Sunday, April 29, 2012

SaaS and Customization

The general opinion is that SaaS applications either offer little customization beyond themes, logos and some custom fields.  The idea is that to achieve economies of scale and resource utilization you must sacrifice customization and certainly some single tenant applications moving to SaaS suffer from this limitation.

Some SaaS companies, most notably SalesForce.com have spent a lot of time and money on building customization into their product and even offer the development environment as a product all unto its own. 

One of the attractions of open source applications like OpenBravo, Pentaho, Sugar CRM, etc. is that because they are open source, it is easy to make customizations without the burden of a proprietary API, SDK or hosting platform.  You can do what you want with some programmers and some time and money.

Some of the commercial vendors that support these open source applications do an excellent job and actually make most of their revenues from support and customization with some pretty interesting modules and add ons from an "after market" for these customizations.

O4BO is bringing the low cost of SaaS to its subscribers without the limitation on customization of some SaaS applications.  We are doing it by supporting the aftermarket on the applications and even the customization of the applications by the commercial vendors and by our partners that can do the professional services necessary.

O4BO doesn't stop there.  We have a context sensitive rules engine that allows per tenant/organization rules that apply to any of the applications, and these rules can leverage the Drools rules engine, or JavaScript or Java to change the behavior of any of the applications.  We also will be integrating tools like Wavemaker and Spring Roo so you as our subscriber can create your own applications on the integrated databases for the O4BO applications, your own extended schema or situational applications and integrations using Mule ESB to connect to your legacy applications and data.  All this with standard free tools, no proprietary SDK, or languages to learn or pay for.

SaaS AND Customization, that's O4BO.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Questions and Answers

I had someone I respect ask me the following questions.  This surprised me somewhat because I thought sure our web site was conveying the message.  So just in case you have these same questions and didn't see the answers on the site, here they are in one place.

  • What is the actual proposed 4 offering consists of?  A - Liferay, OpenBravo, Pentaho and JackRabbit as an integrated Software as a Service (SaaS) subscription.
  • How it's going to be interconnected, or interoperates, or packaged to 'sell'.  A - All 4 are integrated and share data in an interoperable way.  Pentaho will have all the OpenBravo data sources available to you as well as some predefined reports and dashboards that you can expose in Liferay.
  • Have you clearly identified Who the Customer IS? A - Yes Small to Medium scale Enterprises.
  • What Problem they have that you Solve? A - Portal with collaboration and content management; ERP / Accounting; Business Intelligence, reporting and Analytics, and File Storage.
  • What is the Pain and how are you the Pain Killer? A - Many Small to Medium scale enterprises are not software companies, have no software expertise and do not even have any server machines or the expertise to install and operate them.  We make it easy for a Small to Medium scale enterprise to subscribe and start using quality solutions for less time and effort with zero software to install or maintain.
  • What are you offering that's Better/Faster/Cheaper, less painful (by 10x or more) for the user to experience vs. their current reality?? A - Even if you were to download and isntall all 4 of the applications and even if you had the IT expertise to get them up and running, we offer them in an integrated way, and we do all the maintenance and can provide professional support as needed.
  •  It wasn't clear if it included ERP and Analytics? or if that was something else offered by someone else?  A - All 4 are part of one integrated subscription service. 
  • or if this was going to be a ala carte type of 'build your own enterprise' solution... A - Nothing is needed to get started, however we do offer extensive customization in both the Portal and if needed to customize the applications with Professional services consulting.
  • Further, much like www.appsumo.com or what others are building at other web-applications for business productivity suites are offering, ie. Zoho.com or 37Signals.com or in the case of CaaS, MS Office 365 even... it's not clear what I'd be buying? A - Well there are indeed plenty of choices out there in the marketplace, and some are likely going to be better suited to your particular needs.  SalesForce.com and NetSuite are two more that offer some of what O4BO offers.  I am not going to say that O4BO is better than any of those but we think the 4 we have chosen are superior to some and our customers will decide.
  • Just how easy to use/easy to run/operate is it? A - As we bring the applications online we will produce getting started videos that will demonstrate this.  
  • How robust, reliable and scalable it really is. and is it right-sized for me? or pure overkill, vs. my needs? A - We are working with IBM to put O4BO on the Smart Cloud to make it as reliable and scalable as it possibly can be.  We are also going to be offering several options on how you can employ the applications with pricing options and flexibility with no long term contracts, just pay for what you use as you use it.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

O4BO The reincarnation of ASP?

Ok I may be old and certainly the acronym ASP has many meanings, but in this case I am referring to "Application Service Provider". Which really started to com online in the late 1990s and refers to what was then a new concept, the delivery of common applications over the internet. Here is an article from Inc magazine from April 1, 2000 (not an April Fool). It cites Cisco and Aristasoft and a current Industry pundit Phil Wainwright and his ASPNews.com all riding the wave.  Later that same year JamCracker landed a $100 million round of funding (likely one of not the last rounds of the "Internet Bubble").

So what has gone on since then when ASP had the message "The entire software industry is about to be turned upside down. Say good-bye to software as we know it" when today Cisco and JamCracker have morphed into something else than the Software Aggregators they were  to the SalesForce.com and NetSuite Software as a Service (SaaS) providers today?  Short answer....Multi-Tenancy.

It was simply too costly to deliver separate individual instances of applications when ASP was the next big thing. There was not enough resource sharing to make it cost effective and even with virtualization and cloud computing, without true multi-tenancy they could not compete.

So, today O4BO is a SaaS company delivering applications over the internet ASP like.  So what's the difference between O4BO and the old ASPs or the new SaaS companies?  The short answer is we bring true Multi-Tenancy like SalesForce.com and NetSuite SaaS companies, but we ALSO are an aggregator of common applications that are integrated and interoperable.

When we have all of the applications online, you will have the ability to interoperate between OpenBravo and Pentaho, where your reports and analytics are isolated to your data but accessible via the same Portal (Liferay) and you can have Dashboard Portlets with Pentaho based gauges or publish reports that are available via WebDAV from the JackRabbit (Java Content Repository).

This aggregation of applications won't stop with the first 4.  We have plans for adding more and more applications to this mix as well as customization and integration with external legacy applications and data in a Service Oriented Architecture.  Unlike SalesForce.com or NetSuite we will be based entirely on Open Source applications and you will be able to take your data and customizations with you if you ever want to leave O4BO (we are confident you won't).

Does that mean "The entire software industry is about to be turned upside down. Say good-bye to software as we know it" is reincarnated?  We hope so.


Friday, April 20, 2012

IdeaSpace to take applications in May

Just read about IdeaSpace, and its exciting. http://www.newmedia.com.ph/ideaspace-to-accept-applications-in-may/comment-page-1/#comment-24938 Its a great thing to learn about a fund and an organization that is both an incubator, accelerator and has a capital fund to go along with it. When we formed O4BO we looked high and low for just such an organization. We are rolling now, but far from finished with development so this could be an ideal idea(pardon the pun).

As SaaS matures enterprise buyers face new considerations, say Forrester

Chris Knaracus | IDN News Service writes, here about five key areas of change for Saas: Industry specialization, embedded analytics, orchestration of multiple services, social networking and mobility. As you read this you should keep in mind that O4BO offers a series of applications that are already integrated and include True Analytics and at a cost that is lower than from any other vendor or as the article points out multiple vendors if you want a series of applications. They do expect the model to mature, and we are proof of that. They say, "SaaS buyers also need to ensure their providers have a strong social media strategy and capabilities." Have you seen our Facebook fan page? That's just the start. Lastly mobile is a consideration, which is one of the reasons we chose Liferay as we can have one portal look and feel for PCs and Tablets and yet another for Mobile devices.

SalesForce.com Why Not?

I stumbled upon this article http://www.blackcloudbsg.com/article/buying_salesforce_com_why_and_why_not/ A good read all on its own and while I may not agree totally with every thing the author says, it did get me thinking about Open 4 Business Online. Here is a high level point by point review. See my Ollie>> comments for each. " If you’re small, or the price of enterprise edition seems awfully hard to stomach, salesforce is likely not for you." Ollie>> Oh yes, and at $125/user/month, that's a gall stone. O4BO @$50/user/month for the full suite of Liferay, OpenBravo, Pentaho and JackRabbit is a killer deal. " Salesforce.com is highly customizable, but I also wouldn’t recommend pure force.com application development." Ollie>> Since all 4 of O4BO are open source and already have a large number of plugins and standards based environments, you could easily write your own applications and share the O4BO data, and even market to other O4BO subscribers. " Put simply, you can’t build a startup charging people by the month for software that is fantastically expensive to develop in the first place while maintaining enough cash flow to build a sales team and grow aggressively, without requiring continued injections of new investment." Ollie>> Since O4BO doesn't have to recover development costs other than converting to SaaS, O4BO can pass those savings on to its subscribers. " So you really can’t build complex software that works for every business out there.... Enter Apex, Visualforce, and the Force.com eco-system. Specifically, enter an arrangement where you will be hiring developers to build on salesforce’s proprietary platform which means you’re kind of locked in to keeping salesforce.com as a partner and the cost of switching (if you ever do) comes to include porting over your force.com applications to whatever the new new thing turns out to be." Ollie>> Orange and Bronze is already making a good business out of customizing and custom software projects, that will only accelerate when O4BO starts getting subscribers that have customization needs. Plus it isn't a proprietary platform or database and subscribers can always take their data and move, reducing their risk and if the O4BO value proposition is always positive people may choose O4BO for the low risk and stay for the value. " Salesforce.com really couldn’t have predicted the way open source software would take off and the extent to which “the cloud” would take over. " Ollie>> i.e. O4BO doesn't have to predict. Open Source, easily extended with non proprietary tools and starting life on the IBM Smart cloud without investment in server farms or data centers. "... salesforce.com as a platform would be amazing if great open source software and Amazon Web Services did not exist. " Ollie>> Ah but they do...;-) " salesforce.com is easy enough for a non-programmer to figure out. Force.com is not. And, if you’re already a programmer, why would you use Force.com when there are better tools out there?" Ollie>> I wouldn't, neither would the thousands that every month download Open Source solutions like Liferay, OpenBravo, Pentaho and JackRabbit. " Should you buy salesforce.com... if you do buy salesforce, buy Enterprise edition. The lower editions are fundamentally crippled (for example, they don’t provide API access, which is crazy for a modern software application)." Ollie>> O4BO can offer so much more at a price less than half that of SF.com/ee and because it is open source and community supported, other integrations like SugarCRM are available at no additional cost. " If you have any custom requirements (IE, if your business is not built around salesforce.com’s prescribed workflow) you’ll likely end up hiring a company like mine, and you’ll pay a significant amount of money for customization—for taking salesforce that extra 20% further that makes 80% of the difference." Ollie>> Orange and Bronze can do customizations and whole solutions for a lot less given the open source of O4BO equalling much higher value to the customer which will aid in retention and word of mouth advertising. " While it may seem like I’m coming down hard on force.com as a platform, my issue is mostly with Apex, Visualforce, and governor limits—there’s simply better options out there. Salesforce.com knows this, as evidenced by their $250 million Heroku acquisition." Ollie>> The Better Options out there include O4BO.

Is O4BO for you?

Are you unsure if subscribing to O4BO is right for you?  Let me describe some of the beta subscribers and see if they sound like you.

  1. A small business with 50 employees in Singapore that does import export throughout Asia, is using OpenBravo Sales and CRM, with ERP and Warehouse Management. 
  2. A small retail store in Manila that also does Internet Sales is using the OpenBravo POS module to enter sales in their store and in the back office for Internet and phone sales.
  3. A Professional Services Outsourcing Company is using OpenBravo to manage projects, billing and resources.
  4. A Business Process Outsouring company in the Philippines is using it for themselves to manage their own Business Processes, AND setting up their ERP and General Accounting customers as separate tenants on O4BO to allow for rapid provisioning and trials for their customers without the high cost of buying servers or installing software.
  5. A Real estate management company in California is using OpenBravo to manage all their properties, billing and resource planning, as well as Project Management for new ventures.
All of them tell us that their costs are lower and because this is internet based it becomes a collaboration tool with their partners and customers as reports and the Portal is perfectly suited to their needs without having to have internal IT resources dedicated to it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

So the digital scale speaks to you.  I presume that's because some people are so large and rotund that seeing the dial is impossible.  But what if the scale responds with attitude.  You know something like you step on it and says, "One at a time please."

Well O4BO is kinda like that.  Yes we are coming out with 4 applications initially:  Liferay, OpenBravo, Pentaho and JackRabbit.  And we will be integrating them so that if you sign up for all 4 you can write reports in Pentaho from the predefined data sources and sample reports that are setup when you sign up to connect to your data in OpenBravo.  If you publish a report, it goes into JackRabbit as a version and can be accessed via WebDAV on any computer and application that supports it.

So why did we start with just Liferay?  That's easy, because we want to be sure to roll things out in a controlled and orderly way.  It would be daunting to say the least to get all four right up front especially when its a new service.  This way our users can get familiar with Liferay, and get it setup and will be ready when OpenBravo comes online.  The new OpenBravo Portlets will be available and all you need to do is sign up one or more users with the OpenBravo Admin or OpenBravo User role and away you go.

Similarly every couple of weeks or so, you will see other applications come on line, Pentaho next and JackRabbit after that.

We also won't be limiting ourselves to just 4 applications and we also won't be limiting our customers to just off the shelf applications.  Watch this blog for news.

Press Release

Today O4BO made its first press release to announce going live with the site and now taking subscriptions.  At first we will only be offering Liferay but at a price less than half what it would cost you with any other hosting provider and probably even lower than the cost of hosting it yourself.