So much more than software, as a service

The new generation of on-demand vendors growing up to serve the small business market instinctively realizes the benefits of offering on-demand services alongside on-demand applications.

Today, on-demand financials vendor Intacct teamed up with National Bank of California to announce an integrated solution for small businesses. It links electronic banking into Intacct's accounting and supply chain software suite so that customers can, for example, deposit checks electronically and have the cleared funds show up in their cash balances later the same day.

It's yet another example of the trend I've recently highlighted among traditional business services giants, who are teaming up with (and sometimes acquiring) SaaS vendors to enhance their service offerings to customers.

Increasingly, SaaS is transcending the old model of siloed business applicationsThey're not selling software, they're focusing on what customers want to achieve and replacing it with a new end-to-end vision of process automation that teams up software with other corporate resources to deliver a finished business result. This is yet another example of how far behind the game conventional software vendors have fallen. They are still struggling to port their applications to a Web-hosted model and have not even begun to think of how to go about linking up with other on-demand processes. In fact, their conventional way of doing business is to load up all kinds of professional services costs that penalize customers who want to engage in that kind of cross-cutting process integration. They simply do not get it.

Meanwhile, the new generation of on-demand vendors growing up to serve the small business market instinctively realizes the benefits of offering on-demand services alongside on-demand applications. Two other examples crossed my desk recently. One was from Landslide Technologies, a US-based salesforce automation vendor (formerly known as SalesGene), which late last month introduced a subscription service for lone salespeople and entrepreneurs that bundles contact management with a live online personal assistant to take on administrative and call handling tasks, templated sales processes and built-in support for WebEx collaboration services.

The second example was UK-based Winweb, which offers on-demand cash management and financials for sole traders and other micro-businesses. Winweb offers a number of optional services including call answering and diary management, as well as introductions to virtual assistants and online accountants. Company founder Stefan Töpfer recently told me of his ambition to "cut the infant mortality rate of small businesses in the UK" from its current 50% in the first year to nearer 30%. He believes Winweb's free-of-charge cashbook application, access to on-demand assistants that help reduce fixed costs, and online access to professional accounting advice will all add up to a major contribution to small business survival.

Whether it's Intacct and National Bank of California speeding access to cash, Landslide enabling deal-closing processes or Winweb helping small businesses survive those crucial early years, all of these solutions focus on live business results that really matter to their customers. They're not selling software, they're focusing on what customers actually want to achieve. That's a powerful recipe for success.

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