There are dozens of flavors of clever applications aimed at the office productivity market, often spawned as a result of the Web 2.0 explosion.
Where the Web 2.0 application market is driven by eyeballs and their resulting advertising monetization, the enterprise 2.0 space is primarily focused on productivity. Here the product profit model is driven by revenue from business users who integrate the tool into their workflow.
There are essentially three options for integration of these tools into the business: owning physical hardware behind the company firewall, hosting in remote server clouds, and software as a service, which is a subscription model.
A very mature and powerful player in the SaaS (software as a service) space is QuickBase, a powerful online project and process management system created by Intuit, a powerhouse in the accounting and tax software world.
QuickBase is a Web-based collaborative database application that allows business people to create their own custom applications without writing code. It is now a well established online product – a 'database reinvented for the Web' – hosted by Intuit and sold by subscription. QuickBase has more than 320,000 paid seats (and 33,000 unpaid) and more than 50 of the Fortune 100 use it for Project, Supply Chain and/or Sales Team Management, amongst other uses.
The entire Intuit operation, including external partners and agencies, runs on 33,000 seats internally and forms the collaboration backbone of their entire enterprise, so this is a case of a vendor utilizing their product in a genuine enterprise environment.
A common criticism of enterprise 2.0 applications by IT professionals – whose remit is to man the firewalls and protect company secrets – is their lack of credible security features.
Intuit enjoys an excellent reputation for security with its associated online financial products: accounting package 'QuickBooks' and U.S. tax filing software 'TurboTax'. QuickBase builds on this credible foundation (in fact it uses same data center that processed 16.8 million tax returns through TurboTax this year) and also offers an Enterprise Edition that enables visibility into IP filtering, LDAP integration and other common security concerns. In my opinion, this alone puts QuickBase in a different class to other vendors – Intuit is unparalleled in passing large scale sensitive financial data through the Internet. This experience and competency is a welcome example of excellent SaaS security standards, which are much higher than companies spending millions on their own server farms and associated DMZ's and other security measures.
Complimenting this citadel of security, Intuit is in closed beta with a sophisticated QuickBase Developer Program, which promises to really ramp up flexibility and interaction with other applications, including Intuit’s small business accounting package, QuickBooks. Adding sophisticated Flex user interfaces for customer front-ends and mashing up other 2.0 applications on the QuickBase foundation will provide a formidable ecosphere for development of scalable enterprise infrastructure.
The developer platform allows developers to create web apps that are marketed to the 25 million+ employees that work at businesses that use QuickBooks. It’s a huge market opportunity and will also leverage Intuit’s existing marketplace for QuickBooks add-ons.
The free program (developers are only charged when apps sell) is designed so to enable focus on development work and not infrastructure configuration, because Intuit handle their authentication and permissions, database management, e-mail notifications, reporting, etc.
The videos on this page clearly outline the use case for this extensibility.
Another area where Intuit is a world leader is in providing consumer-quality help files and training materials for their complex financial products. Given the complexity of project management and associated software this understanding and ability to create quality training is a valuable asset.
Along with Salesforce.com, Intuit QuickBase is the heavyweight in the enterprise SaaS space. With the economic challenges posed by challenging global economic conditions these are highly credible solutions to migrating to subscription based architecture for greater flexibility and major IT physical infrastructure cost savings.
The specific collaboration and project management strengths shown by QuickBase are mature and impressive, and is a very good fit for certain business segments.
A different flavor of the 'Sofware as a Service' model is Etelos, who provide marketplace, applications and platform as a service, all under one roof (or browser window...). By aiming to provide a complete commerce engine, Etelos offer an online 'shopping mall' for buying, selling and distributing Applications.
Customer Relationship Management (Marketing, Sales and Tool Kits), Enterprise resource planning, (HR, BEP,BI & Accounting) Collaboration (Project Management and More) and Office Suite (Word-processing and Spreadsheets) are offered as on demand licensing.
Flexible billing models, cross-application synchronization, host anywhere, quick and easy scaling and the ability to use applications both on-line and off-line are all components of the smorgasbord of Etelos offerings.
The intent is to provide the underlying architecture to serve enterprises such as British Telecom who use the platform to make it simple for developers to consume Web Services exposed by BT, in this case their Web21C SDK set of libraries.
This marketplace driven approach is intended to provide not only infrastructure to enterprises, but also sales channels.
These approaches by Intuit and Etelos are examples of the reach and maturity of 'Software as a Service' around collaboration initiatives. While QuickBase provides great vertical depth and experience in the project management space, Etelos offers an alternative to the salesforce.com model for modular building block apps to create flexible, on demand infrastructure.
The next twelve months will be particularly interesting as we see the extent to which SaaS makes increased inroads into enterprise collaboration. If Intuit QuickBase is trusted by half the Fortune 100 with their data, some IT department justifications for huge budgets to protect data on physical servers behind firewalls is likely to be significantly tested in the coming months.