Is The Small Business Web The Next Big Thing?

Amidst the noise being generated by those attending and reporting on the SXSW conference, I caught wind of a particularly interesting announcement made by BatchBlue and some other web service providers about a “Small Business Web” of integrated SaaS products designed for small business.

“The Small Business Web is a movement to bring together like-minded, customer-obsessed software companies to integrate our respective products and make life easier for small businesses,” Pamela O’Hara, CEO of BatchBlue, told me via email.

By using the APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, present in each other’s products, the participating companies hope to offer a very high level of integration between their services. This will allow each company to focus on its own core competency, while allowing for easier data portability and a better overall experience for the user.

We’ve already seen companies make use of APIs to allow for some level of integration: most time tracking applications allow for import from a Basecamp project, for example. This new initiative is seemingly taking this to a whole new level and is essentially looking to offer a suite of mix-and-match services that will work together to provide a higher level of interaction to offer the functionality you need.

The initial batch of participating companies include WebWorkerDaily favorites such as FreshBooks, Shoeboxed, Outright, MailChimp and, of course, BatchBlue, and there is a good level of integration between these products already in place.

My initial reaction to the announcement was a good one. As someone who promotes efficiency in business process, needing to do duplicate data entry in multiple systems has always been a sticky issue. The more that the tools I use interact to keep data in sync, the less time my team has to spend to do so manually.

A potential stalling point is the cost involved in this mix-and-match approach. At what point does it make sense to consider a more integrated solution rather than lumping individual products together? I can (and do) justify the cost of a couple of these services but when I start combining $10 here with $14 there across five or six different products it has the potential to become prohibitively expensive for a small business.

It will mean that we may need to reevaluate our providers to see if this interaction offers a benefit that would make switching services worthwhile. I’ve long been a proponent of the BatchBook CRM, but I recently moved my invoicing from FreshBooks to Cashboard. Do the advantages offered in this new mashup make it worth it to return to FreshBooks?

Of course, these are decisions that one must make in any case, and the increased integration does make the use of these unique services more appealing, but for a small team to spend upwards of $1,000 a year on SaaS products is a considerable investment. Perhaps a plan to discount the cost of services when you combine them could be implemented.

The initial group of participants announced is certainly a compelling assortment of applications and services. My hope is that the options will continue to grow and that it won’t be exclusionary. For this to be successful, we need to be able to choose between competing applications within a space.

I would also like to know more about what the criteria is for inclusion as a provider. Is there a baseline of functionality needed? Is there a formal process or a commitment of some sort? I am sure more info will be forthcoming. So while it is still early for this movement, I’m hopefully optimistic about the possibilities of the Small Business Web initiative. Offering nice benefits in efficiency and productivity to those of us who use web-based products is a good thing.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.