SingTel launches cloud platform

Singapore telecoms provider's Web app platform hopes to pull in more independent software vendors, targeting offerings at small to midsize businesses.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Singapore telecoms operator, SingTel has launched a cloud platform targeted at its business broadband customers.

The platform launched Tuesday, called SingTel Marketplace is intended to offer applications from a host of ISVs (independent software vendors), from small companies to larger software players, including the likes of Microsoft and Salesforce.com.

For now, however, the marketplace launches with seven applications, mostly centered around accounting and human resource management, from smaller ISVs like Singapore-based MecWise. SingTel is expecting to eventually stock 50 or more business applications.

Bill Chang, executive vice president of SingTel's business group, told the media Monday, the number of applications is not expected to hit the thousands, as in consumer-targeted app stores. Business apps tend to be less varied in nature, and SingTel will also focus on a select few apps to populate the marketplace, he said, but did not detail how SingTel would determine which apps make the grade.

Plans to grow software vendors
For smaller ISVs, the Marketplace's value proposition lies in quicker time-to-market, said Chang. The SingTel-branded cloud will help lend its name to ISVs that would otherwise have to invest in reaching out to individual customers, he added.

James Tan, F-Secure's regional director, South East Asia, told ZDNet Asia at the briefing: "When it comes to customer knowledge, SingTel has a better understanding than we do."

The security software company is one of the ISVs coming onboard SingTel's cloud. Integrating with SingTel's platform required "certain software adaptations, and we had to standardize some elements", but it was a "fairly quick" process, said Tan.

As part of a broader plan to grow ISVs, SingTel launches the platform under an initiative it calls the SingTel Innovation Exchange (SiX). The program also pulls in two government agencies, the IDA (Infocomm Development Authority) of Singapore and IE (International Enterprise) Singapore, to help attract and grow more ISVs to produce Web-based apps.

The IDA will help select ISVs to develop software for the platform, while IE Singapore will provide mentoring and business-matching with potential overseas customers to help ISVs go regional, said Chang.

Will businesses bite?
SingTel is not new to the hosted services game. The telco has been offering hosted services for a number of years now, but the marketplace is expected to offer customers more flexibility by allowing them to pick which Web apps they want.

Previously, SingTel's hosted services were a bundled offering, where customers signed on for different tiers of pre-packaged services.

Kenneth Liew, senior market analyst, communications research at IDC Asia-Pacific, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview the new repackaging of services in the Marketplace will likely appeal to customers because it is more customizable.

He added that it will also appeal to the SMB segment "because they have fewer [restrictions] regarding legal and privacy issues", but noted that take-up will not be instant.

"The cloud computing concept is new to the region. It will take education and a lot of marketing," said Liew.

SingTel's Chang said he hopes the Marketplace will gain traction with the region's SMBs (small to midsize businesses) that have been resistant to signing up for apps online. Businesses are billed via their SingTel broadband statement, as opposed to having to put in their credit card details online, he said.

On competition with the likes of Google Apps, Chang said SingTel's apps are more appropriate for the local market. He said its offered payroll application, for example, is localized to suit guidlines of Singapore's retirement fund, CPF (Central Provident Fund), while a U.S.-based app may not offer this feature.

SingTel currently hosts some 50,000 seats from a "few thousand companies" signed onto its hosted services offerings.

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