by Rakesh Sharma
Published on 3 October 2011
At GetApp.com, we help small business owners discover and choose the best options for small business software that can make their company more productive and competitive. Knowing that each geography is different, we are analyzing small business needs for multiple geographies, including the USA, Canada, UK and Australia..
Based on economics, vendor support and customer preferences, we provide a list of SaaS (Software as a Service) options for small business needs in your geography.
This post features the cloud-based software for SMBs in Australia that are most popular with GetApp.com users.
As compared to the rest of the world, Australia escaped relatively unscathed from the financial recession. While economic growth slowed in 2009, the Australian economy bounced right back up in 2010. Given state of the world economy, the future looks uncertain, though.
The Australian economy is a strange beast. Unlike other developed economies (which are well-diversified between manufacturing and services), the Australian economy is in the middle of a transition from services to manufacturing. Financial services and retail, which accounted for over 70 percent of the economy, are on the wane due to the financial crisis. Instead, economic policies in recent years have been marked by an obsessive focus on mining and minerals in Western Australia. Because of their large scale and capital-intensive nature, these industries do not hold much hope for small businesses. After all, small businesses are characterized by innovation on a smaller scale.
NEWS TO CHEER
However, there is news to cheer.
According to research conducted by credit card company Visa in 2009, online shopping ranked third amongst reasons to use the Internet. Seventy-nine percent of Australian Internet users said they had made an online purchase in the last 12 months. According to the research, the main reason for online shopping was cost-related because the Internet enabled shoppers to compare prices, save money, search for bargains and discounts, and buy cheaper products and/or services than available in the store.
Although the research was conducted in 2009, I think much of it holds true even today. This is because recessions are marked by low spending by consumers and businesses. Low spending is also cost-conscious spending. Thus, instead of binging out or pampering themselves with products, consumers tend to cut back or search for the best deals. While large organizations refine their processes and manufacturing methods to pare costs (and transfer them to the customer), small businesses are left in the cold.
OUTLINING THE PROBLEM
The problem is a complex one. Suppose your are an Australian small business in financial services. According to recent research, cash flow is turning out to be a major problem for small businesses in Australia. Delinquent accounts increased by 20 percent in the March quarter of 2011, with payments over 90 days late. The main reasons are delayed customer payments, expiry of government incentives, and natural disasters in Queensland and Victoria. The situation is bad enough for you to let go of employees. However, cutting down on employees will only partially solve the problem because it does not scale back your investments in real estate, software, processes and systems to run the place. While cash flow problems have largely been caused due to problems outside your control, wouldn't it be nice if you scale back elements of your business to match demand? For example, reduction in employee workforce should be accompanied with a corresponding reduction in business infrastructure. But your investments in infrastructure and software still remain unequally same.
Just like every problem has a solution, there are solutions to this conundrum as well.
OUTLINING THE SOLUTION
The State of Cloud computing in Australia recently reported that 43 percent of Australian enterprises have adopted cloud computing in some form or another and 41 percent of IT decision makers said cloud computing would be a priority in the near future. Interestingly, more than 70 percent of cloud users have adopted software-as-a-Service (SaaS) , which probably the highest adoption rate in the world.
You can solve the problem outlined above by investing in SaaS services, which are scalable and on-demand. Thus, you can scale the extent of your business based on consumer demand. In the process, you can also pass on price benefits to the consumer.
SaaS extends to hardware and infrastructure as well. So, in the case outlined above, you can lay off employees, cut back on the number of your software licenses and customize your hardware infrastructure to reflect weakened demand. What's more, as the list below makes clear, SaaS extends to all types of businesses and categories.
So, when are you joining the SaaS revolution in Australia?
A brief primer on popular online software categories and applications in Australia
Some popular web-based business applications to enable better process productivity can be found in the Collaboration, HR, Accounting and ERP categories:
Online collaboration tools help you connect online internally and externally. You can scale your requirements based on a very large set of features.
Popular online collaboration tools are: SAP StreamWork and Podio
Online HR software enables you to connect and account with your employees in a much more efficient and modern way. Online HR tools simplify the process and make it transparent for you as well as for employees and applicants.
One of the most popular online HR tool is: TribeHR
Online accounting offers quick and easy integration with the offline avatar. This means you can do your accounting on-the-fly and integrate it with your offline books.
Enterprise Resource Planning was a revolution when it was first connected because it connected different units of a business. The cloud-based version is an evolution of sorts because it enables your workers to log in from anywhere and, also, integrates extended communication and collaboration tools such as messaging and groups. The cost-savings in paying per license as compared to multiple licenses trumps all other reasons why you should consider an ERP solution to improve your business core processes:
A popular tool in the ERP category is: NetSuite
Conventional CRM tools are time-consuming and complex to install and maintain. Web-based CRM applications are fast becoming an alternative. The focus of this form of CRM is on customer interaction, including in social media. Online CRM apps also represent less costs as you end up paying per user, instead of using a single system.
This is an inexpensive and effective form of marketing for small businesses. Investment costs are extremely low while returns (in an age of e-commerce) can be pretty high:
In an age of Facebook or Twitter, one the best form of communication medium is social media. Social media marketing strategies enable you to connect, complement, and sell your products to customers, almost for free.
Online project management tools differ significantly from offline tools. They cost less and can be scaled based on project requirements. Because they are cloud-based, they enable workers to collaborate and remain productive 24X7, wherever they are and on any device.
Cloud-based customer support comes with a twist. In addition to regular channels, you can integrate social media into your customer support activities using SaaS software. This means you can track references to your business or brand on social media and respond to requests accordingly.
Popular tools in the customer support and help desk category are: Assistly and SmartPath Loc8
Two additional apps worths mentioning are Connect2Field to manage your field services workforce and Bookeo to schedule appointments online with customers.
The tools listed above are opportunities for small business owners to improve productivity and scale their business based on consumer demand. As the economy adjusts to a new normal, cloud-based tools are your best bet for weathering the downturn.