Bell launched a Business Apps Store on Feb. 2 that invites small firms to subscribe to, compare, preview, and manage Web-based applications.
Built with San Francisco-based AppDirect (owned by Origo Networks Inc.), the store currently offers 21 different applications delivered over the Internet, rather than being installed on premises. The apps are tailored to the needs of small businesses and include categories such as accounting, project management, collaboration, customer relationship management (CRM) and more. Each application offers a free trial, and is sold on a fee-per-user subscription basis.
Acting as an aggregator of Web-based applications, Bell’s store offers small firms the ability to use a single login to access many different services. An administrative Web-based dashboard is used to assign applications to individual employees or teams.
Bell’s store will act like a one-stop shop for small firms interested in using software-as-a-service SaaS), says Matt Hurley, senior vice president at Bell in an e-mail interview.
The store “will not only provide a marketplace for true SaaS applications but it will also provide complete user and app licence management for small businesses, single sign on capability so users don’t need to remember multiple passwords for apps, as well as the ability to manage the billing,” he says.
It makes sense for Bell to open its own applications store, says Paul Edwards, director of SMB & channels research for IDC Canada. Carriers are well-positioned to offer applications as a service and it’s likely that other carriers are thinking about how to do something similar.
“They do have a pretty big list of SMB customers already for other business,” he says. “There’s a perception that this is the way for smaller businesses to act like bigger businesses without high capital costs.”
Small firms, even those with less than 100 employees, are voicing interest in applications delivered over the Internet, Edwards says. The market is ripe as firms look to technology as a way to solve business problems and improve their overall strategy.
Calgary-based Gridly is one of the applications available through Bell’s Business Applications Store. The Web-based software allows users to create and collaborate on the design of printed materials using simple templates. It is a startup company that launched its service in November.
“It wasn’t difficult at all from a technology standpoint to set up the hooks to integrate with the Apps Store, it was a no-brainer for us,” says Dan Meeking, co-founder of Gridly. “We get to ride on the coattails of Bell’s efforts, and if that gets us some exposure and new customers, then why not.”
Gridly will offer the same support to Bell-based customers as to the customers that sign up for its service on the Gridly.com Web site, Meeking says. The application starts at a price of $99 per month for small teams, and is priced the same on Bell’s store as direct from Gridly.
Bell keeps a 30 per cent cut of the sales through its channel, Meeking says. “It is kind of a big pill to swallow, but it’s worth trying. They’re going to do all the promotion and deliver customers to our door.”
Bell’s agreement with its developers requires that an application not be made available for a less expensive rate outside of the store, he adds.
With the popularity of mobile application stores such as Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Market, Meeking says the time for a business-oriented applications store is a great one.
“There isn’t a whole lot out there for business apps as a service right now,” he says. “Bell and AppDirect are some of the first to set up this market.”
Bell will be hosting the applications using Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) platform. It will SAS70 standards to ensure top-notch data security, according to Hurley.
Bell is going to focus on improving the customer experience on its new store, the VP says. It is also actively seeking new developers to add to the portal and encourages SaaS application creators to get in touch.
Complete list of applications currently offered
Yast Time Tracker
Checkfront Online Booking System
Upaknee Campaign Manager
Social Media Monitoring