Hosted Service Aims to Help SMBs Start and Grow

By Lauren Simonds | Posted November 30, 2005

Software-as-service — one of the hottest tech trends aimed at small business — shows no sign of cooling down as major players such as Microsoft and Cisco begin offering hosted services. Big as they are, though, they're still relatively new to the game, whereas smaller companies, like Smart Online, have been providing small businesses with hosted software for years.

Smart Online recently launched two new online application suites designed to help new or growing small businesses with fewer than 25 people to better manage business information — such as accounting, contacts, calendars and other tasks — in real time.


Smart Online Dashboard
Click here for a larger image.

One of the reasons that hosted applications have become so popular with small businesses is that they're easier to use, don't require an investment in hardware or IT administration, cost less and can be accessed from anywhere over the Internet. Tom Furr, vice president at Smart Online acknowledges that ease-of-use is a primary draw.

"Our products automate the backend process," he said. "Our research shows that small businesses want applications that are simple, affordable and easy to use. They don't want to deal with installation, configuration and maintenance; they just want us to make it happen."

The Suite Dish
The aptly named suites — Start and Grow— are geared for small businesses in two distinct phases of development. "We wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to decide which package is right for them," said Furr.

The Start application suite provides business owners with tools designed to help them start a new business. These include:

  • Dashboard (view status of all applications from a single Web page)
  • Accounting application
  • Calendar application
  • Contact management application
  • Business plan application
  • Business and government forms
  • Business letters
  • Incorporation service (for an additional fee)

The Grow suite includes all of the applications found in Start and adds a human resource application, Smart Online's Business Tools plus several applications that will be available in 2006:

  • Dashboard
  • Accounting application
  • Calendar application
  • Contact management application
  • Human resource application
  • Business tools (16 applications, tools and services)
  • Sales force automation (2006)
  • Customer relationship management (2006)
  • eCommerce application (2006)

Integral Difference
Based on Smart Online's OneBiz Platform, both programs provide a unified dashboard that lets you view the daily business information from all the applications in a single view.

And, according to Furr, the integration between the applications allows for cross-application data sharing with automatic updates. "Sharing data across the applications means that you only have to enter the data once, and it's automatically added to the other applications. That saves time and decreases data entry errors," he said.


Smart Online Calendar
Click here for a larger image.

The calendar application, available in both suites, lets employees share and view schedules much like you can with Outlook, but it does not yet integrate with the Outlook application. A company spokesperson said that the company is "currently working on implementing seamless Outlook integration" and expects to have it available in six to eight weeks.

HR for the Under 25 Crowd
The Grow suite's human resource application makes Smart Online, according to Tom Furr, the only company to offer HR services to companies with fewer than 25 employees.


Smart Online Human resources
Click here for a larger image.

The application lets you enter employee and company information, employee time and attendance, leave requests and documents such as insurance forms, W-2s and I-9s, etc.

Pricing
Smart Online offers 30-day free trials for both Start and Grow. After that, Start costs $29.95 per month for the first three people; each additional person costs another $3.00 per month.

Grow costs $49.95 per month for the first five people plus 5.00 each per month for additional users.

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com

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