On Premise, or the era of disks

If we go back in time, which in the computer industry means only a few years back to witness significant evolution, software was originally something that was bought on disks (the floppy or compact kind, depending how far back you want to go) and which each business had to install and maintain themselves.  In the case of small businesses, most of the time this was done by people with no experience, was a headache, and never really maintained, once installed.

The headache grew bigger once you started to have multiple programs (we didn’t call them applications or apps back then).

Each program requires its own data entry, lives in a silo, and sometimes, only sometimes, can extract data in a format that can be used somewhere else, leaving to the business user the headache of data being inconsistent across systems, dealing with consolidating data and providing actionable reporting for the business owner to have a proper overview of the business and make the right decisions.

SaaS, or when all became “Cloud”

With the advent of fast internet and powerful web browsers came SaaS.

To quote Wikipedia: “Software as a service (or SaaS) is a software licensing and delivery model in which software is licensed on a subscription basis and is centrally hosted. It is sometimes referred to as “on-demand software”. SaaS is typically accessed by users using a thin client via a web browser”.

SaaS meant that businesses no longer need to “buy boxes”, nor deal with the headache of installing and, more importantly now in this day and age where 13 year old hackers can bring your business to its knees in a few minutes, don’t have to deal with maintenance of the software either (preventing the masses of hackers to leverage vulnerabilities found and patched by vendors in software updates).  Everything is managed centrally by the vendor and the business user just accesses the software through a browser without having to worry about anything. No need, nor additional costs, for IT support.

SaaS, while now almost 15 years old, has been and continues to be a revolution, as it massively removes hurdles to software adoption and maximises distribution of software.

The SaaS marketplace model

While distribution has been streamlined for software vendors with the advent of SaaS (no need to ship boxes to bricks-and-mortar shops and fight for position on the shelves), the internet is an extremely crowded and noisy place, where it is not always easy to be found as a software vendor (Google helps, but in this reverse hide-and-seek game called SEO, not every vendor can or knows how to win). So it’s not easy for businesses to find the right solution for them.

This opened up an opportunity for “business software marketplaces” – think shopwindow, dedicated only to business software, where one can go to discover and buy business software.  AppDirect, founded in 2009, when SaaS became more mainstream, is leading this market, with the likes of Odin (formerly Parallels and just bought by Ingram) and other smaller ones.

While providing a central place from which a SME can buy its software is useful – just like supermarkets are convenient for centralising everything under one roof rather than roaming the high street for hours – the onus is still on businesses, to manage silo’ed software, where data needs to be entered in different systems (creating data inconsistencies and lack of efficiency), and grow grey hairs when having to report on the business, trying to pull data from different systems and consolidate it all. Time gets wasted, valuable bandwidth that could be used for tasks generating revenue. Errors are made, that have a direct impact on the business, and more importantly sometimes, its customers and customer experience.

Surely, “machines” could do a better job than humans at ensuring everything works in perfect harmony.

Integration & the DIY model

Indeed, software can be used, to help software communicate between each other. In recent years, solutions have come to market, that enable anyone to create its own integration between two (or more) apps. These solutions are based on the concept of IFTTT – for IF This Then That – or a basic set of instructions defined in a software that says “if this happens, do that”. For example “When I get a new entry from a Wufoo form, create a new lead in Salesforce.”.  No need to know code to set that up. Anyone can do that.  Providers like Zapier, IFTTT.com and others have grown in that space.

While it is fun to do for a few basic tasks, in a business environment – and especially with time poor SMEs – the challenge here, is that you have to think, create, and maintain something like this for EVERY action, or field, in every software. With sometimes dozens, or even hundreds of fields to map in each app, with data that could be shared with other apps, it becomes quickly really expensive, time intensive and even logistically impossible to maintain hundreds or thousands of individual integration actions.

Reporting & the DIY model

The same applies to the challenge for a SME business owner of getting an overview of one’s business. To aggregate data from disparate apps into one interface, software can be used. Solutions like Tableau exist to enable anyone to connect their existing apps and visualise the data in one interface. While the power and the flexibility of such solutions is great for companies who can afford an Operations team or IT department who can do the setup (the handyman who does your DIY), it is far from a solution working “out of the box” that could appeal to the masses of time-poor and non-tech-savvy SMEs.

Surely, there must be a way to get all the benefits of so called “business intelligence” (which is the transformation of raw data into meaningful and useful information for business analysis purposes) to SMEs, without leaving the onus on businesses to have to set everything up.

SaaS 2.0 for SMEs

Considering the above, Maestrano’s founders, with their background in integrating highly complex military systems, saw an opportunity to bring all of this together, into a solution working “out of the box”, with no setup required for the SMEs.

The future of business software for SMEs, or SaaS 2.0 as I see it, is about making everything work out of the box, all in the cloud.

All apps are natively integrated with each other, data flows seamlessly from one to the other without any setup required. A business user starts using the apps, and data is synced automatically with any other software the business decides to use. Enter data in the inventory software (like Megaventory) about a new product that just arrived in stock, and it syncs it to the CMS (like Magento) to get the website updated, the CRM (like SugarCRM) so Sales know what they can sell and the Accounting software (like Xero), so billing is accurate. Enter data once in one system, not in 4 different systems! With no setup required.

Reporting is also made easy and centralised, with no setup required, no matter what software holds the data in the first place. A unique interface lets a business owner just decide what data she wants to see, without having to worry about where the data is.

To some extent, Maestrano acts as “IT and Operations in the Cloud”, ensuring businesses can focus on running their business and not running the tools they need to run their business.

Apps hosting in the Cloud (SaaS 1.0) + integration in the Cloud + reporting in the Cloud = SaaS 2.0

How do you see the future of business software for SMEs?