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Bringing SaaS Apps to the Masses

Bringing SaaS Apps to the Masses

A new trend is emerging that promises to help SMBs take full advantage of cloud computing -- the proliferation of easy-to-use marketplaces focusing on business-oriented SaaS apps. App store hosting companies are working with major retailers like Staples, which offers its own App Center, as well as with nonprofits that support small businesses, such as state and local chambers of commerce.

By Jeffrey M. Kaplan
02/08/13 5:00 AM PT

One of the age-old challenges that has plagued the software industry, like many others, is how vendors can reach small- and mid-sized businesses with their software products.

Although today's Software as a Service model eliminates many of the distribution challenges of the past, it hasn't overcome the obstacles associated with selling cloud- based applications to SMBs. However, new SaaS marketplace hosts may be able to break through these barriers.

Many industry observers have mistakenly believed that SMBs have been in the forefront of SaaS adoption because SMBs were never able to afford traditional, on-premises enterprise applications. The truth is that SMBs have been slow to try and buy SaaS apps because they are less familiar with the SaaS apps available to them and are more risk-averse about experimenting with new apps.

App Store Acceptance

I've written often in this space about the growing importance of the third-party channels to market for today's SaaS vendors.

Old and new channel partners are becoming increasingly essential to educate potential customers about the business benefits of SaaS, help clients select and deploy the right SaaS solutions, and optimize the return on their SaaS investments.

Online SaaS marketplaces have also held promise because of the increasing familiarity among "prosumers" with the Apple iStore, Google Play and Amazon's Appstore for finding and utilizing apps for their smartphones and tablets to meet personal needs.

Many corporate end-users and executives want the same ease of use when it comes to acquiring business apps.

Powering Staples' App Center

Companies like Jamcracker and Parallels have had success promoting the virtues of leveraging a marketplace platform to telcos and hosting companies for years. Now companies like AppDirect and SaaS Markets are empowering a wider array of organizations to deploy SaaS marketplaces.

AppDirect is powering Staples' new App Center, which offers SMBs an online portal where they can purchase and manage their apps using a customizable administrative console.

This is a significant initiative, because Staples is the world's largest office products company and second largest Internet retailer. The App Center offers SaaS applications from Google, Carbonite, Mozy, Box, Symantec, McAfee, and many other leading vendors.

"Staples' vision is to provide small businesses with all the products they need to succeed," the company says, "including the best offerings from the evolving cloud computing market."

Partnering With Nonprofits

While AppDirect has been targeting major service providers and retailers to host its app store platform, SaaS Markets, another business app store provider, has been focusing its efforts on partnering with nonprofit organizations that serve SMBs.

In the past year, SaaS Markets has established 24 app stores with organizations like the state chambers of commerce in Washington and Montana, as well as local chambers in Greater Richmond, Va.; Pocatello, Idaho; Auburn Area, Wash.; and Park City, Utah.

SaaS Markets' app stores also extend across Europe and offer over 1,300 SaaS applications, along with support services to help SMBs select, deploy and use their apps.

The many and varied companies and organizations hosting app stores are giving SaaS greater credibility in the eyes of SMB decision-makers. They are also making it easier for SMBs to obtain SaaS solutions and utilize them effectively.

Jeff Kaplan is the managing director of THINKstrategies and founder of the Cloud Computing Showplace. He can be reached at

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