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The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

Smallbiz Collaboration Goes Mobile

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Listen to my conversation with Shahab Kaviani, EVP of marketing and product marketing at HyperOffice, which provides an online suite of collaboration and productivity applications for small businesses.

In this podcast, find out how small business use of online collaboration has evolved over the past decade, and learn why mobile access to applications on the go is one of the biggest adoption drivers today for cloud-based collaboration tools.

Listen to or download the 8:53 minute podcast below:



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---Transcript---

PW: HyperOffice, Shahab, is similar to other online applications that people are probably familiar with, like Zoho, Google Apps, Microsoft Online Services (the online version of the Office and SharePoint suite). But these guys are 'Johnny-come-latelies' in the game compared to HyperOffice, which I think has been going for something like a decade now as a SaaS application.

SK: That's right. Our roots started with email about ten years ago, with document sharing and calendaring and contact management. And over the years, we've brought on a number of small businesses — typically small businesses that have anywhere from 5 to 100 employees or so. And we've listened to our customers over the years; the way that they collaborate has really emerged. They've moved from sharing documents, to wanting to have online projects, and access to spreadsheets; and customers' requirements have emerged.

We've responded in keeping up with an integrated approach to a collaboration suite and it's served us well. We're lucky to be in an expanding market with more and more distributed teams, more contractors, more offshoring, [which] drives a need to rely on the web to communicate and collaborate, and move out of email as the primary method to collaborate, which is really a key differentiator for HyperOffice. We are an email service provider but we attach that information to other capabilities, such as documents, projects, and so on.

Right. So that you bring all of the different forms of collaboration together, rather than being just a one-trick show — one-trick pony is the word I'm looking for there, isn't it?

That's right. You mentioned, for example, Google Apps and Microsoft Online Services. They've been very helpful for us to help educate the market that these different parts of collaboration really ought to be integrated. If we'd had this conversation three or four years ago, we had small businesses that might have said, hey, we're using BaseCamp for project management, and we're using email with our web hosting provider, and we're sharing documents through a VPN. And they were sort of doing what HyperOffice does piecemeal. And now with Google Apps and Microsoft BPOS, it's really helped illustrate that these things really are related, they ought to be in a single place. So that I think really our space has really become better defined over the last year-and-a-half as an integrated collaboration suite.

Yes, and of course, there are lots of different ways of approaching collaboration. I think many vendors have come into the collaboration arena from a starting point around which they've added lots of other capabilities. What are the capabilities that customers really most value about HyperOffice?

Well, as much as we try and use wikis, and web conferencing, and all sorts of other ways to share information, email is still the most-used way to share information. So we've invested heavily in providing a stable, business email service with mobile access. So we're starting to see very prevalent use of mobile devices to collaborate. So for example, if we're working on a project, I need to get an update rather than having a meeting; through my mobile device, I can see, here's the status with this project.

Or I can have access to a global address book without the need for servers and hardware. So — presuming the audience is aware of the SaaS benefits, software-as-a-service benefit — I think the integrated approach to having shared data on mobile devices and in different audiences; so they may be on Macs, they may be on PCs, iPhones, BlackBerrys.

So because you want to give employees, and contractors, and project team members the freedom to use whatever environment and devices they want, having a common ground or common glue that ties us all together is where HyperOffice really shines. So I think more popular ways that they're using us is mail, document sharing, project management, and not only through the PC and Macs, but mobile devices is really starting to pick up.

Yeah, of course, that's one of the advantages for smaller businesses in particular of the SaaS model — because there's this constant need to keep pace with all of the innovation and all of the new technologies that are coming out — and the SaaS vendor takes that burden on. Of course, I think you've also — it puts the onus on the vender therefore to invest in refreshing the product constantly — and you've actually just had quite a big product refresh, haven't you, with a new user interface?

That's right, Phil. This release that we just put out in early summer, in about June, was not only a chance to add new capabilities, such as an improved online database and web forms where you can do workflow within companies externally over the web. We also took it as a chance to refresh the interface with a new Ajax technology, where it afforded you drag and drop, color-coded calendars; really speeds up the experience where you can leverage right-click, and have a smoother transition across the different modules. So I can easily associate a document, say an agenda, to a calendar item.

This was our biggest release in our company history. Not only did we refresh the interface and modernized it, but we also added wikis, added more horsepower to our project management module as well. And the most — we didn't expect to be so popular within our current customers — was the support for mobile devices. And so now we are offering push email and over-the-air sync of calendars, contacts, and tasks to any mobile device. And that's really been a hit with our current customers, who are starting to say, 'HyperOffice is great. We're using it for collaboration. We're getting more of our employees are using mobile devices and we'd need to buy a BlackBerry Server to do this, or we'd need to upgrade Exchange licenses to do this. And we don't want to take away the BlackBerrys or the iPhones from people in order to do all this stuff.'

So we've been able to address all the different devices. There's a product called HyperSync that provides this capability. So this was a major release in a number of areas for us.

And do you think the balance is now shifting? Because there was a time when I think it was quite hard work to persuade small businesses to move to online services. Whereas now, as you just said, there's all of these pressures on them to keep up with technology that means that perhaps moving to the cloud is a solution rather than a new kind of headache.

Well, I think there've been a few different forces that are driving that. Some are way out of HyperOffice's domain; broadband is getting cheaper and faster and more accessible, so that's really helped a lot. I would say that more reliance on distributed teams, contractors, and multiple locations and international teams has driven this as well, as far as collaboration. But the economy, the downturn in the economy, led business owners to take a hard look at that IT contractor or the one or two IT resources that they had, to say, hey, can we save some money here and stick to what we know best, and move things that aren't differentiators, or that aren't proprietary to our business? And can we move those out of our internal operations and save money? So I think the cost-saving pressures the economy brought on also drove this.

And generally, I think more and more acceptance of cloud computing thanks to online banking. I think subconsciously, we all think if I'm doing my banking online, maybe I could do my business operation online. So I think Google, Amazon and IBM, and all these folks have demonstrated that, and Salesforce.com: really, if you look at a business, maybe their most critical asset is their customers and their client data. And with the wider acceptance and adoption of these services within enterprises, I think the small businesses are really following suit and saying: Hey, this is possible. It's been a few years now. There haven't been any major disasters. Let's take advantage of the cost savings and the quick time to implementation that cloud computing delivers.

Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

Phil Wainewright

Phil Wainewright specializes in on-demand services View more

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