by Bill Ives
This is another post in our Shareable database series.
I recently spoke with Matt McAdams, CTO at TrackVia, and Ed Dunigan, their Director of Marketing. Matt said their vision for TrackVia is to provide an easy to use SaaS database for business people. They wanted the average business users to have the power of an online database without having to involve IT and/or make investments with systems integrators. Matt said they like to think of TrackVia as a tool that is as easy as a spreadsheet and as comprehensive as a database.
Their web site nicely describes the three areas of focus: collect, organize, and share. First, they understand how important it is to have access to all of your data in one place. So they made it easy to collect data from multiple sources. Next, TrackVia allows you to easily organize you data with such features as the ability to edit multiple records at once, analyze data right within TrackVia, and track changes to your data. Finally, by providing an online database with granular access control, they have made it easy to share the right information with the right people. Below is a sample permissions screen that shows some of this granularity.
Matt and Ed walked me through setting up a new database. When you start you can build your database through an Excel import, from scratch, or start with one of a series of functional templates (e.g. sales leads, requests, customers). These templates offer an intuitive way to introduce you to TrackVia’s features. You then have the ability to edit these templates to better meet your business needs. There are also a variety of data field types (e.g., drop downs, numbers, short answer, calculated fields).
Matt said that 80 percent of their customers already have data in another tool, the majority in Excel. So they made it easy to import data from Excel. They have developed a complex algorithm that makes fairly accurate assumptions about the type of data. For example, if there are only two categories such as gender, then it is assumed to be appropriate for a drop down. TrackVia can get a bit more sophisticated in its parsing of data types. If there are seven names in one group and a hundred in another, then it is assumed that the seven should be in a drop down and the hundred go in a short answer. You can always override the assumptions and be notified of the impact conversion will have on your data prior to converting. Matt said they developed these rules by watching the actions of many business users. Below is sample Excel import screen.
They implemented a robust search function that works like Internet search engines. For example, you can put in state:ca to only get ca when it refers to the state. A search will bring back the matching records with the search termshighlighted. The search goes across all data types and can also search the change history and notes. Like Google, multiple words do not have to be together as required by many desktop tools. Here is a sample search result.
You can use the Bulk Edit tool to select multiple items and edit, add a note or delete them. For example, you can easily assign sales leads to a different sales rep. This gives you a quick way to work with the data. You can also find duplicates and quickly clean up your data. See a sample screen below.
There are fourways to display data: a table view, a map view through a mashup with Google maps, a calendar view, and statistics with several charts and graph types. You can easily export the data back to tools like Excel to work with your data off line.
TrackVia allows you to put the data to work by integrating with a number of applications and making it easy to complete tasks such as creating a mail merge template for form letters. In this case you can create the letter template in Word and upload to TrackVia for data integration. You can also get email alerts for changes to specified data (e.g., change in status for a sales lead). Below is a screen shot of this function.
TrackVia integrates well with web sites and email. A web form can be placed on a web site for collecting data directly into your database. In addition, incoming emails can be collected via the email collection feature and sent directly to your database. (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org)
As I have asked many of the venders I speak to recently, we discussed how the economic down turn is affecting them. Matt said they are doing very well. January set an all time record for the most new customers. As with many tools in this space, new customers with tight budgets are seeing them as a low cost alternative. They are both less expensive than bigger database tools and their easy to use out-of-the-box features reduce or eliminate system integrator or IT staff time and costs. Having seen the tool in operation, it seems intuitive to me and I am a good test as I am not a tools guy.
I asked them about Twitter, as I have been writing about it a lot recently. Ed says that he has a personal Twitter account where he clearly identifies his role with TrackVia. He monitors conversations about online databases and other relevant topics. When it seems appropriate he joins the conversation and introduces TrackVia. He said the response has been very positive as people feel he is responding to their needs and not being bothersome. I think this is very good and perhaps an indication that Ed is using good judgment in how and when he approaches people. At the moment they just use Ed’s personal approach and do not have a company Twitter feed. They also have a TrackVia blog to provide more context on what they do.
by Bill Ives
Here is the second in our series on shareable databases. I have covered Zoho before (see – Zoho: A Suite of Many Online Apps for Small to Midsize Business). For this post I spoke again with Raju Vegesna, the Zoho Evangelist, about their two database tools. First, he said they are planning to integrate them into a single tool at the request of many customers. These clients liked the features that both tools had to offer and wanted the ease of use of Zoho Creator combined with the power of Zoho DB. So I asked Raju to tell more what both bring to the table.
Raju started with Zoho Creator. It is designed to let users easily create simple applications on the front end without writing a single line of code. The back end database is automatically set up by Zoho. In contrast, Zoho DB is a more powerful database tool that focuses on giving you control over the back end to create more complex databases. It allows you to run any SQL query. Raju said that in some ways Zoho Creator is like Visual Basic and Zoho DB is like Access. We then dove into each in more detail and Raju did a demo.
Zoho Creator lets you set up simple forms through drag and drop features. You can import data from Excel, use a template or start from scratch. We did the latter. For each field in the form you can set features like making it required or hidden. You can add actions such as email notification and trigger other actions such as updating an address in all other databases connected with the person when one database is updated. All of the database set up to support these fields and actions occurs behind the scenes automatically. If you need more complex actions you can use a scripting language. Here is the create database screen.
Zoho Creator lets you create different views of the data from the same form. It also allows you to deploy the Google apps engine once your forms are set up so you do not have to stay within Zoho. It allows you to take both your application and the data to Google apps.
Zoho DB also allows you to set up databases from Excel, templates or from scratch. You can take your Excel databases off the desktop and into the cloud in a shareable format with Zoho DB. You can publish the database in your blog or make it public in other ways. There are many formats for generating reports. You can make a SQL query in any dialect to conduct analysis and/or generate reports. These reports can be created through drag and drop as you decide which data sets go into the X and Y axis on charts. Then you can color code the charts.
You can also pull data from another site and do more complex manipulations, reports, and charts. Raju showed me a database he created using TechCrunch’s tech layoff data. He was able to go beyond what TechCrunch did with the data with different sorts and displays. At the same time, you can drill down through any of these visual displays to see the details behind the graphs. Here is chart of layoffs by month and location from Raju╒s Layoff tracker.
Raju said they are also planning to separate Zoho Reports from DB to make its capabilities available for other applications such as Zoho CRM. I asked him how they are doing in the down economy. He said quite well, especially some of their product lines which offer low costs alternatives to similar applications in the market. For example, Zoho CRM is picking up a lot of customers who are migrating from more expensive CRM tools. This is the good news – bad news of operating in the cloud. It makes it easier to switch. This is good news for those who take in the migrants. Zoho Business suite is also doing well as a low cost alternative to desktop business suites, especially since they provide the email hosting with the package.
Raju said they have four groups of clients in this market. First, there are students and individuals who want a low cost office suite. Then there are small to mid-size business that are also looking at reduced fees as fees per user can add up. Third, there are departments in larger organizations that are able to set up and run the Zoho apps without having to wait for IT to do the install. For this group, the Zoho apps are usually within their budgets. Finally, they are starting to get a few larger enterprises that want to achieve better collaboration between groups. For these clients Zoho will provide a version that can operate behind their firewall.
Raju also mentioned the new Zoho Marketplace (see above). Here third parties can offer for sale to others the Zoho databases they create with Zoho tools. Raju showed me a personal financial planner. Zoho lets them keep all the revenue from these sales, as they will still get revenue hosting the applications. In the first few months, 130 applications have been put into the Marketplace and they see this growing. This is a good idea. I think the combination of Zoho Creator and DB also makes a lot of sense.
by Bill Ives
This post is the first in a series we’ll be running over the coming weeks on “shareable databases.”
I have written about QuickBase on this blog before (most recently see – QuickBase’s New Developer Program: Going the Next Step to Support Its Developers and Their Mutual Clients) and as you know they are the sponsor of The AppGap. QuickBase is an Enterprise 2.0 shareable database that lets you select ready-made online workgroup applications or templates designed to solve common business problems, customize them to suit individual processes, and share within a team or an enterprise. I recently had a chance to talk with Peter Fearey and Liz McCann, who wanted to update me on QuickBase since we last spoke, about some of their latest initiatives, as well as their progress over 2008. Peter began with some of Intuit’s moves across the product line.
Brad Smith CEO at Intuit, has set a focus on “connected services.” There is both an increase in cloud offerings to enhance connectivity and an increased connectivity between desktop applications and web services. In addition, Intuit is promoting ways for customers to be connected with each other as well as the many experts within the broader Intuit community. This provides greater access to professional services for Intuit users by Intuit users.
Within QuickBase they are building on this broader theme by reaching out to users of siloed desktop databases and spreadsheets to bring them into the increased connectivity that the QuickBase SaaS platform provides. Last year they did a user survey that indicated their happiest and most supportive users were ones who migrated from desktop databases and spreadsheets to QuickBase. Liz mentioned one non-profit that kept track of their events on a desktop database hosted on a single laptop. This laptop was hand carried to events. When there were two or more events on the same night the extra sessions were covered through pen and paper. Then the notes were added to the laptop later. The multi-channel access that a hosted solution, such as QuickBase, offers eliminated this bottleneck.
Here is a more extensive example reported earlier on this blog, Out of this Galaxy – Delivering Premium Customer Service Has Never Been So Easy. For the first two years, they used Excel to manage their customer information. It didn’t scale and Luke nearly lost his mind trying to keep track of it all. Since January 2008 they have been using QuickBase for their customer service management needs – tracking customer status, their inventory status and location, what product they carry, as well as other associated activities like in-store demo schedules and staffing. Recently Galaxy has moved their Purchase Order management to the QuickBase platform. They also have a solution that can scale to their rapid growth projections.
Encouraged by the survey results, QuickBase has gone after more desktop database users to bring them into Enterprise 2.0. They focused their product to meet both the needs of individual users, project teams, IT, and senior management. Most enterprises have thousands of critical databases siloed on individual computers, out of sight from IT and senior management, and difficult for team members to share efficiently. With QuickBase now everyone who needs to have access can see what is happening in thousands of operations critical to the business. With this enterprise strategy, QuickBase has seen significant growth both in the number and size of accounts. Like Galaxy Granola, and the famous potato chip commercial, once you try it, you cannot resist more. One client has 50,000 users. Here is a view of a workgroup administration screen. You can see that multiple databases can be managed through one interface.
You can also easily manage users as shown below.
…and manage groups through a consistent interface.
The press has been receptive. PC Magazine named them as an Editors’ Choice. The review said that “QuickBase puts your company’s database applications online, so that anyone in your organization can get customized, secure Web access to anything from inventory to contact lists to product management.” This choice selection was literally the case as the editor says that the PC Magazine editors use QuickBase to keep track of previews, reviews, and other features.
I think QuickBase is an excellent example of how Enterprise 2.0 can open up the organization. The market has looked favorably on this group of applications. Like many others in this niche I have interviewed for AppGap, QuickBase has seen significant growth despite a down market. Companies are seeing this class of applications as a way to both cut costs and increase productivity.
As we have discussed, SaaS is an important component of this move to Enterprise 2.0 and IDC recently issued the report, Software as a Service Market Will Expand Rather than Contract Despite the Economic Crisis. They projected that by the end of 2009, 76% of U.S. organizations will use at least one SaaS-delivered application for business use. SaaS applications are also getting an increasing percentage of IT budgets. With experiences like those reported by QuickBase, I can see why this is happening.
The QuickBase Team Collaboration Blog is carrying more of these stories, as well as ways to get increased productivity from the application.
Stay tuned for more coverage of “shareable database” apps in the next month or two and feel free to write to us if your company’s offering should be included in this survey.