One of the complaints about software-as-a-service (SaaS), at least from large companies, is the inability for a customer to modify the software. Enterprises often buy applications based on a database, such as Oracle, and have in-house programmers to make any required changes.
Small businesses rarely have that option, because they almost always buy packaged applications. If the products do allow modifications, outside programmers must be hired.
SaaS applications generally offer more features than most small businesses actually use. However, vertical markets always need things tweaked to better fit users, and resellers often want to help control client applications. Until now, both groups were out of luck unless they had the money to undertake huge programming projects. But in an interesting twist on the "mash-up" idea, HyperOffice now supports developers modifying their software for vertical markets and resellers adding their own look and feel, and a few tweaks, for their customers.
Randy Looper, president of Carolina Regional, a Web development company that's part of the larger Carolina Media Group, said, "We focus on advertising for real estate agencies and high-performing agents, and we used HyperOffice internally. By building on some special Real Estate features HyperOffice developed, we offer our customers a version of HyperOffice we call Real Smart Office. Modified for the demands of Real Estate professionals, the software supports our customers with as few as two users to our largest account with 183 users."
Carolina Media Group consists of 12 employees scattered around South Carolina working from home offices. Each group manages its own HyperOffice area, and Looper administers all of them.
"Each group has their own calendar, and I combine calendars and know where everybody is and what they're working on," Looper says. Using HyperOffice internally makes it easy for Looper to convince Real Estate agent clients the value of the collaboration service. "When I give demonstrations, I just show them my account and how we use it, and they all say they've got to have it."
Supporting resellers and developers wasn't part of a grand plan for HyperOffice, according to Farzin Arsanjani, president of HyperOffice. "We don't have a rigid definition of developers that separates them from customers," he said. "Resellers have the tools, the training, and the option to rebrand HyperOffice. Some do and some don't." Resellers also have the closest relationship with customers, so they know what features need to be added or modified.
Arsanjani continued, "We feel that customers (end users, developers and resellers) should have the tools to develop HyperOffice into what their business requires. All of our resellers found us, not the other way around." HyperOffice provides a variety of tools for customers to modify their own portal page, configure user home pages, and build shared pages for outside partners.
For Looper, the critical part of his success with HyperOffice was based on how well the software worked with Microsoft's Outlook e-mail application. For John McTigue, Web developer at Kuno Creative, the ability to add project management features made the big difference.
"Our HyperOffice desktop provides a link to our general project management application designed to help our advertising and Web development clients manage their advertising and marketing projects," McTigue says. He became a partner in Kuno Creative when he folded his Web development company into the Kuno operation. Kuno headquarters is in Cleveland, while McTigue watches cows graze outside his home office window at his farm in Sealy Texas, a fair distance outside of Houston. He's so far out the only Internet access option he has is satellite, which he says works quite well with HyperOffice.
Both resellers use HyperOffice internally, giving them insight into the program from the user's point of view. Both resellers provide the first level of support for their customers, including some advanced configurations like synchronizing PDAs to HyperOffice calendars.
Carolina Media Group and Kuno Creative both say their relationship with HyperOffice is a win-win-win. Their customers win, because they get a HyperOffice version tweaked for their specific business needs, developed and installed by a reseller they already work with and trust. The resellers win by providing customers a valuable service with some recurring revenue that ties the customer more tightly to the reseller. And HyperOffice has partners convincing clients to buy into HyperOffice, or at least a system based on HyperOffice.
What you see in a SaaS application isn't necessarily what you get. Sometimes you can get a version tweaked to better fit your business requirements.