A little while ago Christina DesMarais from Inc magazine asked a question on focus.com about the best small business applications out there. I live SMB so this was a question right up my alley. It seemed worthwhile to recount my answer here;

Hi Christina – you’re speaking my language. I own and run four or so small businesses (I lose count sometimes) spanning manufacturing to property to consulting to wholesale.

The interesting thing for me is that one of those businesses (the manufacturing one) is 20 years old and hence has a bunch of legacy on-premise systems. It’s a company that manufactures backpacks and outdoor clothing and sells direct all around the world as well as through retail outlets. Those legacy systems are a major barrier for us – as a simple example, our e-commerce solution is disconnected from our accounting solution which has no relationship with our manufacturing solution and so on – the double up and inefficiencies caused by this are amazing.

Another one of my businesses is a consulting organization. It has the benefit of being formed post the advent of the cloud and hence enjoys the amazing benefits that having connected applications, anywhere access, and instant scalability can bring. So in terms of what rocks my world….

1) Backup and sync – the flavor doesn’t matter (FWIW I use both DropBox and Syncplicity). But the ability to know that my documents and files are available on my 4 or so laptops, my 2 tablets and my mobile phone… well that’s super valuable. The ability to invite people to collaborate on a file, or to grant third party access to a file while on the road is super

2) Documents – first a big admission. I still use MS office for some things (but not many). However for simple document creation, editing and collaboration, Google docs is cheap, reliable and simple

3) Travel apps – I do a lot of travel – a little application like TripIt keep central record of all of my flights, hotel bookings etc. It notifies me (over the cloud of course) if flights are delayed and even offers up suggestions of alternative modes of transport – all for a few dollars a month

4) Scheduling – I live in New Zealand, travel to Australia a dozen times a year or so, collaborate mainly with US colleagues and run a Pacific time zone. I’m generally working across at least three timezones and trying to sort my schedule into an extensive travel calendar. I use Tungle.me to allow people to schedule time for interviews, briefings or time with the kids (that last one was a joke). It’s perhaps a little buggy but still very useful

5) Skype – now so pervasive that no one really thinks of it as a cloud solution, Skype is perhaps the quintessentially cloud offering. I’d say that around 80% of my voice communications happen through Skype (or sometimes the Google equivalent, Google talk). It saves me huge amounts of money on toll calls, and integrated IM and desktop sharing make for a great platform for product briefings.

6) Accounting – call me a geek, but the ability to check my bank account and the state of my accounts receivable while sitting in a Felucca travelling down the Nile is seriously useful. I work remotely and generally take at least a month off in summer to go travelling with the family. The great thing about the cloud is that while travelling I can still be working. I run my businesses primarily on top of Xero, an accounting application from my own home country of New Zealand

7) The bits and pieces – so many little tools that I use from time to time – Evernote as a hyper-accessible notebook. Zendesk as a helpdesk offering for a couple of businesses I’m involved with. Zoho for email, calendaring and documents. Box.net for document sharing. SlideRocket and Prezi for presentations… the list goes on and on

Cloud is amazing. Yes I get paid money to say the cloud is amazing, but the key for me is that there’s no way I’d be able to do what I do without the cloud – it truly enables my world!

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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