The enterprise juggernauts in the Enterprise resource planning (ERP) space are duking it out in rapidly changing business conditions - SAP are offering packages of applications with zero percent financing, Oracle are on the acquisition trail, buying regulatory compliance rules company Haley, their tenth buy this year - in an effort to keep momentum.
Small to medium sized businesses are really getting squeezed in the credit crunch, and they are the farm league the bigger players expect to feed their future growth.
In North America Intuit are a dominant player in accounting and tax packages for small and medium businesses: the TurboTax tax filing software franchise is tied closely into Quicken and QuickBooks, highly popular accounting packages which have a global reach.
A lot of small businesses are run on QuickBooks, so Intuit's ramping up of QuickBase, their web-based collaborative database application that allows business people to create their own custom applications without writing code, is getting more and more intriguing.
I was recently a judge on a QuickBase application competition run by Intuit for their developers. I saw an intriguing cross section of small business problems solved by brand new, recently developed applications that tied into the larger Intuit ecosphere.
Simple, low seat license cost applications that talk to your existing data to provide appropriate organization and filtering were the basis for various examples.
Ingenious mash ups of online maps with GPS devices and geocoding location to provide sales call routes and other visualized data, online event organization and ticket selling, workflow management, lightweight content management and other useful looking tools were presented, most of which clearly had immediate utility, took advantage of the Adobe Flex user interface. Box.net showed a very neat integration of their collaboration & file management tools.
The constellation of applications being developed around QuickBase are largely practical, utilitarian tools that will help overstretched small businesses get more done in very challenging economic times.
While this relatively lightweight set of components is unlikely to keep ERP strategic planners in the big vendors awake at night worrying about the challenges they pose to them, they are likely to help the small business owner sleep better.
Empowering the local nursing home or florist chain to collaborate effectively with cloud based apps with seat licenses costing single digits is going to have a transformative effect on online tool usage, and some of the Flex user interface work I saw puts the big vendor's clunkier legacy offerings to shame...
One of the questions I asked all entrants: can I import and export my data? No matter the size of your operation having a backup of your data is critical, whether you're using your own media or the cloud. ("Put all your eggs in one basket and WATCH THAT BASKET!" - Mark Twaine...)
This week's SalesForce DreamForce event throws the Intuit offering into perspective, dwarfing the QuickBase user community. I'm intrigued, though, by Intuit's tremendous success as a hugely successful cloud vendor.
Think about it: huge numbers of people now trust Intuit with their sensitive financial information in web based tax and accounting applications, 15 million by this reckoning.
Intuit can make a credible case for being the most security conscious - and the most trusted - cloud vendor, pushing forward earlier this year with successful promotion of the concept that the cloud is the safest place for sensitive data.
It's going to be interesting to see if they can parlay this reputation with the financial community into an offering that comes anywhere near to the SalesForce environment with broader cloud offerings...