Microsoft’s “Software As A Service (SaaS)” Strategy for Small Businesses: Update

msol.jpgAs many of you know, Microsoft launched Office Live to great fan fare 2 years ago. At the time, some were initially confused thinking Office Live was Microsoft’s entry into launching an online version of Microsoft Office. We now know, that is not the case.

Office Live, with 500,000 customers (I’m not sure how many are ACTIVE) is Microsoft’s entry point for small businesses to use Microsoft provided services via the Internet.
At its basic level Office Live, updated last week, offers the following free features:

  • Web site building, including a free domain name (it’s very good and needs to be as now Intuit has bought Homestead – a very good web site development service)
  • Contact Manager (use it stand alone or have it integrate seamlessly with Outlook and Business Contact Manager)
  • Business Applications (including Team Workspace, Document Manager) – I’ll get into these two applications in more depth later on.

These basic features are all free. What you can add-on for fee is:

  • Store Manager – to sell online; it integrates into eBay, very well, as well;
  • E-mail marketing (to send email newsletters; Constant Contact with well over 100,000 customers is the leader in this space, followed by Vertical Response, iContact and otehrs).
  • adManager (online search marketing; competing head to head with Google AdWords)

Two of Microsoft Office Live’s (MSOL) features are particularly interesting and are in the area of collaboration:
Team Workspace lets teams quickly organize, author, and share information with the people in your company. It provides lists for managing announcements, calendar items, tasks, discussions, favorite links, and includes a document library.
Document Manager contains a document library and a picture library. Use Document Manager to store, share, and monitor the versions of your business documents in a central location.
These two features are important as collaboration with your team is so important. Many of you are already sharing documents via email, I’ve been using for sending large files, but if you want TRUE collaboration (version management for example) it’s important to use something more robust.
There’s many companies, and I’ve mentioned some already that provide pieces and parts of what MSOL offers. The benefit of MSOL is that from one interface and with one fee you can have a casserole of various features, in one place, from one company. There’s few services, however, that offer a “business management” suite of features.
I think the closest competitor to OfficeLive is QuickBooks (with some add-ons added to it), NetBooks and NetSuite, which blends CRM, email marketing, sales and book keeping in one suite.
One of the hottest features of Office Live is the ability for third party developers to add business applications to Office Live. Let’s look at the model of programmers now.
Microsoft Office and Windows are fine products but what makes them powerful are the thousands of add-on applications that make them the core part of over 80% of businesses around the world.
Or take a look at Intuit’s QuickBooks. It has a robust network of developers in its Intuit Developers Network that sells hundreds of products in the Intuit Marketplace to add on to Intuit products – mainly QuickBooks.
Google is not quite in this space as Google Docs is still just a document sharing service – at this time. It’s purchase of Jotspot and other online services gives it a powerful arsenal.
In the same way, the core products, from Microsoft, that Office Live now has is only the beginning. What’s going to (ideally) make it a much more powerful tool is the current and new Microsoft software partners that can add applications to Office Live. You’ll be able to find more generic applications to add productivity to your business, through Office Live’s “add applications” button, but you can also work with a software developer or programmer who can create applications just for you and add them to Office Live.
Imagine you’re a hog farmer (as in pigs) in Tennessee and you want to manage your pig inventory via RFID. Your local Tennessean programmer could develop this application for you and integrate it into Office Live.
There’s one more thing I’ll touch on, the web design features of Office Live – quite powerful.
Microsoft lets you use cascading style sheets (web programming standards to make it easier to build the look of your web site) and HTML. But Office Live’s web building tool also makes it easy to use existing data, especially built with Microsoft applications and publish them to your web site.
For example:

  • Map & directions
  • Slideshow (add nice images to your web site)
  • Blog – easily publish blog posts from Windows live spaces blogs to your site
  • List publisher – easily publish data from your Business Applications to your web site (for example an employee directory)

Office Live is not perfect, but neither is any program. But if you want to use important business applications (web site, online sales, collaboration, contact management, and more) in your business, via the Internet and blend them seamlessly to Microsoft Office, Microsoft Office Live is pretty darn good.

One thought on “Microsoft’s “Software As A Service (SaaS)” Strategy for Small Businesses: Update

  1. Neil McElwee

    With so many web-based applications using “office” as part of the product name, I want to take this opportunity of discussion on SmallBizTechnology to address WebEx WebOffice’s market differentiators.
    At its most basic, a web office is for sharing information online and team collaboration. Depending on the needs and size of the organization, other features may be sought out, such as the email marketing and store features offered in MSOL which are cited in the above post. As a company, we are excited to see Microsoft getting involved in the SMB space with MSOL, since it further validates the Software-as-a-Service offering that WebEx helped pioneer. However, the reason so many satisfied WebOffice customers pay a monthly fee for our product has to do with much more advanced collaboration features I’d like to address here.
    MSOL and other free web-based online productivity suites such as Zoho and Zimbra offer basic desktop extensions for calendaring and document sharing. WebOffice is a business collaboration suite that enables organizations to increase productivity in that we give users a place to store documents and data, as well as backup recovery in the event of hard drive failure, catastrophe, etc. WebEx WebOffice also enables deeper collaboration features for driving a geographically dispersed team throughout a project, such as discussion threads and databasing.
    A working world example from users of WebEx WebOffice involves a payroll team that needs to ensure they support all the work that needs to be done in their area. By creating their own database of tasks that need to be completed each day, the team can assign them to individuals, complete them as required, or pass the items on to others in the group. By ensuring all filings for government agencies are done on time, the payroll team never needs to worry about late filings or penalties.
    The 24 hour support is often cited by our customers as a defining factor for deciding to go WebEx as well. With our full SSL encryption, daily data backups, and award winning support, people feel safe placing their business in our hands, and we are proud of the maturity level of the product, as well as our customer feedback.

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