BT and Microsoft on Wednesday launched a web-based applications platform for SMEs.
As revealed on ZDNet UK two months ago, BT Applications Marketplace is a service that allows independent software vendors (ISVs) to market their hosted applications directly to small-business customers using Microsoft's Connected Services Framework.
Applications Marketplace uses a means of delivery known as software as a service (SaaS). SaaS is an alternative distribution method to the traditional model of applications being bought and then installed on a company's own systems. Instead, the customer uses the application, which is hosted elsewhere, through their internet connection. This usually involves subscribing to the service, rather than buying the application outright.
The proponents of SaaS claim that this means lower risk for the user, as they can try out a service without committing to it in the long term, and the application can be upgraded on the host server without each user having to upgrade it themselves. However, critics point out that using SaaS necessarily implies faith in the security and reliability of the vendor's chosen hosting service.
SaaS is a burgeoning market, as shown by Salesforce.com's recent decision to allow developers to build and market their applications independently of the vendor's core CRM products, yet still sell them through its platform.
On Tuesday, BT announced a major internal reorganisation that is designed to make it easier for the telco to develop and roll out new web-based applications. Applications Marketplace is part of BT's £8m investment in delivering SaaS.
"The business market is diverse, with wide-ranging requirements. ISVs are great at understanding the challenges small businesses face, and developing specialist applications to help solve them, but often find it difficult to get a foothold in the market. With BT Applications Marketplace, we're bringing together the ISV and small-business communities, to help developers sell their products and enable end-users to get the benefit from the latest on-demand applications," said Bill Murphy, managing director of BT Business.
BT's model is to allow ISVs to build a sales site, which can be used to market new applications to SMEs. Many of these applications will be subscription-based and hosted.
End-users can send feedback and ratings to BT Business, who will then pick applications to become part of its "Ideas Lab", which it describes as a "software incubator programme". Selected partners from that programme will see their products developed further, with a view to inclusion in BT's own product portfolio.
A series of BT and Microsoft-sponsored "mash-up" competitions will see developers merging BT's APIs with other web-based applications in the hope of winning prizes of up to $25,000 (£12,500).
Also on Wednesday, BT officially launched its social-networking site for small businesses. BT Tradespace offers templates to let small businesses set up an online presence, complete with blogging and search optimisation.