Dreamforce, Le Web, and the Small Business Upgrade Cycle

by francine Hardaway on December 8, 2010

Image representing Freshbooks as depicted in C...
Image via CrunchBase

This is the week of Dreamforce, the big Salesforce.com user conference, and of Le Web. These two major conferences, combined with the paranoia about WikiLeaks and the potential downsides of putting all our information in the cloud where it can be censored, have focused me back on the topic of those productivity aids formerly known as software. Now these aids are known as cloud services, and with the rumor that Apple will open its  Mac app store as soon as next week, you can expect that more services will fly off the computer and take up residence in the cloud.

The cloud has been embraced far more quickly than I ever thought it would be, by everyone except perhaps the medical profession with its muddled conception of what constitutes data privacy and data security (it’s okay if someone can take it home on a laptop or a thumb drive over the weekend, but it’s not “safe” in the cloud). The most forward-thinking of us no longer remember applications on the hard drive; we live in a world of web apps or mobile apps.

The software situation today reminds me of the hardware situation when I was at Intel in the mid-90s for a brief stint. At Intel, from what I could gather as a newbie, one of our unspoken objectives was to push the enterprise into upgrading all its machines every 18 months. We did that by coming out with faster and faster processors, and making everyone feel out of date and obsolete if they didn’t have the latest and greatest. Microsoft colluded with us by upgrading the operating systems accordingly. At some point, however, the speed of the processor ceased to matter, because the performance of the PC was limited also by the speed of the bus. And because mere mortals making Powerpoint slides and editing documents were about as empowered as they needed to be.

To a great degree, those times are behind us. Few people, except perhaps gamers, talk processor speed anymore. However, the addiction to the “latest and greatest” continues, mostly in the realm of software.

I’m in the process of pushing most of our portfolio clients and Fasttrac participants off Quickbooks, which is overly complex and difficult to use, and on to Freshbooks, a web app that allows a business to track time and generate invoices from a phone. I’m pushing them away from Office to Google Docs or Google Apps, and away from email marketing to social media. I’m nudging them toward the cloud, toward software as a service, toward independence from time, place, or device.

I think I’m helping, but once in a while I have the feeling I’ve put about 400 small businesses on an upgrade treadmill not so different from the WinTel conspiracy of the mid-90s.

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