Having noticed that companies trying to service the IT needs of the SME community with cloud-delivered services had difficulties trying to do so, Julian Painter CEO of UK startup, Appura, decided this target market needed a different approach.Indeed, it is an approach that can apply across the board from SMBs to enterprises (especially divisions and departments thereof). And it is an approach that can underpin a new service aggregation opportunity for those business brands that resonate most with the customers, even if they have no IT skills on which to trade.
Painter’s goal with Appura is to provide a single portal service through users can browse and buy services that include not only applications and integration but also administration and service management, depending on what they require.
He sees it as a business applications `supermarket’, which highlights one of the fascinating side issues of developing the cloud marketplace – finding the best analogy to help describe what is being offered.
For example, `supermarket’ suggests that potential users still have to take purchases away and do something with them to make a working environment.
In practice, many of them – especially the SMB community but many divisions and departments of larger enterprises as well - are really looking for an applications `restaurant’.
I like the idea of a restaurant and what we provide is something of a menu card. Users can come in and browse, and the browsing will be a lot more sophisticated and relevance-based than normal, allowing users to determine from a range of similar applications offerings which ones are most relevant to their specific needs. So the browsing process will be relevant to the type of business, its size, and specific vertical market. But the idea is you can come in, look at different applications, choose the relevant ones, and put in the number of licences required.
In this way, the idea is that users can build up the suite of services they require, with the appropriate number of user/seat licences. These selections are then combined into a single customer environment with single sign-on to an Appura front end service which manages access to the selected applications in the user’s production environment. Says Painter:
And it is all point and click stuff, you don’t have to be a heavy duty IT person to do this.
The system will allow users to approach the set up process very flexibly. For example, they can work on the basis of searching for specific applications by name, or by type of application (accounting packages, for example) and it will help users work through the options by working through menus.
Not just affiliate marketing
The company will also be offering the ability to search for applications bundles which are being developed around the way that different types of business have different applications requirements. It is bundling up relevant applications for different business types and making them a one-click purchase.
Ollie Omotosho, Sales Director and co-founder, explains:
We want to be much more than just another affiliate marketing site where customers may get a bit of help with recommendations but then have to do all the donkey work of getting their services running, and deal with separate bills for each one.
Omotosho also said the company is in conversations with third parties looking to become not just channel partners but the brand owners for aggregated services in specific market sectors:
We see a very tangible opportunity for providing a `white label’ service provision capability that they can brand and market. We are already having conversations with organisations such as Trade Associations about providing them with every aspect of a packaged service platform configured for their membership which they can then resell under their own brand.
The combination should then provide end user businesses with the advantages of SaaS-delivered business processes and management services, with the associated cost savings and operational efficiencies, and have them supplied by an organisation with a brand they know and (hopefully at least) trust.
The issue here, the company realises, is that branding is set to become the key driver of cloud service delivery. What is more, technology companies have to realise that their branding is largely irrelevant when it comes to being the suppliers that are perceived as understanding the business issues of vertical market sectors.
What is more, the technology commoditisation that is a cornerstone of cloud-based systems is going to make technology brands even less relevant to the vast majority of business users.
The brand names that they, and in particular the SMB community, will turn to will be those they identify as understanding their vertical market needs. The service aggregator brand leaders will become the specialist systems integrators and consultancy services, and the Trade Associations focused on those vertical market needs.
Many of them will, of course, lack the technology expertise to pull the required applications and management services together. And it is this that Painter and Omotosho see creating a significant market potential for Appura to pitch at.
I have long held the view that service aggregators providing end-to-end, soup-to-nuts packaged business services will end up as one of the core methods for delivering those services to end users. And the key factor in being a successful service aggregator will be having the brand recognition that customers will respond to positively.
Yet they will not need to understand the technology and service delivery skills required. These will be sourced from expert third parties that understand the aggregation issues, rather than the base level of IT resource provisioning.
That is the market Appura is targeting.