A couple of weeks ago I roused myself at 1:30am to moderate a radio show in my ongoing series for VoiceAmerica “Kepes in the Clouds”.

This time I had the pleasure of speaking with Sunir Shah, Chief Handshaker from FreshBooks, and Alex Chriss, Business Lead for the Intuit Partner Platform (disclosure – the IPP is a client of mine and CEO of FreshBooks Mike McDerment bought me dinner one time).

You can check out the full, hour long show here, but a topic we touched on is well worth revisiting in a post.

Sunir, Alex and myself were talking about the power of aggregated disparate applications. It reminded me of a piece I wrote for someone awhile ago about the real world value in this stuff, and why the data model is what will enable us to derive the value that has long been promised. I’ve recreated the piece below – it’s as valid now as it was when I originally wrote it.

I’d be keen to hear your thoughts about this, and to talk more about data, and how making it common sets us all free.

We live in an age where internet connectivity is (almost ubiquitous) where we take for granted 24*7 access and where information is on tap. One area that hasn’t quite kept up with progress is software for small and medium businesses (SMBs).

For years the promise for business software has been that it would make life easier and more efficient for small businesses, all the while giving them opportunities to utilize services that were formerly too difficult, too expensive or only available to large organization.

One barrier to these services really working their magic is the lack of a common data model – that sounds like a complex concept but it’s not really. We can explain it easy with an analogy; imagine you’re trying to do business with someone in Italy say. The only problem being that they don’t speak English and you don’t speak Italian. No matter how valuable the business could be to both sides, the lack of translation makes doing the deal almost impossible.

Well – business software is the same and here’s a real example of how that can be a problem; One of my businesses is a manufacturing company. We sell both retail and wholesale and the way we process mail orders is as follows;

When a mail order comes in, the slow and laborious process goes like this;

  • the order comes in to our e-commerce solution
  • details are manually copied into our accounting software
  • stock levels are checked
  • payment is manually processed via an online payment provider
  • the sale is recorded in the accounting software, invoice and packing slip printed and packed up ready to ship
  • on the e-commerce site the sale is closed and the customer notified

Obviously the net result of this is a slow and inefficient process and some glaring failings, namely that we are unable to show live stock levels on our website and therefore customers have no way of knowing if the goods are in stock or not – for this reason we have to manually process payments to ensure we actually have the goods before we charge a customers credit card.

This is quite a detailed example but shows how broken software is when we’re unable to make it “talk” to other software.

This is where a common data model comes in – imagine a world where our e-commerce system “understands” the language of our accounting system which in turn “talks” to a payment gateway naturally. Now throw in a customer relations management application, a project management solution and an email automation offering.

That’s then the true value of a common data model – it allows small businesses to utilize the software of their choice, secure in the knowledge that they can use it how, where, and with what the like!

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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