Application service providers (ASPs) are nothing new, but as technologies improve and high-speed Internet access becomes more prevalent among small businesses, using hosted applications over the Internet can help you manage your business more efficiently.
Airframe, a brand new San Mateo-Calif.-based ASP, offers small businesses a suite of Web-based applications to help manage their companies. One of the things that differentiates Airframe from other ASPs is that the company structures its pricing on a per-user rather than a per application basis. That means you can use one, five or all of the Airframe applications and still pay the same monthly fee depending on your company's specific needs.
Another big difference is the sheer number of business functions the Airframe applications cover. The five main umbrella categories include My Airframe, Customer Relationships, Employee Services, Operational and Site Services. "I liken the buying process to that of a department store," says Robert Gryphon, Airframe's founder and CEO.
"You need an Employee Services application, so you go to the site to buy it. But you notice the other departments, and as your business grows, you know you can come back to say, Customer Relationships and get what you need there."
Fourth Floor Notions
According to Gryphon, small businesses don't roll out 20 applications at once. "You need different applications at different times in the course of running and growing a business," he says. "We developed Airframe so that you can gradually over time add the various products that you need. Choose the program that will help you with your most pressing issue when the next issue comes up and you need a different applications, you choose another," he says. "In a small business, job descriptions are flexible, and you might need to use multiple applications. That's why we charge per person, and not per application."
Each department offers a number of related applications. Here's how they break down, starting with the My Airframe features that are common to every application.
|Airframe offers small businesses a large selection of business management software over the Internet.|
- Workflow: Prioritize action items, schedule and responsibilities
- Schedule: Track calendar and meetings, book conference rooms
- Contacts: Organize contacts including employees, customers, prospects, partners, workgroups and organizations
- Message Center: Respond to incoming e-mail communications
- Time & Money: Keep track of timesheets, expense reports, financial accounts, check requests, cash transactions and out-of-office-requests
- Staff Management: Manage objectives, direct reports action items and time sheets, workgroups, credentials, department Project Management: Manage projects, including action items, sites and company/department involved Settings: Manage personal settings, credentials, favorites and passwords Portal: Search company knowledgebase, file and retrieve Help Requests, review shared contacts and browse company policies and procedures
You'll find six sub-categories in this area: Marketing, Sales Force Automation, Customer Service, Self Service, Professional Services and Business Development. Each sub-category has its own bevy of applications. For example, in marketing you'll find applications that let you:
- Manage marketing campaigns and events
- Create product price lists
- Run marketing promotions
- Manage marketing ads
- Define and manage document templates, marketing documentation and knowledgebase and sales tools
- Administer telemarketing: manage target lists, review leads, and define and monitor territories
- Supervise press releases and articles
- Allow employees to log Help Requests for the marketing department, and allow the marketing department to review and respond to help requests
This category comprises Human Resource management, Legal and Insurance, Business Travel, training and even a Library application that lets you track company books, software, catalogs and magazines.
Site Services Applications
These applications include Facilities and Assets, Information Technology, Security and permits and a program that lets you manage a vehicle pool.
This department covers applications for Research and Development, Manufacturing, Inventory, Order Management and Shipping and Receiving.
The Security Issue
If you're concerned about hosted application security, it's understandable, but not really an issue. Reputable ASPs provide a higher level of data backup and security than most small businesses could ever hope to achieve.
For example, Airframe keeps all its data in a secure facility and performs automatic, multiple backups on a nightly basis. Plus, the company says that every page of Airframe software uses 128-bit SSL encryption to ensure security.
Airframe offers its services in three editions: Airframe Express, Professional and Enterprise. The essential difference has to do with the level of software customization each version offers.
• $70 per user per month
• No customization use "off the rack"
• $95 per user pr month
• Limited customization
• $$130 per user per month • Unlimited customization
Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com
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