Just Getting Started: App Hosting for Small Business

Just Getting Started: Application Hosting for Small Business

acoustic couplerAccessing software applications and data from a remote system isn’t new stuff.  Starting with telephone modems, acoustic couplers (those things you’d put the phone handset into so that the modem could “hear” the data), green screen ASCII terminals and host computers, users have connected to remote systems to access applications and manipulate stored data for years.  As personal computers became viable for business use, applications and data moved from centralized hosts to local computer environments.

As complexity of local environments rises and broadband becomes truly affordable and accessible, application and data management services are moving back to the centralized system approach.  It’s an expand and contract model, where new capabilities empower the endpoint (the user device) and complexity and scale economies drive centralization of resources and management.  Computing paradigms have once again reached the point where centralization of resources, along with the management and administration of the resource, makes sense for even the smallest of business organizations.  This is the new push for small business IT service delivery, and we’re just getting started.

Application Service Providers (ASPs) were once thought to be the providers who would tip the scales towards server-based computing in the new era.  Rather than creating wide-spread adoption of hosted applications and “virtual” desktops, the ASP business model fell by the wayside as part of the dot-com bust.  It was the right idea, but the market wasn’t ready to accept it and promises of the demise of the desktop turned into the demise of the ASP.

With the successful introduction of SaaS solutions and web-based applications, interest in subscription based IT models has not only grown, but becomes the specific focus of the entire IT industry.  From OEMs to channel resellers, the supply chain for IT products and services is adopting cloud and subscription-based service and business models.  What’s interesting about this second go-around with Internet-based desktop and application services is that the adoption levels are real, the revenue potential is real, and customers are seeking out these solutions rather than being sold.  Managed applications and hosted virtual desktops have become accepted, if not preferred, models for delivering IT services to businesses.

Small businesses can benefit from enterprise-class technologies when a certain economy of scale is developed, and if the environment delivers services around the software and functionality those businesses already need and use.  Logic dictates that Intuit QuickBooks desktop products might be a focus for hosting service providers, as the solution is easily the most accepted financial application by small businesses.  Businesses don’t readily change their financial and accounting software, so addressing this need is a key aspect of adoption.  Also, with QuickBooks, it is as likely as not that the business has an outside accountant who will, at some point, need access to the application and data. Meeting this need and proving the viability of hosting applications such as QuickBooks – offering the solution in the form of subscription service to the customer – has been accomplished through many years of discovery and validation by some of the providers in what is now the Intuit Authorized Host for QuickBooks program.

With the validation of the service model and Intuit’s introduction of an Authorized Host for QuickBooks program, a great deal of opportunity has been created for value added resellers and their small business customers.  Some in the industry would suggest that Intuit’s focus on the Online edition of the product indicates that opportunities around selling or hosting the desktop products have diminished, and Intuit appears to be spending heftily on the promotion of QuickBooks Online.   Yet it remains true that many customers – whether they be existing QuickBooks desktop customers or new QuickBooks customers – want the functionality and the integrations available only with the desktop editions.

For these customers, a hosted/managed application service model is the only answer.  IT resellers working with small business customers are undoubtedly getting the requests, and a few are beginning to recognize the value and service potential associated with offering hosted application services for QuickBooks and other popular small business software products.

As the largest of software vendors (like Microsoft, Intuit, etc.) with small business solutions make their licensing models available to hosting providers, resellers and hosts alike can take advantage these programs and offer their customers the benefits of mobility and managed service around the applications already in use.  Business owners like the benefits to be gained by adopting cloud computing models, but are resistant to changing their software and restructuring their processes.  It is the ability to deliver the benefit without the disruption that makes these application hosting service models attractive.

There are millions of QuickBooks desktop users out there, and only a small fraction are being hosted by authorized providers.  Intuit continues to sell the desktop solutions and the number of QuickBooks users isn’t in decline, so the opportunity to serve those QuickBooks customers continues to grow.  When it comes to providing application hosting services for small businesses, we really are just getting started.

jmbunnyfeetMake Sense?


Moving Your Systems to the Cloud

The IT industry is promoting Software as a Service and online applications as the new normal for computing, and unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years you have heard how it is supposed to make our computing lives ever so much better.  Hiding under that rock might also have spared you from reading about the various failures and outages which impact users, forcing them to make do without the online applications and data they have become so reliant upon.  It’s surprising, but not unimaginable, that businesses rely so heavily on applications and services that didn’t even exist a few short years ago.

The potential benefits of a SaaS model are many, but the risks are equally significant and should not be minimized.  This assessment should center on a review of the application software in use, considering whether or not it is meeting the needs of the business.  Where and how the software runs is much less of an issue than the functionality and process support it provides – most “legacy” applications can be run in a cloud server environment, making remote access and managed service part of the service model.

There is risk in changing business applications – risk of data loss, changed or broken data relationships, lost productivity, and more.  Many businesses would benefit by running their applications in a cloud model while continuing to utilize the software solutions their operation relies on.

Application hosting models where desktop applications are delivered on cloud servers is  often overlooked when businesses go looking for cloud software because they are shopping for software and not the platform.

With Software as a Service (SaaS), the software and the platform are combined and together represent the solution. With application hosting on a cloud server, the software is the same software a business would traditionally run on PCs and servers, but the they are installed and managed on the cloud server rather than the local computers.

The big benefit is the agility of the platform and the user mobility it allows.  The unspoken benefit is that you can still “take your ball and go home” if the service doesn’t work out.

Removing the barriers for adopting an online working model allows the business to experience the benefits attached to cloud computing without introducing unnecessary risk through unneeded changes in software and applications.

Make sense?