IT-free business automation

If you’re the sort of director that doesn’t want an IT department, yet wants to do reasonably smart things with computers, you may want to consider using hosted software services. They …

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5th March 2007 at 8:00 am

If you’re the sort of director that doesn’t want an IT department, yet wants to do reasonably smart things with computers, you may want to consider using hosted software services. They are often, but not always, described as ‘Software as a Service’, or SaaS.

To take a very recent example, BT has announced a service called Workspace. It provides your staff with the means to manage projects, themselves and internal company activities. The company has another project on the boil called Tradespace, with which you can create a public web presence. (It is expected to go live in April.) Both Workspace and Tradespace are being provided by US company SMBlive.

The important aspect of SaaS for the IT-infrastructure-averse SME director is that BT takes care of all the awkward stuff, like backups, software upgrades and system maintenance. All you have to do is equip your computers with a browser and internet access, then each can connect to the Workspace.

You can experiment with Workspace at no charge. No upfront credit card, just get started. This is good for two users and a certain amount (not huge, admittedly) of storage. Okay, since you ask, it’s 10MB. (I didn’t want to get into jargon.) Once you go beyond two users, it’s £7.50 per user per month.

You’ll find a lot of SaaS suppliers will offer a free service and then invite you to pay more for extra facilities. It’s a good way to get you hooked. And, it has to be said, a good way for you to find out if the service is to your taste. Some ask you for money from the start. Twinfield, an online accounting service, has an interesting billing mechanism based on a hierarchy of user roles. Each is billed according to the highest role they attain during any month.

The poster-child for the SaaS movement is Salesforce.com, founded in 1999. It specialises in customer relationship management software and kicks off at $65 per user per month.

The theory with all SaaS software is that you get going quickly, without hassle and with an overall cost of ownership below what you’d spend going it alone. The fear of most business owners is that these ‘per user’ monthly fees can quickly mount, if the service catches the imagination of their staff.

Please comment on the blog (good or bad) if you feel so moved. And, if you want to write to me directly – to suggest topics you’re interested in perhaps, then feel free to use: davidsbb AT tebbo DOT com.

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David Tebbutt is an award-winning columnist and feature writer who specialises on the subject of using software and technology to increase business productivity. He's an analyst with Freeform Dynamics but, in previous lives, wrote for Director magazine, Real Business and was also editor of Personal Computer World. http://freeformdynamics.com

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  1. David Terrar says:

    Hi David,
    Many thanks for the mention of Twinfield. Across all of our territories around Europe we have 22,000 subscribers and rising.

    You would point people to the current pricing page, which is a little complex without explanation. We’re just doing a major site revamp, so it will clearer in a few weeks. Basically you’ve got plenty of choice to match the price you pay to the level of Twinfield functionality you use, rather than shoehorning a user in to 1, 2 or 3 price points as most of our competitors do. If you get Twinfield via one of our certified accountants it’s cheaper, because your users are (securely) added to their environment so you can collaborate with your business advisor. If you want Twinfield by yourself (with no accountant help), then your first user is a full function £52 per month user, which pays for your own set up. The rest are whatever they need to be. Via the accountant, only you and they can access your company, as well as any users you want to set up (maybe including your partners and customers for selected information).

    You readers should contact us through the Twinfield website if they want to know more.

  2. Matt Howard says:

    Hi David:

    Thanks for the mention of SMBLive http://www.smblive.com and our parnership with BT. You may already know this — but i just wanted to clarify that BT Tradespace is already live today in Beta 2.0 form. One can learn more and signup for their free site here http://www.bttradespace.com

  3. Sorry to point to your worst page, David. It just happened to be the only one with pricing information on it.

    The link I gave for Tradespace was the beta one, even though I didn’t realise anyone could sign up.

    Thank you both for writing.

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