After my recent post about SaaSu integrating social networking information in their SME accounting system, I had an email from a reader who disputed my view that this is a positive thing. They contended that;

having your customer DB online is a recipe for disaster…. why furnish your employees with all the tools to leave?

While I have to admit that making this sort of information accesible to employees does constitute something of a threat, I also contend that the gains that can be made outweigh the disadvantages. Gains in terms of customer knowledge, customer intelligence and future customer acquisition.

My correspondent however doesn’t see this, he feels that;

given that one of the largest barriers to SaaS is the SME’s fear that [someone could] get hold of their data….. when they figure [the unintended consequences of SaaS’s move] out, SaaSu’s in for a tanking

So this is where I put it out to you. Given a hypothetical situation where you ran an SME that utilised lots of records of individual (be they customers, suppliers or whatever), do you feel that the benefits to be gained by having a social ecosystem up front and centre outweigh any potential deleterious effects?

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.

  • I don’t really think it’s an offline vs. online arguement. Employees are only a click, a print out or a cut-and-paste away from exporting a customer list from commonly used offline accounting software. In you can control access levels down to specific features and reports. You also have audit trails etc for monitoring activity and use of your business data file as the business owner.

    Not allowing employees who are knowledge workers types, such as sales people, to use systems like LinkedIn cuts them off from large communities of prospects, partners and customers. That in itself is an order of magnitude higher cost (cross organisation cost) than an employee stealing a customer list so they look good at their next job. That kind of employee quickly learns it is a product, company and service combination that has customers buy products – not just the “sales guy”. As I said, its easy to take a contact list from off-line software, with no monitoring. It’s a lot harder online.

    Lastly, it’s very hard to argue a file on your c:drive with all your accounting data is more secure than a secure data centre environment. A bunch of SME’s in Mackay(QLD, Australia) who lost their MYOB and Quicken files on C:drives in floods learn’t the hard way. Which is easier for an employee to access – a PC or a Secure Server in a Datacentre with managed user access levels?

    The whole reason financial institutions and larger business are moving their workflow online is for security and efficiency advantages. That is now moving down to SME’s which is why Saasu and other Saas players are seeing great growth rates, not a tanking.

  • Blending two topics here but this on R/RW sort of sums up my thoughts

    the conversation I had with my girlfriend went something like this (paraphrasing heavily here):

    Her: “So where are my documents stored?”
    Me: “On Google’s servers.”
    Her: “And I don’t actually own the software?”
    Me: “No, you just sort of rent it.”
    Her: “So if Google goes down, or decides to stop making Docs, they take my software and documents with it?”
    Me: “Theoretically that could happen, yeah.”
    Her: “And if there’s a security breach my documents are there for the taking?”
    Me: “Technically, yes.”
    Her: “That’s kinda creepy…. I don’t think I like that.”

    I think that’s a fairly standard view among mainstream software users. So, desktop access becomes important as a means to an end. Web apps will have a much smoother road to mass mainstream adoption if offline/desktop versions are used as a bridge.

  • @Bunreasonable. You are dead right. That same conversation for online banking and ecommerce was common many years back. I think its just different people at different stages of adoption though.

    Desktop wasn’t required to move people to online banking, broking, trading, crm, email so I’m not sure why spreadsheeting and wordprocessing is special? Particularly while all these saas services allow you to drop a version as a PDF/CSV or other file types onto your desktop? Services like flickr will give you all your photos on a DVD for a few bucks. Saasu users can pop out CSV files for various tran types and contacts etc any time they like.

  • Marc,

    I think you have some of this right, the banking anology is spot on as is the continuum, but only from a user adoption point of view. From a business / data protection bit i think you’ve missed the point

    I challenge the bit about the desktop, the browser evolved from desktop experience. Email, to webmail. CRM to SaaS CRM.

    Agree these files can be outputted and gotten out (smart companies can stop it). To my way of thinking, companies that use SaaSu should be looking at getting wider and networking (linkedIn is a social NETWORK), but they should be doing that with CRM, not on the net.
    The benefits of this (as you will know) are better forecasting and interop with finance, planning etc…. as well as control of that precious data

  • @Bunreasonable.

    by desktop i was actually meaning the bunch of software applications on the desktop.

    by heading into offline CRM you take on board a plethora of inefficiency, anti-collabration and disconnected sales workflow etc. i’m so firm on this view its probably isn’t worth an arguement so i’ll agree to disagree on that one.

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