By Hasnain Zaheer
About this e-book
This guide to cloud computing, SaaS and Web hosted business applications for business owners and executives contains:
- An introduction for you to discover and explore cloud / SaaS;
- know about developments that have taken place over the past 5 years; and
- A directory of selected?cloud computing, SaaS and Web hosted business applications.
SaaS (Software as a Service) is a model of deploying a software application whereby it can be used as a service on demand. Because the management of application is moved to the application?s host data centre, you only have to use it ensuring that it is accessed securely. You are not required to host or maintain it on your own servers.
Cloud hosted applications are available for many aspects of your business from accounting to CRM and everything in between. ?Because these applications are available to rent than buy licences, these are often inexpensive and can help established businesses cut costs. More crucially, it can help a start-up-company-operating-on-a-bootstrap-budget to use all the needed applications without breaking their bank.
There are many guides and material on the emerging cloud applications in business but I felt that there is a need for a document that:
- explains the concept of cloud, SaaS and hosted application to business owners and corporate managers clearly;
- points them to comprehensive resources to help them get familiar with the landscape; and
- present a comprehensive list of editor-selected, high quality, hosted products, services and applications.
Please note that this guide is for business owners and corporate managers, not just for IT managers.
SaaS, cloud, hosted, on-demand…why should I care
The epic battle
In the past 15 years, much of the debate in the field of business computing was centred on who will win the battle for computing: the traditional thick-client?approach to computing dominated by Wintel or the challenger network-oriented, thin-client approach
The verdict: Draw.
Both the computing models seems to have survived. Windows 8?running on ever thicker clients co-exists with client-server applications.
But then, a third player entered the field and is set to dominate it soon, leaving both thick client and client-server leaving in its wake.
The dark horse
Mainstream use of Salesforce CRM , increasing popularity of Google Apps? and exploding usage of social networking and content sharing services such as Facebook , Twitter? and Linkedin?has meant that the winning team of Web 2.0 and cloud computing has clouded out everyone else.
The World Wide Web is now mainstream. It has emerged as a key player as much as a range of Web applications , Web 2.0, cloud computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) has changed the rules of the game.
Businesses, whether small or large, new, emerging or established, bricks or clicks based, now have a range of cloud services available to them. Almost all the common applications and functionalities that they desire are within their reach on the cloud. These applications are inexpensive, flexible, and have negligible to low entry costs. In one stroke, these services have further lowered the barriers to their usage by business.
Am I correct in saying that today, you no longer do most of your work on the desktop and then fire up the browser to check the latest news in your free minute? More likely, you do most of the work online and use the desktop storage to store local copies of your work occasionally. Dropbox and Google Drive are working to eliminate even that little use of local hard disk.
Catch up or else…
However, because of the rapid pace with which the situation has changed, most business owners and managers don?t appreciate what cloud and SaaS can do for them.
This guide is a handy resource for them to make use of SaaS as a business resource to save time and money and gain a competitive edge.
Basics of cloud & its benefits
Most of us write documents and reports in a word processing software, enter numbers and work with numerical data on spreadsheets, build presentations, do accounting and countless other tasks on applications located in, and running on our own computers.
This means we need to buy a licence for each user, load these applications on our computer?s hard disk, upgrade these applications as and when new versions are released, provide for security so no cracker enters and access our ?local? information, maintain a backup schedule to ensure continuity in case the memory is corrupted (disk crash!) or if the computer is destroyed – All this to protect and maintain our information.
A long list of tasks and efforts! A chore that comes with the computer. Right?
No, if the emerging trends of cloud computing, and especially SaaS (Software as a Service) continue and succeed.
What is cloud computing all about?
The concept of cloud in the context of business computing is essentially that applications are provided as a service over the Internet. Users need not host the critical technology of the applications in their own machine and need not have knowledge of the technology infrastructure which resides in the cloud.
The significance of cloud can be traced back to computer network diagrams in which Internet is mostly depicted as a cloud, like this example:
Cloud computing is linked with the concept of SaaS in which an application is licenced for use as a service on-demand. The client company does not have to host the application on every user machine (desktop, tablet PC, mobile phone or any other device). Instead, users simply access the application over the Internet often using only a browser. So, all the hosting, version control and complexity is moved to the Web and on to the data centres. The user is locally responsible for business usage only.
SaaS works on the concepts of multi-tenancy and virtualisation so that multiple instances of the same application can be started and can access a shared data model. It is designed for the Web.
Why work in the cloud?
For the software vendor:
- Centralised control of business applications leads to better control and troubleshooting.
- On-demand licensing is easier to manage.
For the client company:
- There is lesser need of computing resources and therefore lower cost of hardware as more applications move to the cloud.
- SaaS leads to lower cost of the application itself as it can be licensed for shorter time, only for the required number of users and with no need to install it on each user?s machine.
- Support can be streamlined – only a single fix is required to solve an issue.
For the end user:
- SaaS translates to better mobility as access to browser (in most cases) and authentication (such as log-in and password) is all that is required to access a business application anywhere.
SaaS as a software business model lowers the delivering and supporting each incremental copy of software licence to virtually zero, enabling the vendor to sell at a lower cost to a large number of customers. This is how SaaS allows software vendors to benefit from the long tail.
SaaS has also enabled the business model of freemium, in which the vendor provides a basic version of the service or subscription for free and charging for premium or added value versions.
Good broadband connections at home and office, low costs, reliability, and highly usable applications have made it easier and cheaper to rent software and work on the Web rather than buy and work on the desktop. Corrolarily, where conditions in terms of Internet connectivity or security are not ideal, it may not be recommended to rely on the cloud.
A real scenario
Wearing my writer’s hat, I probably represent a typical cloud user.
I am alerted to a story to work on by my boss located half a world away via an Instant Messaging application. I write my article and host it on Google Drive to share with my colleague for feedback. After clarifying a few points with her in a video discussion on Skype, I publish it on a Web content management system.
It?s now time to send a newsletter to my Web magazine?s subscribers. I quickly log on to an outsourced on-demand e-mail service provider, create the newsletter content but use a template that?s already hosted in my account, pick the updated-to-the-minute mailing list of subscribers and click to send. I pay them by the number of subscribers in my list but I could have paid as well by number of e-mails sent. Note that part of the magazine itself is hosted on Paper.li.
Before heading home, I logged in to my hosted project management software to check the status of current projects, updated it and shared a file with a colleague.
Back home, I checked the e-mails received in my personal Web based account at Hotmail (nothing new but this was probably the earliest conquest of the Web), check my POP e-mail at Google Apps, a few of which are invitations to become Linkedin connections.
I access Linkedin and Facebook, accept those connections and friends requests to add to my social network, browsed others? updates on their profiles, had a glance at Twitter to know what friends are doing and pushed my own update.
Let?s look at Web enabled but human-driven services too. Before going to sleep, I access eLance to post an RFP for a small assignment to which I am sure to receive several bids on, when I wake up in the morning.
I also give a task to my freelance Web assistant on oDesk?who is located 5 hours behind my time, so when I get up in the morning, I would find the task ready in my e-mail that I can look at on my way to work on my mobile phone.
A journey through the clouds – Directory of selected applications
Let?s see how we can make the above scenario, and much more, happen today for you.
Here is a comprehensive list of business applications and resources that are:
- free and paid;
- at enterprise level, small business level and individual level; and
- in a range of business areas.
Communication – E-mail, Instant Messaging and calendar
Let?s start this discussion with e-mail. Today, Web based e-mail services provide huge storage going up to 6 GB. E-mails can be accessed from anywhere. You can sort, search and organise your e-mails, all for free.
There is more. You are now no longer restricted to the e-mail domain of a service provider like Yahoo or Hotmail in your e-mail address.
You can set up your POP mail in Google Apps and use all the advanced features of Gmail as an e-mail reader to manage your e-mail. You can maintain several POP e-mails in addition to your Gmail account through the same Gmail interface. The inbox messages are identified by the e-mail account they are in and you can choose the account from which to send your new messages.
As an example, I check e-mails on my email?account at the same time as those arriving at my firstname.lastname@example.org account in a single access. When sending e-mails, I can choose which account to send it from.
To set up POP e-mails on Gmail, you need to set forwarding options and authenticate your ownership of that e-mail account.
Free Web based e-mail, IM and calendar for individual use
Most of the free e-mail services are bundled with an instant messaging and calendar with the same log-in id. These have basic facilities such as maintaining contact lists, search, some storage space, forwarding to another account, holiday / out-of-office message. These free services are:
Hosted POP3 e-mail account
Web based e-mail accounts that allow you to have a personalised address (such as your email@example.com) and POP and mail forwarding plus search within e-mails, storage space, contact lists and integrated Google Talk to communicate with voice or text.
Office applications ? Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations
Applications that let you create, edit and share your online documents, spreadsheets and presentations have templates to build your own documents. You can share your documents with specified colleagues or with anyone whom you can send a link viz., public sharing.
What about all your existing documents written in proprietary formats? Most of these services promise that these can load all of your existing Microsoft Word documents.
What about spreadsheets? Zoho Sheets claims you can import your Excel sheet, then export it back to Excel, or copy-paste from Excel, and can use advanced features of Macros and Pivot tables. Google Docs has a spreadsheet too.
Presentations look nice and professional on Zoho Show and Google Drive?, almost as good as the presentation you create on your laptop using Microsoft PowerPoint. The good news is, you don?t have to attach it to an e-mail to share it around. You can just send a link instead. Or share it on Slideshare.
- Google Apps, formerly Google Docs
- Open Office is a free and popular office suite.
- Zoho Writer
- Cyberlynk?s PDF creator to create PDF files.
- Online PDF Creator to create PDF files.
Meeting and Conferencing
Move your meetings to the Web, share desktop, conduct demos, and collaborate in real time with web conferencing solutions.
- Webex? for Web meetings, webinars, online events, selling and e-learning
- GotoWebinar Web meetings, webinars, online events, selling and e-learning
- Skype for free online chat via text or voice.
- Yugma web conferencing
- Campfire for team collaboration with real time chat.
Calendar and collaboration applications help you:
- organise your schedule
- same application
- synchronise your plans with theirs
- share your own events and get reminders and alerts.
A few collaboration options:
- Google Calendar
- Backpack to share information, documents, schedules and to-dos across the business or group.
Wikis are simple Web sites that you create for a project, a business, even a family or an event to collect all information in one place, and share with group members while still controlling who can view or edit the website. Check out Google Sites which enables you to create rich Web pages, collect all your information in one place and control who can view and edit the page.
- Google Sites wiki
- Google video for secure, private video sharing
- Atlassian?s JIRA bug and issue tracker
- Atlassian?s Confluence Hosted ? Enterprise wiki
- Businesswiki hosted wiki
- PBWiki collaboration for business, academic and personal use
- Wikis paces enterprise wiki
So, you are running a business and need project management software? There are easy-to-use applications that are elegant and thoughtful and all run from the Web.
- Basecamp project collaboration tool
- Zoho Projects
- Microsoft Project Server 2007 Web access enterprise project management (). Set-up and training by Phase 2
- Remember the Milk ? Never forget anything
CRM (Customer relationship management)
CRM for business of all sizes via SaaS has been pioneered and perfected by Salesforce. It enables sales force automation, marketing automation, customer service and support, and partner relationship management.
- Sales force
- Nimble social CRM
- Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0 Hosted Solution
- Highrise?to track your leads, contacts and deals in a simple small business environment.
ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) solutions are enterprise level applications that straddle and connect data and functions of different areas of an enterprise ? human resources, finance, operations, accounting etc. These solutions are offered as modules individually and in groups. On-demand applications are especially useful for companies that operate in multiple locations and countries.
HRMS (Human resources management system)
On-demand applications to manage payroll and human capital are listed here. Some of these are part of a large ERP solution but is also offered as a module.
- Saasu is a completely Web based business accounting application.
- PocketSmith is a personal cash flow management application.
- Mint is a personal money management application.
Applications to manage finance need to be customised for your location and need extensive work with the vendor.
- Coda financial management software integrated with Salesforce
- Freshbooks online time tracking and invoicing for consultants and small business
Enterprise computing and storage
- Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud for resizable compute capacity priced per instance-hour.
- Amazon Simple Storage Service for storage priced per GB of storage and data transfer.
- Amazon Cloudfront for content delivery
- Amazon SimpleDB for core database functions
- Amazon Simple Queue Service to store messages.
- Joyent provides virtualised computing and storage solutions.
- Mozy provides secure online backup
- ADrive for online storage and backup
Web enabled outsourcing services and marketplaces
These applications are not technically Web services but these interactions take place (and benefits delivered) via the Web. Freelance services enable you to post projects and tasks and let freelancers bid on completing the projects. You can view their profiles and past work, ask questions, enter into contracts and interact through the Web site.
- DesignBay for graphics design, logo and other visual creative outsourcing
- 99designs for design outsourcing.
- Rentacoder for programming and software design and development talent.
- Support Resort for support and programming.
- WritersPlace for writing and editing talent.
- Amazon MTurk for large volume of repetitive tasks
Content management system and landing pages
Web content management systems (CMS) help place Web site management in the hands of end-users ? the writers and journalists. This leads to easier, quicker and better updates and management.
- Sitemasher is a complete Web site solution with a Web site builder, content management, analytics, SEO and managed hosting all on one platform.
- Mongoose Web Publishing system in Australia.
- Clickability for enterprise level Web content management with social media, built-in analytics, management of campaigns, multiple Web sites and workflow and multi-lingual capability.
- CrownPeak for Web content management
- Lyris Hot Banana Web content management for marketing.
- Valtira helps generate custom landing pages, add personalisation and build Web sites.
- PageVester to create, publish and optimize landing pages.
Blogging and content sharing
- WordPress.com free blogs on hosted WordPress platform.
- Blogger free hosted blogs
- OM4Business for hosted and supported blog with your own domain name. This is a paid service.
- Blips video blogging, podcasting and video sharing.
- Blog Talk Radio Radio network to host your own online talk show.
- Feed Burner to distribute your blog and RSS feeds
- Delicious to store and share bookmarks
- Slideshare to store and share presentations
- Flickr to store and share photos
- Youtube to store and share video
Marketing and lead generation
A B2B marketing systems such as StrategyMix help you manage your relationship with prospects, engage with them by sending and presenting the right content at different stages of their life-cycle.
- StrategyMix helps a B2B company manage the process of buyer?s journey through the sales cycle.
- HubSpot is a B2B inbound marketing system.
- Find more hosted marketing products and solutions at Simplogy Knowledge & Resources directory
Surveys and market research
Online advertising, especially search marketing is growing rapidly. It is naturally offered online. On Google AdWords, you can register to create an account, select targets – keywords or Web sites, write ads, specify bid amount that you will pay if your ads are clicked and manage your search marketing account completely online. Campaign and bid management tools help manage these campaigns in bulk.
- Google Adwords to advertise on the most popular search engine and its network of search engines and content sites.
- Google Local?to find local business and local advertising.
E-mail service providers
Hosted outsourced providers enable you to manage contact lists, promote your newsletter, add to mailing list via subscription boxes, create, send and track e-mails.
On-site analytics tools measure the visitor?s once on the Web site including its drivers and conversions to measure the performance of the Web site in commercial terms.
- Google Analytics is a comprehensive free hosted service.
- Yahoo Web Analytics enterprise site analytics tool.
Integrating social media and widgets
- Kickapps to integrate social and media applications into a website
- WidgetBox to make widgets and integrate into your Web site
- SocialTwist?s Tell-a-friend , is a widget to help visitors of your Web site share it – e-mail, bookmark, IM, blog and social media.
- Google Friend Connect to add social features to your Web site
- Sharethis is a widget to help visitors of your Web site share it – e-mail, bookmark, IM, blog and social media.
- Addthis is a widget to help visitors of your Web site share it – e-mail, bookmark, IM, blog and social media.
Building a hosted social networking Web site of your own
- Ning enables you to create your own hosted social network.
- Collectivex to build free group sites.
- Team Task is a group collaboration site to build and host community oriented Web sites with discussion forums, calendar, wiki and blogs.
Building a social network on common social networks
- Linkedin is a global professional social network.
- Twitter is social networking by short messaging service that answers the question ?What are you doing??
- Facebook is increasingly used by professionals.
Social communication management tool
With a range of easy and simple Web based methods to create, share, interact and collaborate in building plans, documents, sheets, presentations, schedules, knowledge, content and Web properties, there is no excuse to delay that project you always wanted to execute or build upon the idea using a multi-national team.
In fact, these tools enable your small business to act like a multi-national company, with software developers in India, marketing manager in Sydney and subject matter? specialists in China, Brazil, USA or wherever. And business applications, when hosted on the cloud enable the team to access any document from anywhere. In fact, you can search for information across your data on different cloud applications using Cloud Magic.
With SaaS, you?d just walk to the nearest computer, log-in to your account in the cloud, work on your documents, schedules, e-mails, chat, Web and log-off. Your employer or business would not buy licences with huge upfront costs. Rather, you or they would pay per-user per-month or may be even per-use.
I have shown you a tip of the SaaS, on-demand and cloud applications. This was only a glimpse into the new models being tested, built and that are being used by a increasingly large number of users. Welcome in the clouds and good luck!
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Develop this directory
Please help us develop this into Internet’s most comprehensive directory of cloud resources by suggesting your text or directory items in comments. We will include it in the main text after going through the entries.
About the author
Hasnain Zaheer is a Director in Simplogy. He is a Certified Practicing Marketer (CPM), Associate Member of Australian Marketing Institute (AM AMI), holds a Masters in Management (Macquarie Graduate School of Management), qualified Google AdWords Advanced and Reporting & Analysis Professional, and certified in training and assessments among other qualifications.
He leads digital strategy and digital led business transformation practice at Simplogy and helps organisations build great digital products, eliminate risks from digital projects, and build capacity and capability in digital teams with coaching, training and workshops. Learn more or contact him.