• United States

Smart Online helps a small business go and grow

Nov 21, 20054 mins
ComputersSmall and Medium Business

* Smart Online's OneBiz platform

Microsoft Corporation grabbed headlines recently when its chairman and chief technology architect Bill Gates announced the company would move toward software as a service, or SaS.  While Microsoft is telling customers what it will offer in a few years, another company has been quietly delivering SaS for nearly seven years.

Founded in 1993, Smart Online develops Internet-based SaS applications and tools that are designed to help small businesses get started and grow.  The company’s offerings already reach more than 4 million users, many of whom have bought into this software delivery model.  Those are numbers that even Bill Gates has to notice.

Smart Online’s platform, called OneBiz, is an open architecture using J2EE,  XML and other industry standards with the struts application framework.  The platform uses Web services, business process workflow and service interoperability concepts to aggregate and deliver Web-native applications.  And coming soon, the platform will integrate customizable e-commerce services.

Now most small business owners don’t care about that techno-speak, although you and I understand the importance of open architecture and Web-native applications.  What they do care about is that the software suite provides the functionality that they need, when they need it, and at a reasonable cost – and that they don’t get locked into something that can’t grow with the business.  Smart Online’s offering meets all these needs, and then some.

The OneBiz platform offers suites of essential applications that a small business would use on a daily basis.  It also has tools that are needed during specific phases of a company’s life, for example, writing a business plan at start-up, or applying for a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan during growth periods.  Data flows seamlessly among the applications and is summarized in an executive dashboard so that the business owner can quickly view the health and wealth of his company on one unified screen.

The OneBiz platform offers two subscription-based packages called Start and Grow. As the name implies, Start helps an entrepreneur launch his new business.  This on-demand application suite includes tools to help write the business plan, to incorporate the company, and to generally get up and running efficiently.  For just $29.95 per month for the first three users and $3 each per month for additional users, Start includes a unified dashboard, an accounting application, a business plan tool, incorporation aides, a contact management application, a calendar application, business and government forms, and business letters. 

The Grow module enables growing small businesses to efficiently manage new employees, customers and increasing sales opportunities.  At just $49.95 per month for the first five users and $5 per person for additional users, the package is still a reasonable cost of doing business.  Grow adds quite a few capabilities over Start, including a human resources application, an SBA loan module, and other business tools.  In the first quarter of 2006, Grow also will include sales force automation and CRM, with a customizable e-commerce application coming later in the year.

Smart Online’s vice president of business development Tom Furr says the company is looking at additional capabilities to add to the business suite, either through acquisition of applications or through organic development.  He hinted that e-mail could be an offering soon.

In addition to offering their software as a service direct to customers, Smart Online allows its business partners to brand the suite of services under their own private label.  Thus, financial institutions like JP MorganChase and Union Bank of California and media companies like the owners of BusinessWeek and Fast Company magazines offer the OneBiz suite of applications as a service to their small business audience.  This smart channel strategy helps Smart Online reach more customers while the partners provide deeper, more customized business services to their customers.

In my opinion, the best aspects of Smart Online’s offerings are the security and convenience of having an online service provider take care of things like data backup, remote access and disaster recovery.  These are mundane but critical tasks that small business owners often overlook if they are using an in-office system for business applications.  With Smart Online’s Web-based applications, all of the care and maintenance of the applications and especially the data is done automatically, further reducing the time, cost and worry of protecting a business’ information assets.  In addition, the business owner has control over provisioning services to his employees.  So the company accountant can see the financial information, but the sales people can be limited to seeing just sales records.

If you know an entrepreneur who needs an easy, integrated online small business suite and who can’t wait three years for Microsoft to deliver on its SaS promises, suggest that he take a trial run of Smart Online’s OneBiz.  He can test out all the features for free for 30 days here.