Published on 19 June 2015
Google has started charging new users for the Google Apps for Business, its online suite of software applications, for companies with under 10 users who had it for free before last week's announcement. Their reason is that "with focus we'll be able to do even more for our business customers."
Let's see what that means for small businesses and how it compares with other offers from Microsoft and Zoho.
Which solution will win the battle over who will control the move by small businesses to the Cloud?
The price for Google Apps is still low, just $5 a month for each user or save a little by paying $50 a year. They include Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets and Slides. The inbox has 25 GB of storage. The paid edition lets a business use the all-in-one business service on their own domain.
As a selling point, Google is emphasizing its commitment to a high level of support. Users get 24/7 phone help. The company guarantees 99.9% uptime and no scheduled downtime.
More than five million businesses are currently using the Google online suite. Those with a current free business account are grandfathered in and don't have to pay. However they don't get the improvements like more storage that paying customers are offered.
Google makes most of its money from advertising but is slowly working its way into being a general business service provider. In July, a senior vice president said enterprise business was a "future growth engine" for the company.
Do you have years of data from Microsoft Office desktop software? If the thought of moving all that to an online suite is giving you heartburn, then Office 365 might be your best choice. It integrates seamlessly with the desktop version of the software, which is in use with over 90% of all small businesses. Removing this problem alone is getting any number of businesses to sign up. Microsoft Office integration isn't considered a strong point for Google Apps.
Microsoft Office 365 team starts at $6 a user and offers a free 90-day trial for small businesses with up to 10 users. Google is only marginally cheaper at $5.
With over seven million users Zoho is a strong contender in the online suite market. If your big concern is getting your apps to communicate with each other and integrating data from other software into your new Cloud suite, Zoho is definitely worth a look.
They seem to want to set up an environment so all-enveloping that you never have to leave or want to! It offers an incredibly full line of apps for small businesses, covering CRM, productivity, office suite and collaboration. With almost 30 different services, it is probably the most comprehensive suite of web-based programmers for small businesses.
They've worked hard to appeal to a broad base. Most of its apps are fully integrated with Google apps, letting a user manage contacts, attach files and schedule events with Google Mail, Docs, Calendar and other apps, directly from within Zoho. In addition, the office suite works seamlessly with Microsoft Office. Another big selling point is that all its apps communicate with each other so users don't have to enter data more than once.
If you are one of the many small businesses that have come to rely on customer relationship management (CRM) to keep contacts, service requests and email contacts at hand and organized, you should know that Zoho gets high marks for its Zoho CRM and project management software, all cloud-based.
What they offer is extensive. With Zoho Creator, you can even create new apps for your business using one of their apps! For online presence, you can set up a website, a mobile site, check how they are doing, identify bugs and fix problems remotely. They have tools for employees, from the first step of tracking and hiring applicants on through handling all the human resources work. For customers, beside CRM, they offer an app to run marketing campaigns, handle support and later invoice. Their collaboration and productivity apps are also extensive.
A minor downside, Zoho has a complicated price structure. It might be tempting to go with Google or Microsoft just because it's so easy to know the price! But, no worries, with Zoho you start with a free account and upgrade and downgrade as needed.
One thing that is nice is having choices and thankfully there are plenty of choices when it comes to cloud business apps for your small business needs.
Microsoft has a head start with its legacy installed base of Microsoft Office where they clearly have a conversion advantage and Google is strong with startups and "All in cloud" businesses. Zoho is a strong option for comers to cloud apps.
Small businesses are massively moving to cloud apps but once they have chosen a solution, despite price cuts and free trials small businesses will probably not jump from one cloud business app vendor to to another as transferring data and training employees to new tools is far from easy.
We can expect very stiff competition from these three players to capture as nmuch market share as possible in the coming years. As usual, if you are new to cloud business apps and you are looking at one of these three suites, we strongly recommend that you try at least two of them with the free trial before making your final choice.