Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Salesforce Alternatives: Options for Small Businesses

Salesforce is credited as one of the best CRM systems out there. And probably – it is. The only thing is that Salesforce may be the best CRM system for Enterprise. On the other hand, for the small companies or individuals it is a sledgehammer to crack nuts. Moreover, you have to consider that companies don’t run on CRM alone. They need various pieces of business software to run their business properly. That's why the quest for Salesforce alternatives always has been and still remains relevant.

Too Small?

Lately, Salesforce tried to expand their presence in SMB by presenting three small business CRM solutions for $25, $65 and $125/user/month. IMHO, for startups and small businesses the price over $40-50 per user automatically makes affordability a great issue. So here is what you get from Salesforce for relatively reasonable $25:
  • Up to 5 users, only 1 list;
  • Automatic data capture;
  • Customizable sales tracking for one list;
  • Intelligent follow-up reminders;
  • Contact auto-complete;
  • Shared address book;
  • Sent-email notifications;
  • Smart mobile apps;
  • Chrome extension.
Not impressed? So am I. Looks like while trying to win SMB Salesforce turned too "small". For that price, functionality is way too limited. Also, it's not flexible: you cannot customize it for your company needs. This means you'll probably have to change the usual ways of your business rather than adapt the system to fit your demands. What's more, the system inherited general Salesforce drawbacks:
  • Complexity (there's a good chance that you'll need to hire someone to manage it);
  • Hidden costs (third-party solutions from AppExchange may be awesome, but they cost money);
  • Not too friendly UI.
For many SMBs, these factors are enough to start looking for Salesforce alternative.

Where to Seek Alternatives to Salesforce?

When seeking alternatives to Salesforce, you'll first have to decide what exactly you need – specifically CRM system or a comprehensive software to satisfy all your data management needs including CRM – like online databases.

CRM systems

At this point, everything is clear: you search for Salesforce alternative that is cheaper and simpler, right? Then you might want to take a look at these ten systems, which made it to my personal TOP:
Bottom line: these CRM software products all have couple things in common. First of all, affordability: they all have offerings under $25/user – even when you grow beyond a handful of users. Secondly, they obviously put MUCH effort in staying dead-simple to use.

Online databases

Before I get to online databases, I'd like to stress out one point that made me mention them in the post about Salesforce.com alternatives. If you are a startup or a small company you have to keep in mind that sales data is just one type of data you'll have to handle. Finance, marketing, legal, project management, and maybe even HR – you'll have to set this all up. You can't do it with Salesforce, which means you'll have to spend additional funds to buy corresponding software. Another option is to purchase the customizable software. And that's where online database steps in.
To make long story short, the custom online database is like Lego: you build precisely what you need of different software "blocks". Moreover, unlike Lego, you can shape the form of these blocks – add required or remove unnecessary functions. Thus, once taking some time to tune the system (if needed – with the Support assistance) you can develop not only a CRM alternative to Salesforce but accounting, estimation, project management and other apps. Generally, any other type of business software a small company may need.
And yeah, the vast majority of vendors offer the price per user per month from $5 to $20 with a minimum of three-five users to start. Here are several online database vendors you might want to consider if you have just realized that you'll need more than just CRM:
  • Caspio is one of the leaders of the industry; probably that's why it's one of the most expensive as well;
  • QuickBase is a bit complex, but good tool for team collaboration (or was a good tool?.. Little birdie told me that after Intuit had announced that it's selling QuickBase, many staff people are looking for another job);
  • TeamDesk is minimalistic in design, but dead simple and at the same time surprisingly powerful and affordable one-stop shop for data management;
  • TrackVia focuses on building quick, graphical apps;
  • Zoho Creator lets you build advanced apps with scripting, but requires decent coding skills;
  • Knack is a simple database builder for beginners.
The essence of online databases is that instead of spending thousands on multiple solutions for various tasks, they allow small businesses to invest in a single SaaS. This solution then lets companies build virtually any type of business software they may need, be it CRM, ERP, BPM, EAM, SCM, HR, or some other set of capital letters :). Thus, small companies save valuable time, money, and resources.

Pick Your Salesforce Alternative

Let me sum it up: you can replace Salesforce either with another cheaper and simpler CRM system or with a versatile tool like an online database that will deliver you more value beyond CRM. Both kinds of alternatives to Salesforce.com are more cost-effective. The choice is up to you to make!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Top 5 Online Project Management Databases

The essence of any business is making money. The mechanism of businesses is delivering projects on time and under budget. Thus, keeping track of all the tasks and processes that are needed to accomplish a project is one of the top priorities.
There are dozens of specialized project management tools (online and offline) out there. They are mostly single-tasking applications worth a good buck. But considering my blog's subject, I'll be talking specifically about the online database software that among a lot of functionality in a number of different areas can also provide decent project management solutions.
So here is my rating of 5 web databases that offer pre-designed project management databases templates or let you build your own PM app from a scratch to precisely tailor your business needs:
Transpose is a relatively new online database management platform built on secure enterprise-grade technology. As a database for project manager, it has the fields and views that allow for task management, progress tracking, and team collaboration. Transpose also provides several views for project information management. Users can choose a table view (rows/columns), a calendar view (tasks against schedules), a Kanban view, or a compact view (see the whole picture at a high level). The system also makes uploaded files searchable by converting them into text. Pre-built PM templates are available.
Generally, Transpose's PM tool offers solutions that may fit individuals and small to mid-sized business owners. Though for now the functionality is somewhat limited, perhaps, as more users join the system, new features will be introduced.
Zengine is out on the market for quite some time now. Today, it offers users the ability to quickly put together data-driven applications (including PM) with very little knowledge or background in software. Users can track processes, collaborate and share information on the team, create and export report views – really easy.
But looks like that for this kind of simplicity Zengine is, to some extent, paying with functionality – you will get just the basic set. On the other hand, this problem is in part solved by the great library of Zengine third-party integrations (like MailChimp, Quickbooks, Twilio, etc.)
3. Caspio
Caspio is one of the leaders of online database management industry. And, of course, it has a good and worthy solution to offer for project management, either in the form of ready-made web applications or in the form of point-and-click app builder to make your own PM tool.
On top of it Caspio provides expert support and a very flexible price plan.
Zoho Projects is an application by well-known Zoho Corporation, launched specifically to deal with project management. Although developers claim that the platform can be used by teams of all sizes, it obviously suits best for small to medium-level companies. The most attractive features of Zoho software, from my point of view, are its flexible and inexpensive pricing structure, a rich variety of integrations, and communication tools.
At the same time, the biggest Zoho Projects drawback is that the best features are only available with the most expensive plans. Also, as for the award-winning company, Zoho customer support leaves much to be desired.
* Initially, I've planned to share the second place between Zoho Projects and Intuit QuickBase. But almost three months later after Intuit announced that QuickBase is going to be sold, its fate is still unknown. It is (or was?..) really good tool for team collaboration, but rumors are flying around that many leading staff members are looking for another place to implement their skills... So I prefer for now not to include QB to my rating.
TeamDesk has been present on the market for over a decade now. Although it's not advertised as widely as it competitors like Caspio, QuickBase or Zoho, this custom online database delivers great web-based application solutions, including database for project management. You have three options:
  • Get a pre-built all-in-one project management database;
  • Build your own PM tool from a wide range of pre-defined templates;
  • Start your own PM tool from a scratch.
In either case, you'll get a centralized but at the same time completely customizable, scalable and searchable environment to track project tasks, issues, and bugs, as well as due dates and statuses. It can be viewed as timeline (Gantt chart) or calendar.
Minimalistic design and zero programming features make TeamDesk dead simple to build applications that can precisely fit a specific workflow or way of doing business.
Project Management Database – Your Superpower
This rating doesn't claim to be super exhaustive or anyhow impartial. These are just mine subjective impressions on available database software. Moreover, lots of new utilities appearing on the Web every now and then that can satisfy the most elaborate requests. I can just add that as you can see, all of the featured app builders might help a company build their own custom project management tool. Some require very little coding knowledge, some fit better for the more technical users. Anyway, it's hard to argue that creating your own customized project management software is like having a new superpower. Use it wisely :)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Business Database Trends 2016 – What's Around the Corner?

The new year has begun, and this is a good time to look forward and try to see what the day to come is bearing for us. As since the area of my interests includes business data management, naturally, I'm focusing on business database trends that will intensify or emerge in 2016.
So here is my top of digital business trends in data management field.
1. Faster migration of business database to the cloud
Hosted databases have been around for years now (take TeamDesk, Zoho, Caspio, QuickBase, etc.), but for business moving a database to the Web still is more a trend than a conventional solution. Two major obstacles that halt transition process are the security concerns and cloud costs. Therefore, only 37% of U.S. small businesses have fully adopted cloud computing, according to Forbes. On the other hand, digital commerce trends demonstrate that cloud solutions will evidently become more secure, and the technology will be getting cheaper. Due to this, the number of businesses that will move their databases online is expected to reach 78% by 2020.
  1. Shifting database for business to mobile
Moving to the Web will naturally trigger discovering new ways to access and work with data over smartphones and tablets. The reason for this is that today 80% of mobile devices owners use them to surf the Internet. And the role of mobile computing is increasing exponentially. And I bet that one of the most important trends in mobile - when it comes to databases – will be creating a reliable application that will function properly even when a network connection is unavailable.
  1. Merging different database standards, e.g. SQL and NoSQL
Today's business environment is getting more and more data-heavy, and this data comes in a huge variety of forms that SQL is not always able to handle. Hybrid SQL-NoSQL database solutions combine the advantage of being compatible with many SQL applications and providing the scalability of NoSQL ones. Some steps to bridging SQL and NoSQL have already been made (NuoDB, Clustrix, VoltDB, etc.), but this is still the grey technology area where the biggest breakthroughs are yet to be made.
  1. Managing, analyzing business sensors data in real time and converting it into 'Clean Data.'
Soon web-connected sensors will be inside all kinds of items around you. They will provide companies with all kinds of information about their customers, employees, and operations in real time. Furthermore, developers will be paying lots of attention to improving current and creating new ways of real-time data analysis to make better use of constantly incoming data (like Informatica does). From my point of view, the most likely outcome of these efforts will be transforming Big Data into Clear Data – the sorted data sets ready to be used like the out-of-the-box product.
  1. Automated decision-making
Today data and analytics are just tools for decision-makers. But this will inevitably change in foreseeable future. It already is changing. The first step here was made quite some time ago with data-driven predictions and/or forecasting under specific conditions. My guess is that automated data-driven decision-making will be the next big step in database software for business development (check'em out: SAS, FICO, Scorto).
So to make the most of your online database software, keep an eye on the latest digital business trends we've marked out. The future may be much closer than you expect :)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Online Custom Database vs. Custom Developed Database

From time to time all throughout my professional activity I run into people who totally mess up web database terminology. One of the most glaring examples is confusing terms 'Online custom database' and 'Custom-developed database'. They are frequently labeled as synonyms that basically indicate the same thing.
Though, for outsiders, these terms may really sound pretty much similar to each other, as a matter of fact, they represent two diametrically opposite approaches to a custom database development.
The first one is applied when the matter concerns a hosted customizable database software, which can be modified by the USER at any moment. On the other hand, when a custom-developed database is the subject, it is usually said about the software that was built according to a client's specific requests but is supported and can be modified only by the VENDOR.
For better clarity in understanding the difference, here is the table comparing these two custom database solutions.
Custom Database Solutions
Online Custom Database
Custom Developed Database
Getting started
Start is fast. You can create a database from a scratch or just upload your existing spreadsheet. Moreover, professional support as IT consultants for new users is provided by most vendors. Some of them can even create a database for you for free.
Traditional approach when the client is separated from developers by formal methods of development is applied. Every modification of original design has to be discussed and approved. Thus, you have to wait until a vendor presents a ready product.
Functionality
You only use functionality necessary for the present moment. But at any moment you can modify the software in a real time, adding functions you need or removing the ones you don't require anymore.
The developer implements customers business processes according to your requirements. But any workflow change takes time to carry out, and the database may be not available during the upgrade.
Cost efficiency
The majority of hosted custom database providers have pretty straightforward pricing policy and don't charge extra for changes made within packages. That means you control all development costs.
The initial cost is usually higher, and additional expenses can happen when your requirements change.
Interface consistency
Vendors use standard intuitive elements to build your application’s interface. At the same time, they can be fine-tuned to satisfy a particular operator – by operator himself or by the vendor.
The interface is developed according to your given specifications.
Business process changes
In case your business process changes, you can easily adapt your database software to precisely fit your modified needs. Or you can address support for assistance, that is usually delivered in 24-48 hours.
To change workflow process, you must make a request to the developer and wait till it's applied. Changing process can last from couple days to several weeks or even months, depending on complexity.
System usage and support
Due to a high competition and client's ability to change vendors in no time, providers value their customers more. Because great help service makes more clients, support teams try to take care of all problems ASAP.
The customer depends on the developer greatly, because it's the vendor who holds the keys of your software. The developer resolves problems according to the type of support agreement. Extended support costs more.

Which Custom Database Software Do You Need?
Summing it up, I can say that customizable online database will fit your needs the best when you run unique business with ever-evolving workflow processes in agile markets and know that you're going to expand and scale your business periodically. In my honest opinion,
On the other hand, you should better use the custom-developed database when you know for sure that one ready-made database solution fits your needs right from the box. Then it will serve you for years without the need for major changes.
Personally, I prefer online database - it’s more flexible. If you decide to go with online database, I suggest you choose one of the following: QuickBaseTeamDeskCaspio, or Zoho.
At the same time, as you can see, both solutions offer building custom database software tailored to your needs. But the devil is in the detail. So, know the difference – the right choice can save you lots of nerves and energy that you need to run your business.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Convert Excel to a Database Online and Start Using Both

Сonvert Excel to a database and keep using both for the tasks they fit the bestIn a modern business there are two things that really matter: correctly maintaining/managing data and staying agile in a rapidly changing environment. At the meeting-point between these two trends, we witness an ongoing war between traditional data management tools (like MS Excel or MS Access) and recent solutions (like custom online databases). I suggest: turn enemies into friends - convert Excel to a database online and make business, not war.

A Second Nature

Excel has been around for more than 30 years now, and data management technologies have developed greatly since than There have been a whole bunch of heavy hitters trying to dethrone the spreadsheet giant. And yes, sometimes Excel is just a pit of frustration. Piling errors in spreadsheets, troublesome information sharing, and problematic concurrent access by multiple users are Excel's biggest drawbacks.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Quickbase fails

Recently Quickbase customers experienced service outages repeatedly. It has been really an unexpected surprise for Quickbase users.

Recent outages brought QuickBase uptime for the past 90 days to as low as 95% level:



And even though they were assured the problem is temporary, the number of service failures exceeded acceptable limits. You can check out the retrospection of problems reviewing Intuit's Quickbase Fails Days After CEO Pledges Fix.

Quickbase official blog states the situation is unacceptable. As an apology Quickbase offers one month credit to all users, so you can check out their official letter to Quickbase customers HERE.

Anyway, this situation has brought QuickBase service reliability into a question, and many customers have lost their trust to this vendor for good. Even worse, some customers' databases are still broken, leaving them in a real frustration. That's why the competitors don't waste time and have already made their special migration offers to Quickbase customers.

So far, the following vendors offered their platform to be used as a reliable QuickBase alternative:

  • Check out Caspio special migration offer HERE.
  • TeamDesk special migration offer you can review HERE.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Vendors ready to help DabbleDB customers

As long as Dabble DB is out of the game now customers must be looking for other place to move their data.

It's not pleasant to discover one day the service you relied on let you down. But the good thing is some vendors are eager to help DabbleDB customers to make the transition faster and easier. Special offers make the process less painful.

So, lets check out vendors ready to help with their special offers.

Here I made the list of web based systems for moving the data:

CompanyOffer

Caspio Bridge


  • Free 14-day trial
  • Free first month of Value Package (regularly $39.95)
  • Free migration consultation
  • Free instructor-led training
  • Free unlimited support
  • 20% off custom development services

  • TeamDesk


  • Free automated migration using Dabble DB backup file
  • Free Technical Support
  • Free Trial

  • QuickBase


  • 3 Free Months while you migrate your database applications
  • 2 Free Hours of migration support and consulting

  • Zoho Creator


  • Free migration
  • Unlimited Support

  • I wish all former DabbleDB users to make the right choice this time.

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    DabbleDB is out of the game

    10 June 2010 Smallthought Systems, a company behind DabbleDb online database has been acquired by Twitter.

    No doubt that will be a new and successful stage for Dabble DB team. So, congratulations! But does this situation really differ from going out of the business Coghead?

    Is there any plan Dabble DB can offer their customers?

    Unfortunately, it seems Dabble DB customers are alone with their problems now:
    "We will do whatever we need to do to make sure that, at any time, you can export all of your data, including attachments, in a structured format suitable for import into other systems."

    As I see it this situation has brought up the problem into question again.

    Which criteria one should take into consideration choosing the SaaS vendor?

    Can the vendor be trusted so one builds a business with it?

    Thursday, February 25, 2010

    Want to make Caspio forms dynamic? Scripting is the way.

    Caspio is positioned as a solution for building powerful web database applications and forms without programming. But why in the majority of cases when the user wants to add some dynamic behavior to the form he must use JavaScript?

    I'd like to thank Frank Zamani for help and detailed answer about dynamic capabilities of Caspio Bridge.

    Most features in Caspio-powered forms configured at design time and forms usually don't change behavior no matter how the user at run time acts. However, there are areas where behavior is dynamic:

    Cascading dropdowns and listboxes, where the options in each field of the group depends on what is selected in the parent field can be implemented without programming. More details here.

    Unfortunately, in all cases dynamic forms must be handled by JavaScript.
    "Dynamic displaying/hiding or requiring fields is currently handled by JavaScript. That’s about to change as we will bring more of these options right into the platform."

    Well until this happens, I think dynamic behavior capabilities of data entry forms в Caspio Bridge are pretty limited except dependent dropdown.

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    Zoho Creator can make forms dynamic. Get ready to script.

    Wanna add some dynamics to your Zoho Creator forms? Then get ready to master Deluge Script first.

    First of all I'd like to thank Latha from Zoho Creator support for the detailed answer and sample application.
    "Zoho Creator can perform the functions you mentioned in your blog like Hide/show field values based on values in other fields, change the value of a field based on value selected in another field, validate field values, make read only values etc. by adding Deluge Script."

    I'd like to make several examples of how Deluge Script looks implementing all above mentioned actions.

    Сustom validation of form data:


    Modify form contents dynamically, on form load:


    Perform an action after a form data is persisted (for example, send email notification):


    Perform field actions (like show/hide fields based on value selected in another field):


    Display items in a dropdown based on selection made in another dropdown:


    Conclusions:

    Well, Zoho Creator makes forms really dynamic and the flexibility you get can surpass other systems, but just in case you are capable of Deluge Scripting. I think, the main peculiarity (or problem?) of Zoho Creator is the fact the user can't do a thing without Deluge Script. Of course, you can do a lot of stuff with it, but unfortunately there is no golden mean option.