved collaboration suite from one of the first SaaS companies in the market, laser focused on collaboration software and meeting the unique needs of the small medium sized businesses.  We thank our loyal customers tremendously for believing in our product, our company, and being so innovative to embrace the cloud before the tipping point as cloud computing moves into the masses.

We are proud to make such significant improvement without having to charge our customers a dollar more for all the new features or move to the new version. I think this is one of the most incredible things about the SaaS model.  It just gets better over time – for free!

Over the summer you will see more improvements aimed at helping customers adopt our product easier with usability improvements and adding customer requested features every couple months.

6 Essential Collaboration Software Tools

puzzlehandshake-300x230pxAlmost every passing day, someone launches a new solution under the banner of “collaboration software” adding to the myriad solutions already in the market, most of which are about as similar as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Besides there is a lot of high level, almost academic talk of the growing importance of  “real time” collaboration, “social software”, and “emergent structures”.  All this makes sense, as we have to wrap our minds around the dynamic forces at play in the business world, and find new ways to conceptualize and make sense of these forces.

But a no nonsense, pragmatic, on-the-ground picture also makes sense. This is because all the high level talk is not understandable to small business users, nor do they have the time and inclination to find out.

This blog post lists out the collaboration software tools that teams around the world are using in their day-to-day activities, tools which are easily recognizable and widely acknowledged for their effectiveness. These are: –

Email. Email has weathered recent attempts (read Google Wave) to topple it from its coveted position of the most loved software tool of information workers. In spite of being the grand daddy of software tools, email continues to be a big hit with teams. Almost everyone uses email to communicate, discuss issues, send files back and forth, manage tasks etc. A Jan 2010 study by Cisco found that 91 percent of the respondents use email most frequently for collaborating with others.

It is a different question whether or not email is the most efficient tool for collaboration, but try telling that to its fan base!

Document Collaboration. Documents are indeed at the heart of every company’s processes. Everything in organizations – orders, contracts, product design, specifications, marketing materials, policies, procedures, and strategies – is captured in a document of some kinds. To effectively manage documents, a company needs to achieve the following:-

–    To organize, store, secure, and backup documents.
–    To access them, and be able to sort and search information as needed.
–    Control who has access to which documents and what they can do with them.
–    To enable workers to work together on the same document.

A document management system enables a company to do the above.

Shared Workspaces. Shared workspaces are a virtual hub where each team can access team-related information. It is a combination of HTML pages and collaboration tools where team members can access and share files, coordinate schedules, manager joint tasks, have discussions and where team managers can publish announcements and share policy documents etc. Not only do shared workspaces help teams work better, they also serve as a forum where team members can be motivated and team spirit fostered.

Task Management. Scattered teams need a way to manage joint tasks where the efforts of team members have inter dependencies. Task management tools help a manager keep track of tasks and projects where he/she can assign tasks and responsibilities, set timelines, set sequences of activities, attach resources that will be needed for the tasks and track progress.

Task management tools also encourage transparency and allow a central view into team tasks where everyone can see what everyone else is doing.

IM. Sometimes team members across locations need to discuss issues in real time and need instantaneous inputs from others. IM or instant messaging allows team members to exchange text messages in real time.

Web Conferencing. The above collaboration tools all have their usefulness, but no team can completely do away with the human touch. But on the other hand, with globally scattered teams it may not be viable for everyone to meet in person.

Web conferencing or online meetings enable teams to interact using voice, video and other conferencing tools.  Team members can use their computer or phone to have virtual conferences on the go with large or small groups. This helps in team building, motivating employees and brainstorming issues. Tools like screen sharing, application sharing, file distribution etc. help make web meetings more effective. People also use web conferencing to hold virtual training sessions or sales seminars where anybody can listen in and participate even while sitting at home.

Traditionally, the above tools have been offered as separate solutions. But today, the thrust is towards integrated solutions where users can find all their tools in a single, convenient place, and benefit from data flowing freely between different tools. HyperOffice also aims at bringing such integrated solutions to its small business customers.

SharePoint 2010 and Growing Businesses

ms2010It is usual for all Microsoft launches to be associated with a lot of hoopla and fanfare. A similar scene precedes the soon to come Microsoft launch of its 2010 series – SharePoint 2010, Exchange 2010 and Office 2010. A recent report on SharePoint 2010 by Forrester cut through the talk and came out with a rather strong conclusion – SharePoint 2010 may be overkill for some.

The exact phrasing of that conclusion evoked a kind of sense of deja vu here at HyperOffice. Isn’t it what we have been saying for SharePoint for years?

First, the report.

The new version of SharePoint has greatly bolstered its cloud capabilities and web 2.0 features, areas in which SharePoint was traditionally lagging.

According to Rob Koplowitz, a principal analyst at Forrester and author of the report, SharePoint 2010 is “evolving  SharePoint beyond its server application role to become a full-fledged platform reaching from the intranet to the cloud and out onto developers’ palettes.”

Sounds great?

Well, not if you are not looking for an application development platform, but looking for a set of tools, which will allow distributed teams to collaborate and work better.

Rob advices that new users should evaluate the software’s feature set and make sure it is not overkill. He says that SharePoint 2010 “can be a hammer, but not everything is nail.” He concludes that SharePoint 2010 is likely not a fit for those with basic needs.

This applies especially to growing businesses, which don’t have a complex technological landscape, have a small or no IT department, and need to enable their teams without going to through long and winding learning curves. They need a plug and play toolkit which helps them work together better (file storage and collaboration, wikis, intranet workspaces, task management, online meetings etc), as well as tools to help improve productivity (shared calendars, address books, email, to-do lists, email, mobile access to corporate data etc). At the same time, these companies need a certain degree of customization, which they can easily accomplish without much expertise.

HyperOffice’s web based total collaboration software approach suits this segment perfectly, which is why we have been positioning ourselves for this segment for years as a “Sharepoint Alternative” for growing businesses.

Although SharePoint 2010 is a lot more web savvy than its predecessor, its target audience seems to remain the same – large enterprises with a complex technological context and highly customized needs.  Some other basics of the solution remain the same that make it unsuitable for growing businesses – it’s server based, complex, and more an IT department tool than an end user tool.

HyperOffice Makes Deeper Inroads into Global Collaboration Software Markets

vncNext week we will announce a new partnership with VNC – a European distributor with resellers in Europe, Middle-East and Africa. This partnership represents another important step in gradually building a carefully selected and qualified distribution channel. There has never been any doubt about the importance of a channel to the long term success of HyperOffice. The challenge has been timing and finding the right partners.

Timing

For a partnership to be successful there has to be a viable and sustainable business relationship. In other words our partners have to be successful in generating revenues and profits in order for our partnership to grow and thrive. One way partnerships don’t last long and don’t make economic sense. A few years back when we were exploring different channel models and partnerships we quickly realized that the market was not yet ready for a broad scale push to cloud based collaboration and messaging.

As a result we felt our partners would likely run into undue friction in their sales and marketing efforts. Today, the market has changed dramatically. Cloud based collaboration has moved from a niche technology to mainstream. Businesses of any size and representing any industry are comfortable with this new technology and in most cases interested to learn more. Businesses are looking to their trusted advisors (resellers, consultants, vars…etc) to guide them through their options and to help them benefit from the cloud. Resellers and partners are now in a position where they can choose to embrace this new shift in how technology is sold, delivered and consumed and profit from it.

Right partner

In the traditional software/hardware sales cycle, a reseller’s economic incentive is aligned with the vendor and not the customer’s ROI. In other words the majority of the effort on the reseller’s part is focused on making the initial sale. Once the sale is made the end customer will have to spend time, more money or both to get the technology they just purchased, deployed. Even more troubling is the fact that they are fully invested in that technology and stuck with it.

This model does not work well for most organizations and in particular for smb’s who lack the resources and the time for needs analysis, contract negotiation, large capital expenditure, long term IT planning and deployment. In the cloud model on the other hand the economic incentives for resellers, customers and vendors are all aligned with maximizing customer’s roi and with maintaining it through the life of the relationship. In this new model the customer’s investment in technology is spread over the life of their contract and is not concentrated all upfront. As a result the customer is in control and can cancel a service with minimum downside if they are not happy.  Therefore, the successful reseller will have to adjust their business processes from sales and marketing to support to accommodate customers in this new world. The right partner for us therefore is an organization with:-

1.      An understanding and appreciation for cloud based collaboration

2.      The infrastructure, processes and mindset that can help customers drive value from HyperOffice long after the initial sale has been made

3.   The required credibility to serve as a trusted adviser to their customers and partners

An established distributor in the SaaS and cloud marketplace, VNC offers a deep understanding of the cloud based collaboration market, along with a mature sales and support infrastructure. The executives at VNC have managed to build and operate a thriving distribution business while keeping ahead of the market and identifying the next important trend.

VNC is an ideal partner to take the next step with as we work to continue to build global marketing channels for the new generation of HyperOffice services and technologies.

HyperSynch Mobile Collaboration is a Big Hit

A couple of weeks ago, we launched the beta of HyperSynch, a mobile collaboration service built into our HyperOffice online collaboration software, which allows growing business workers to use their mobile devices to access and collaborate on business information.hypersynch-blog

Mobility is here to stay

HyperSynch was developed as we could clearly see the growing importance of mobile devices in the business context. Apart from our own interactions with our users and the market, this is clearly indicated by recent market studies – A Gartner study predicts that by 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide; According to a recent IDC report ““almost 40 percent of organizations plan to deploy a SaaS-based mobile solution in the next 12–18 months.”

This has been fuelled by changes converging from all directions – advancements in mobile technology; the emergence of powerful and compelling mobile devices such as the iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Nokia etc, and greater bandwidth of net access on mobile devices. But most importantly, it has been fuelled by end business users increasingly wanting to use their mobile devices as a tool to access and collaborate business information.

Market offerings and their shortcomings

Recent times have seen the launch of business mobile apps by large companies attempting to fill this space. Apple launched MobileMe, which allows users to synch personal mail, contacts, calendars etc over the air between their iPhone and desktop. RIM launched BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express, a server based sister of its enterprise solution BES, which allows synchronization with MS Exchange data.

But these solutions suffer from some clear drawbacks, especially from a small business perspective: –

1)    Either they work with a single device and service (MobileMe works only with iPhone and its AT&T web telephony service),
2)    Are simply too expensive from a total cost standpoint (BES Express and MS  Exchange both assume that MS Exchange is installed at the company servers which can cost thousands of dollars in implementation and maintenance)
3)    Allow you to only manage personal information rather than share and collaborate on it with colleagues.

Why the media likes HyperSynch

HyperSynch was launched to fill this glaring gap of a solution which worked across mobile platforms (HyperSynch works with almost every major mobile device in the market including iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Nokia, Windows Mobile and more), was hosted and did not require users to install or maintain anything, was priced reasonably with growing business in mind, and allowed users to share and collaborate with colleagues right from their mobile devices.

As we hoped and expected, HyperSynch was a big hit with the media on its launch, and we got covered and received flattering comments from well known tech journals such as MSPMentor, CMSWire, PCMag, and BusinessComputingWorld.

Here is what some of them had to say:-

“And that’s the real joy of it — companies with even the beta release of HyperSynch won’t have to decide on whether to invest in Blackberry Enterprise Server or Microsoft Exchange Server or MobileMe based on the mobile device their employees are using, as HyperSynch works with them all.” David Roe, CMSWire.com.

“RIM, get ready for a fight: HyperOffice has announced that HyperSynch, an over-the-air push-messaging solution that works as well with the iPhone, the Droid, or even Windows Mobile devices as it does the BlackBerry, has entered beta testing. What’s more, it’s going to be included, gratis, with HyperOffice deployments. Interested?” Matthew Weinberger, MSPMentor.com

“Would especially appeal to growing businesses” Kevin Tea, BusinessComputingWorld.uk

In the larger context of fast evolving mobile business technology and from a capabilities standpoint, industry experts clearly recognize the relevance of HyperSynch.

Mobile collaboration comes to growing businesses

logo“Exchange for the rest of us” was the slogan used to announce MobileMe to the world. It allows users to push email, calendars and contacts to their iPhone without expensive MS Exchange installed on their servers. A relief indeed.

But a few questions arise.

What if you wanted to use a device other than iPhone and allow employees to be able to push corporate email, calendars, contacts or tasks to whichever device they already had, say, a BlackBerry, an iPhone, Windows Mobile, Nokia or any other?

What if you wanted to go beyond accessing and synching personal information, and actually allow your teams to be able to share contacts, calendars and tasks on their mobile phone?

What if you wanted to synch your mobile with your Outlook account, with or without Exchange?

These aren’t questions MobileMe can answer. Not quite “Exchange for the rest of us” then?

HyperSynch – True Mobile Collaboration for Growing Businesses

Today, we announced the beta launch of HyperSynch, a service added to the HyperOffice Collaboration Suite for no extra cost, which allows users to push, synch and share mail, calendars, contacts and tasks across multiple mobiles, PC and Macs.

graphic

HyperSynch is uniquely positioned to empower teams in growing businesses to use their mobile phones as business tools, for the following reasons: –

Bring your own mobile
– HyperSynch can push and synch emails, calendars, contacts and tasks for almost every major mobile phone platform including iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Nokia, Android, Java phones etc. You don’t need to force employees to buy a particular phone, or even procure special business purpose phones.  In all likelihood, HyperSynch will work with the mobile phone everyone already has.

Completely online
– Unlike expensive mobility software like BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) or MS Exchange, which require dedicated hardware, HyperSynch is completely web based – no servers to set up or software to download and install. Exchange and BES for the rest of us?

MobileWe! – Not only can you synchronize personal mail, contacts, calendars and tasks on your mobile phone, you can even share this information with your team! Any edits you make to shared contacts, will be reflected on your teams mobile phones in seconds; set up a group event, and everyone in your team will know, and so on.

Outlook Synchronization – HyperSync also lets you keep your mobile in sync with your Outlook mail, contacts, calendars, tasks and notes. No MS Exchange needed!

Battery Friendly – Regular IMAP/POP3 mobile mail sucks battery life right out of your mobile phone, when it queries the mail server every few minutes. HyperSynch puts the energy-onus on the server, as information is pushed only when it is updated.

Mobile Collaboration – Since HyperSynch is built into HyperOffice, you also get the benefit of HyperOffice’s award winning online collaboration software features – document storage and sharing, intranet/extranet workspaces, polls, forums, web forms etc. You can access these features right on your mobile browser, in addition to any PC or Mac browser.

See a video demo of what HyperSynch can do for you

Collaboration Software Upped a Notch – All New HyperOffice Now Available

Think we have been adding new features to HyperOffice at a blinding pace (wikis, full document search, publisher, HyperBase) in recent times? Brace yourself.

This Monday, we made available to all customers a re-invigorated, super-charged, eye-candy, ease-enhanced, all-new AJAX version of HyperOffice. This rollout is the culmination of a two year long project incorporating R&D with worldwide HyperOffice users, your invaluable feedback, 10 years of experience working with growing businesses, as well as the latest technological developments and market changes.

The New Look Calendar

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The new version brings a gorgeous re-done interface, new features, more robust existing features, and scores of subtle changes and enhancements across the suite.

It is pertinent to mention that there is more to the new HyperOffice than meets the eye. Beyond apparent feature and cosmetic changes, the back-end sees profound changes as well. The front end is now build in AJAX, the back-end has been shifted to cutting edge Java technology and we have effected far reaching architectural changes.

Apart from giving our users much greater speed and application responsiveness and more tightly integrated features, the new architecture allows us great flexibility and nimbleness to build out the HyperOffice collaboration software platform. This will allow us to quickly add features and functions in response to your feedback and market changes.

Late last year, we had announced a private beta of the new HyperOffice, where a select group of customers and HyperOffice employees tested it rigorously over a period of 10 weeks, fleshed out the bugs and helped streamline the upgraded suite.

We were pleasantly surprised, and the news made a big splash with the media, attracting coverage from mainstream publications like NYTimes, eWeek, ComputerWorld, Cmswire, InfoToday, SmallBusinessComputing and more.

And now, dear customer, the new HyperOffice is ready for you to give a spin.

For those of you who don’t want to jump right into it, the “Change Style” button on the top right allows you to keep using the old version, which has now been rechristened “classic” flavor HyperOffice.

We hope to make the new HyperOffice available to the general public very soon, so keep tuned!

Enough rambling. How about you take a first hand peek at the new HyperOffice yourself below.

New HyperOffice Video

Company.com launches to help small businesses collaborate online via social networking to save money and boost productivity.

company_logo_11_144x81

While social networking has been all the hype lately, it’s not clear/proven how small businesses will put it to work for them. New companies sprout up daily claiming to be experts to help you leverage social networking in your small businesses. Typically they focus on building a message, report, widget, video that will get passed around and people will hear about your business. Others advise you on how to protect you reputation in communities and use communities like LinkedIn to find leads and insert yourself in relevant discussions online.

How many communities can one possibly be active in? There’s no shortage of online communities; Salesforce.com has Chatter, Google just put out Buzz, LinkedIn is my favorite so far, and of course Facebook.

We come back to the question, how can businesses put social networking to work for them. I think Company.com has the answer. What they do different is structure the conversations and match up people so business owners and management can find conversations around their toughest problems. They do this by creating communities with experts they have vetted who contribute with solid advice. I’ve sifted through and have been impressed so far.

Company.com wants to be there for you from cradle to crave, by helping you find information around every step of the small business cycle i.e. how to raise finances, technology advice, how to streamline operations, advice on business strategy, and more.

They are backed by a very experienced management team – In my opinion the single biggest factor to the success of new business ventures. They also bring that human touch to helping businesses save money by vetting vendors, side-by-side comparisons, negotiating the best deal for their members- you- the small business owner. Not just another ad-based non-discriminating aggregator like business.com

They want to “help businesses make money and save money.” We’ll, we’re all for that.
At HyperOffice “ Our mission is to empower growing organizations with technology traditionally available only to large enterprises, and help them achieve business growth, competitive advantage and success.”

You can see why we decided to get behind Company.com and help small businesses compete with more effective and lower cost collaboration software. I hope you’ll check them out, and I look forward to watching them become a household name.

iPad, SaaS and Collaboration

It’s incredibly thin.

So we were repeatedly reminded by Steve Jobs in his famous iPad keynote. Steve Jobs exhausted almost every glowing adjective in the English dictionary in his keynote, and the tech media panned it with almost equal ferociousness. Some say it lacks key features, while others complain about the choice of internet service providers being constrained to AT&T, while yet others rubbish it as an over hyped laptop.

But Apple’s products are known to have staying power in spite of their critics (iPod was lambasted as over hyped, over priced). iPads and iPhones have proved to be massively popular and are a part of many of our lives now.

What does the iPad mean for SaaS and collaboration? Definitely good things. In recent times, forces have conspired to make software-as-a-service the most exciting business technology around – the obvious advantages, greater bandwidths, constrained budgets because of the recession, and to no small extent, the proliferation of internet friendly mobile devices like the iPhone (HyperOffice is iPhone optimized).

The iPad is definitely an additional thrust in that direction.

Sure, the iPad does not have native applications to help with business collaboration. But it is not mainly meant for native apps. The iPad is meant primarily to be a window to the web. A convenient, fun, highly portable window to the web. And that is all SaaS applications need – a device which allows access to the internet.

In its current form, it is more positioned as a device for personal information management. But so was the iPhone. If it catches on, (and Apple devices have a knack of doing that) it will not be long before, like the iPhone, users start looking at the iPad as a device to manage business productivity.

Being lighter and having a considerably longer battery life than a laptop, users have the temptation of carrying it over a laptop, and especially if you can use it to access all your important enterprise and personal applications on the net, why not?