Thursday, January 31, 2008

Use Office Live Workspace or Google Docs, or both?

I just signed up for Microsoft's Office Live Workspace, which enables you to store office docs online and share them with whom you see fit. Currently,I use Google Docs Beta for publishing, in fact I use a lot of App Gadgets on my google page, Blog Reader, wikipedia and Linkedin and Google Analytics for Adwords and my Blog. But despite the availablity of online competitors I still use Microsoft Office for documentation writing, which still is a lot more usable than the online products.
On using the Live Workspace, its quickly apparent the Google Document Manager is more mature, its easier to share the document in less steps and the UI feels more cleaner and less cluttered.
I do like the Desktop sharing function in Office Live WorkSpace, very handy for presentations along with the ability to create Workspaces for different projects and clients. A major benefit also is the inherent offline capability of Office. Google is looking to provide that functionality at some point, but its not there yet, either way Microsoft Office will still have more functionality and usability.

I will continue to use Google Docs for sharing, but as Office Live Workspace continues to evolve I will probably use that when appropriate also.

Thats the beauty of Utility Computing, you can pick and choose who and what you use, you can choose to switch or you can decide that both offer benefits and you will utilize both when appropriate.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My favorite Google App is now a Windows Desktop App

I am a very heavy user of Instant Messaging tools.
At any one time I may have Skype open for voice and chatting to 2 or 3 people in New Zealand, Windows Live Messenger chatting with our offshore team in India, the implementation team in Chicago and Live Video call with my nephew, I also have been using Google Chat embedded in Gmail.

I can now add another to this list. I installed Google Talk Beta for the web (on my igoogle dashboard which is pretty cool way to chat) and the Windows version onto the desktop.

I am a little disappointed with the web based version as it appears to be a little sluggish and obviously lacks the voice call features of the windows version, but I am most impressed with the desktop version. Because its beta, functionality is not quite up there when compared to its more mature competitors. But the user experience is very intuitive, it looks pretty without too much clutter, responds well and it has a cool VoiceMail feature!!

Google has done a good job outside of the browser with this app. Their simple,uncrowded approach inside of the browser translates well to the desktop, but now with the superior response and accessibility of a desktop application.

I still believe the desktop will continue to be a major player even in the dominant arena of SaaS and Utility Computing. Perhaps there's something to Software + Services.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Complex Software Licensing drives companies to SaaS

I've blogged previously about how SaaS pricing should be as simple as possible and that SaaS is generally associated with a simple and easy to understand subscription based pricing model. There is good reason for this.

I've heard talk of including annual maintenance, upgrades and server hosting as invoice line items in customer billing. Which just adds unneeded confusion to something which is elegant in its simplicity.

Why should you keep it simple? Because you gain a primary competitive advantage over traditional software licensing.

A recent article in InformationWeek , titled "Software Licenses Are Too Costly And Complex, Survey Says",

provides evidence from a Forrester report, that customers are frustrated by traditional software vendor's licensing policies.

The article writes that

Forrester recently surveyed 25 customers of large software companies and 215 business and IT professionals. Eleven of the 25 big software customers complained that license agreements are too complex and maintenance fees are too high, according to the report by analysts Ray Wang and Elisse Gaynor

and finishes with

But Forrester is optimistic about the future. Growing interest in software as a service will force providers of traditionally licensed software to change their ways. The pay-as-you-go SaaS model "will give business owners a taste of streamlined, more easily consumed licensing," Forrester predicts, noting that SaaS also typically comes with a bundled license, maintenance, and upgrade package. Customers will "gain more interest in and grow more vocal for simplistic and holistic approaches to usage-based pricing agreements," the analysts predict.

As a SaaS vendor, it may be tempting to try to pass on costs of server hosting and R and D to the customer but ultimately that is unnecessary. In fact you dramatically increase the risk of driving customers away and increasing your "churn".

As more customers sign up and renew the following year,the SaaS Multi-Tenancy benefits that we are all familiar with, ease of upgrading software, efficient server utilization, reduced support requirements, reduced cost of ownership, all eventually drive marginal costs of new customer provisioning right down to an insignificant amount.

The Forrester Report is proof that customers want the simplified approach of SaaS pricing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Microsoft, a Social Network giant

Computerworld reports today that Microsoft is to join the Web 2.0 data portability group whose members already include representatives from Google, Facebook and LinkedIn and Yahoo.

The interesting quotes from this article include

Microsoft is a stealth social networking giant, with more than 400 million users with accounts at Hotmail, Windows Live Messenger or both, according to an interview late last week with Adam Sohn, a director in Microsoft's online services business.


According to Nielsen Online, visit statistics from last August, 2 Windows Live Spaces and MSN Groups together make Microsoft the second-largest social networking provider, behind MySpace but ahead of Facebook and Classmates Online as well as Google and Yahoo's efforts.

We don't normally associate Microsoft with Web 2.0, but these statistics and Microsoft's B2B SaaS initiatives (Or using MS speak "Software + Services") indicate that Microsoft is still a force to be reckoned with and should not be underestimated in the Web 2.0 and SaaS arena.

Monday, January 14, 2008

SaaS meets Social Networks

Last last year,The Unreasonable Men wrote a short series of posts discussing the convergence of SaaS and Social Networks and whether they are actually becoming the same thing. An interesting article was published today in Infoworld which announced that SuccessFactors, a Talent Management SaaS company which recently IPO'ed

is using Facebook to allow a richer employee profile that goes beyond the structured data that is typically captured in a HCM (human capital management) service, according to Jim Holinchek, a senior analyst with Gartner.

I also believe Microsoft is planning to do a similar thing with CRM 4.0.

It will be interesting to see how things pan out here. I know myself and colleagues I have discussed this with like to keep a distinct barrier between personal and work networks. Sometimes they happen to overlap but that is by choice not by default.
I am not sure if employees will want their facebook information used in a business context. Even if there is an "opt out" option there could still be pressure to permit the link to occur from your employer.

Will this type of convergence be common in 2008 and will it be a success? We shall see.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Technical Support for SaaS Applications?

Jeff Kaplan just posted on the changes required for the sales and support models for On Demand Applications. I previously posted on how Selling to SMBs requires a lower cost approach, which supports what Jeff writes on Sales Strategies in the on demand world.

What piqued in my interest further in Jeff's post was his valid points about supporting an On Demand application.

Jeff writes

Similarly, the support function also changes in the on-demand world. Rather than rely on technical support to react to problems implementing and maintaining software, customers expect their on-demand solutions to be easy to deploy and administer.

In a previous lifetime, I was involved in a non SaaS organization where there were 3 levels of technical support all directly visible to the customer.

1. End User phone help desk
2. 2nd Tier support for Customer Administrators and for the data
3. 3rd Tier support handling Software problems and deploying emergency patches to all customers.

Major investment in Phone, Call Distribution, Server Access, remote control software (Webex/Goto Meeting subscriptions), People for multiple support shifts, and intensive training add significantly to the cost of running a traditional software business.

Add to this problems of high staff turnover, miscommunications, local language requirements (especially if outsourcing help desk functions) and Technical Support is a significant burden for both the ISV and the customer.

This extremely high cost and human resource intensive approach to support while necessary for a Non-SaaS ISV is deprecated in the SaaS and Web 2.0 world.

With a SaaS Single instance approach to the application with availability over the internet, direct phone support for day to day users is essentially eliminated due to the following

  1. Hardware compatibility, software installation, database corruptions, Versioning problems are non issues in the SaaS world.
  2. A consistent User interface reduces training costs and on the phone training support.
  3. Because of the multi-tenant nature of SaaS, a user supported forum and Wiki is more likely to provide a solution to any problems a user may have.

You could also add a "Self Service web portal" which takes a user through a set of diagnostic steps for the most common problems a user may experience for example it could run diagnostics on your browser and check for security settings. If your business is such that you require person to person contact, a Chat function in your application is a more efficient mechanism,

This non-intrusive approach results in lower operating costs for the vendor which leads to maintainable low subscription costs for the customer. It also reduces the likelihood of customer dissatisfaction caused by communication issues with a Help desk and the inconvenience of having to call a help desk number numerous times and trying to talk to the person who was helping you previously.