As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m on the advisory board for Glue conference in Denver in May. I’m also moderating one or two sessions. One session in particular has me really excited. My background is small business – as readers will know, I own and run a handful of small businesses in varied industries and so have a pretty good appreciation of the pain points for SMBs. Given my technology bent, I also have a good understanding of how technology can help with those pain points. The session I’m really amped about is titled “Small Business Glue – Tying it together for the 96%-ers” and the abstract for the panel goes as follows:

Small and medium businesses make up the vast bulk of enterprises in most countries – web applications are finally delivering on the long promised playing-field-leveler for SMBs. But what does a completely integrated selection of web apps look like, what does it mean for SMBs and what problems and opportunities does this introduce fore vendors and users alike…

It’s for this reason that software platforms tailored to SMBs really get my attention – there’s a reason I’m so positive about the approach that Intuit is taking with the App Centre (but, as always, see my disclosure statement – Intuit is a client). So I was interested the other day to see a Wall Street Journal article (that surprisingly got little attention in the blogosphere) regarding Google’s possible intentions with a small business app store.

From the article:

Google Inc. is preparing to launch a store selling online business software that integrates with its Web services… the store will sell business software designed by outside developers to integrate and add capabilities to Google Apps, such as enhanced security features or the ability to import contacts. Google eventually plans to allow customers to purchase its partners’ software through the site, taking a cut for itself and sharing some revenue with the developers, these people said. Google will allow users to quickly access their purchased applications through the menu at the top of their screens within Gmail or Google Docs, they said.

What people seem to be forgetting is that Google already have an app store (solutions marketplace – whatever) for enterprise customers – it’s probably safe to say that any SMB store would follow a similar format. More interesting are the potential synergies between what Google is doing (and may do in the future) and other SMB plays such as the IPP. It seems the Intuit approach and that which Google looks set to be taking with its offering are sufficiently different that there will be more opportunities for synergy than there are points of competition.

Which pretty much concurred with what IPP director Alex Chriss said. His perspective is that there are potential synergies between the two companies in relation to SMB plays and that IPP is built on the ethos of being an open platform and playing with anyone: “there’s possibly some competitive areas but at the same time we’re complementary. It’s a good opportunity to work together”.

Chriss did state that they believe the IPP, with its common data model, will be more appealing for SMBs who want a “one stop shop” for their apps. “The simplicity of sign up and sign in and the ability to have data working seamlessly across applications is a very powerful thing” he said.

I questioned Chriss about The Small Business Web and it’s goal of getting SaaS vendors to work together and publish open APIs. He said he looks forward to working closely with the Small Business Web folks in order to solve for the needs of SMBs, he liked the approach but pointed out that Mom and Pop SMBs are unlikely to do even the small amount of heavy lifting necessary to use different applications – hence the “one suite” feel that IPP creates with its single sign on, billing and data model approach.

I was also interested in the data models that both organizations tend to use. Intuit’s model is all about a common data model whereas Google’s tends to be around sign on, billing etc. It tends to come down to a “horse for courses” discussion both parties are pushing “integrated apps”.  They both just tend to bring different types of data to the party to integrate. Intuit has a lot of transaction/finance data, and are extending the value of that into other contexts.  Google on the other hand has a lot of collaboration and messaging and user profile data, so they’re likely to be looking to make that more useful to users.

Interesting times and really fascinating watching the big vendors position for the SMB market – let’s see where this all goes…

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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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