It is so interesting to see how much we use the internet for just about everything, and at the same time most of the mission-critical applications we use ignore it almost altogether. For an average business user, the internet is a great place for search, maps and private email, but when going back to his or her “real job”, the internet plays a minor role.
Want examples? Let’s take Outlook. An application that cannot work without the web to send and receive email. But does it really use the web? Do you get the right spelling of a city after entering a zip code? Can you tell if a colleague is in a different time zone before you place the call that scares her out of bed? And, in the days when Facebook worth 10 Billions, how come you need Plaxo to get your contacts auto completed based on their email address?
Another example: take Microsoft Dynamics GP (AKA Great Plains). It is not launched yet but the elaborate new features page mentions the word internet only once, and you should use MS Share Point for this unique benefit. Getting your customer credit status right when you issue an invoice is science fiction at this stage.
I remember watching a focus group in China that evaluated Internet adoption – one of the SMB customers there was proud to say that the internet is used in his business. “We have an internet computer” he said. It took me a while to understand that there is one computer, disconnected from the business’s LAN, that is used for browsing the web. I still remember my mental picture of a cubicle covered with caution tape… We used this quote to highlight how far China was from the US when it comes to internet usage, but I now wonder how true this distinction was. For most of the information, workers’ internet is an add-on, clumsily integrated at best to their ERP, email or CRM system.
This is one of the biggest opportunities for the new SaaS players. Running around and saying that software is dead may not be enough. Coming with real productivity, tools combining the rich features of great CRM or ERP systems with the wealth offered by the web can be that silver bullet. There were hardly any major changes in this space in the last 10 years (is there really such a big difference between Office 1997 and Office 2007?), and I believe the market is ready for one.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Credit information from D&B every time you view a customer
- Quotation exchange and revision online, instead of fax or PDF exchange
- Auto calculation of average travel time to a meeting in Outlook based on Microsoft Live data (and if you want to really hit the nail on the head, send a dynamic alert an hour before the meeting if driving time is going to be longer due to an accident)
So why is it not happening yet? I am sure that Microsoft can realize the last example almost for free with assets it already owns. I think it is mainly because of isolated thinking and lack of imagination. But I may be wrong and there is a grand strategy behind it that I am missing…
PS- I am beating MSFT hard here but I can’t remember Google or Yahoo calendars offering such a feature…