Solutions

NetBooks – A Promising SAAS Solution for SMBs27 Sep

As someone who loves technology geared toward the SMB, I found an article on the NY Times fascinating. It’s about small businesses who have begun marketing their own software as solutions built specifically for the SMB market. One solution, NetBooks, looks very promising.

Last week, I posted a notes about the release of SAP Business ByDesign. There are only a few vendors that offer an on-demand ERP product that includes everything from your standard accounting functions through inventory and customer management. SAP joins NetSuite and Salesboom in this regard. But even SAP targets businesses with more than 100 employees.

NetBooks is specifically focused on product based (as opposed to service based) businesses under 50 employees. The recorded demo shows a complete “call to cash” process. A sales order is created directly from the customer contact screen, and a shipping request is automatically created. Viewing the shipping request in an open orders view, the user is alerted that there is not enough inventory on hand. You change the request to a partial shipment and the system generates another shipping request for the remaining amount. An invoice is created, and payments are easily applied to receivables when collected.

Two areas lacking include integration with a web store and with point of sale systems. Both are only possible today in a manual fashion, although the company says automated integration is slated for a future release. I also don’t see any mention of payroll on the website. But, if you’ve read any of my prior posts, you’ll probably guess that I favor outsourcing your payroll responsibilities.

Pricing is right at $200/month for 5 users with additional users costing only $20. Your external accountant or bookkeeper gets free access to your data. And all your data is stored securely on the company’s servers so you don’t need to worry about installing and maintaining the software on your own servers.

This looks like a great development for small businesses.

p.s. – The company’s founder, Ridgely Evers, runs a blog. His recent “Where’s Your Weakest Link” post is a great corollary to my “16 Ways to Prepare for Technology Failure”.

Solutions

Find the right tools26 Sep

Despite my own quest to help companies use technology more effectively, I often fail to do that in my own business. Case in point is writing this blog.

For the past couple weeks, as I came across ideas for potential blog posts, I would create a draft message in Outlook. When I got around to writing the actual post, I’d write the post like I was writing an email. When I was satisfied, I’d copy and paste the content into my WordPress administrator panel and then publish the post. Several times I forgot to add in the title or categorize the post.

Well, in the course of my Stumbling last night, I ran across Windows Live Writer. I had no idea that there was software that was designed specifically for writing blogs! I wrote my earlier post using the tool and it was so slick that I doubt I’ll ever go back to Outlook.

To be fair, there are many applications out there that target this niche. A quick Google search brought me to this list posted by McKenzie.

I wish I’d figured this out earlier. Come to think of it, this must be how my client’s feel when we uncover stuff they own but aren’t using.

Business

Keep It Simple26 Sep

Two recent articles I read form a fascinating contradiction. Naomi Grossman on bMighty reviews a Rubicon Consulting report that the technology and philosophies of small to mid-sized businesses. Apparently SMBs don’t like the term and actively shun products targeted to their use.

…many small and midsize businesses don’t like ‘less aspirational’ names like ‘Small Business Edition’ or ‘Starter edition’. Some even find those titles vaguely insulting. Surprise, surprise — many smaller companies look to buy the ‘Enterprise edition’ whenever they can afford it.

Contrast this with Rob Preston’s column about simplifying your technology. We all know large businesses that suffer from bloated infrastructure and overly customized applications. Regardless of the ownership costs, it’s hard to rip these things out once their firmly embedded in your organization.

So SMBs tend to prefer the complex “enterprise” versions of software while large corporations struggle against overly complicated technology. See the link here?

The answer, I believe, lies in an organization’s commitment from the very start to keep their processes as simplified as possible. I have no real statistic to quote here, but I’m sure that something like 90% of what Business A does must be exactly the same as Business B. Accounting, HR, IT, even Sales. It doesn’t matter where you go, those functions are basically the same.

If you’re building a business today, approach your non-core activities by finding the best practice solution and adopting it. Period. That 20% that doesn’t fit what your company already does? Forget about it. We’re talking about your non-core activities. They don’t offer you any competitive advantage. So putting in all the workarounds to get that 80% closer to 100% only increases your complexity. You’re going to regret that someday.

WiFi

SMB Friendly Wireless Router25 Sep

Not sure why I’ve been on a WiFi kick lately. Maybe it’s the WiFi project in Billings? Maybe the frustration over not having access to iPhone service?

Regardless, one of my clients has retail locations where free wireless internet access is offered. Because a single broadband connection is shared between the hotspot and the corporate systems, they have had to put in a lot of effort to ensure that their corporate systems are secure. As WiFi phones start becoming the norm and as city-wide WiFi projects continue to fail, more and more SMBs will want to ensure that their customers have WiFi access while on-premise.

I think there is an opportunity here for someone to build a router that makes the process plug-and-play. The router plugs into your cable/DSL modem as usual. An unsecured public WiFi network is automatically setup. Also, a second WiFi network is automatically created for internal use with all the key security setups defaulted. Alternatively, an Ethernet port could be used for a secured wired connection to the corporate network.

Seems to me, someone like Cisco, Netgear or Linksys could easily build this. Maybe they already do. If so, they need to make it easy to find on their website because I don’t see it. Am I just missing it?

Montana,Staffing

Overtime Exemptions24 Sep

In another corollary to why SMBs should not hire IT employees, consider the overtime exemption rules. Montana has never adopted the overtime regulations for computer related occupations as stated in the FLSA. Many attorneys are now realizing the revenue stream available by pursuing companies on wage and hour lawsuits.

I like the fact that Montana generally favors employees in labor legislation. It makes it harder to run a business here, but we live in an area where jobs are scarce and wages are already lower than the national average. Employees need this protection. But in my opinion, this loophole in our state’s regulations needs to be fixed.

In a prior life, I had an employee who had been with the company for many years. He knew the company’s data, but as a programmer he was mediocre. He spent more time supporting applications he had built over the years than he did building anything new. And he had injected himself into many business processes because his applications “couldn’t be” hardened enough to hand off to users.

Given his longevity, this employee had a high hourly rate. All the stuff he had to do to support his applications required that he put in huge amounts of overtime. He was no longer creating value. He was no longer driving efficiency. But this employee ended up making more money than nearly anyone else in the department.

If you’re an SMB in Montana, make sure all your IT employees are properly classified and pressure your legislators to eliminate this loophole. But most of all, consider shifting your IT resources from internal to external. With external resources, you either get additional value from every hour billed or you find different resources.

Contact Me

Granite Peak Systems, LLC
PO Box 80892
Billings, MT 59108
Tel: 406-672-8292
Email: trupsis@granitepeaksys.com

Kiva

Since 2007, I have funded a Kiva account in recognition of my clients. Whenever I get a new client, or find a microloan that relates to the industries my clients serve, I contribute to the account. You can see my lender profile here:

http://www.kiva.org/lender/gpsclients