Recently ReadWriteWeb started a series taking a very high level look at online finance. One of the posts discussed the evolving online finance ecosystem. In the post, RWW editor Richard MacManus interviewed CEO of Xero (see disclosure), Rod Drury and repeated Drury’s assertion that online finance can be separated into four distinct types of markets:

1) Personal Finance (e.g. Mint, Wesabe, Yodlee)

2) Small Business Accounting (e.g. Xero, Kashflow)

3) Cloud ERP (e.g. Netsuite, Salesforce)

4) ERP (e.g. Microsoft, Oracle)

Which strikes me as a somewhat bizarre classification system, and not overly helpful in defining the marketplace. While it may seem a semantic discussion, to those of us who live in this world, it’s important to get this stuff right.

Looking at the four groups MacManus defined, it’s patently obvious that two of them distinguish different delivery mechanisms (cloud ERP and ERP), it’s wrong to separate them as the SaaS ERP players would point out rapidly that they’re seeing a major conversion of users from traditional ERPs – just look at the case studies put out by Intacct, Netsuite, Salesforce et al to see the proof of this. Add to this the fact that most of the traditional vendors are dipping a toe in the cloud space and you can see that the differentiation just isn’t there.

As for the rigid differentiation between personal and small business finance, when I posted about this nearly a year ago I said, and still believe, that it’s all just money:

the distinction between personal and business finance is pretty blurred. Almost all micro businesses I know use a personal credit card for business expenses – sure that can be solved via expense claims but that’s not really in keeping with the actuality. Similarly most micro businesses that require funding achieve it by using their personal equity to guarantee debt – again removing personal finances from this business finance model ignores this fact.

I put this to Drury who countered with the sensible point that:

[the] Names probably are wrong but the distinction is
On premise and off premise currently
Netsuite, salesforce are midmarket SaaS – say 10k to 20k+ per year
SAP, Nav etc are Web based enterprise.  Minimum 100k – 1m starting, lotsa consulting
Big SAP will never be SaaS but they will have a midmarket product.

Which is still a little tenuous, but what Drury is getting at is the distinction between midmarket organizations (the $20k spend ones) and larger enterprise – the former definitely getting “cloudy” the latter less so. But again it’s a shifting space.

My classification of the online finance space is somewhat different and follows:

  • Personal – products that are generally free to the user and subsidized either as a loss leader for a paid product or cross subsidized by partner organizations (Mint, PocketSmith, Xero personal)
  • Micro business – a market of sole traders and freelancers, want a very simple application and don’t have significant money to spend on it – either economically price paid products or cross subsidized products (IAC-EZ, FreeAgentCentral, MYOB, Sage, QuickBooks, Xero)
  • SMB – a market of businesses that need “real accounting” but in a simple way. They’re also driven heavily by price. Surprisingly enough this is one marketplace that is really under-serviced. Many of the micro-business products are slowly ramping up their feature set but this is the area of opportunity. Current best offerings are still desktop applications (Intuit (see disclosure), Sage, MYOB)
  • Medium business – organizations with many employees, multiple branches and complex operations. Already heavily invested in IT and prepared to spend thousands of dollars on their finance apps (Intacct, Netsuite)
  • Enterprise – the big boys, firmly wedded to large on-premises offerings and, frankly, not in a hurry to shift anytime soon. Best opportunity is for cloud providers to find “edge modules” to make inroads with them (SAP, MS)
None of these classifications are determined by the delivery mechanism of choice – many of them are services by both on-premise and cloud providers but, from what I see talking to businesses on a daily basis, this is a more accurate definition of the landscape.
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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