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Whether you sell a product, a service, or a combination of both, those who are successful have one thing in common... an efficient back-office.

But the "cost" of an efficient office has meant using complex accounting and order-entry programs that are hard to learn and can require a computer expert to network many machines together.

The software companies have not been standing still during the past two years. They have heard their customers complain and many of them are now coming out with what is often termed "webware" or web-services.

Web services were first made popular by the on-line stock brokers like Ameritrade. The concept spread to banking, then to payroll services like PayCycle and now to the full back-office such that all of the major order-entry, billing, reporting, and financial functions of the office can be done on-line with services like JAYA123 and the Oracle Small Business service.

Instead of buying or downloading a large and complex software package that is not only difficult to install but difficult to learn, vendors are now offering on-line services that you simply subscribe to and pay monthly, the same way you pay your ISP or cable bill.

While programs like QuickBooks and Great Plains won't disappear, a lot of small and medium size business are switching to webware.

The advantages of these services are many. First, there is nothing to buy, so you don't end up laying out a chunk of change. Second, there is nothing to install because you access the software on the web using your browser. Third, you can use any kind of computer you wish.... as long as it has a browser. (Some services even run on a Palm Pilot-like device!) Fourth, there is nothing to backup or to crash. Fifth, you are not tied to any one machine... you can run your business from anywhere in the world.

The word "security" comes up all the time. But most experts agree that there is more hype than fact when it comes to Internet security. A well maintained "locked down" server that runs software designed to be a web-service is just as secure or more secure than the office desktop, that is easily compromised by any employee who has access to it, or anyone who might just help it "walk away."

And as for "up-time" how often has your desktop crashed compared to how often your Internet connection has gone down or your ISPs server was not available? For most businesses, the answer is obvious.

People have been doing their banking on-line for years. Same with payroll and taxes. There are no known breaches. The back-office order-entry, inventory, etc., is simply a logical extension of what has been going on in other sectors.

Should you switch? The answer depends on many factors. If you have many tens of thousands of customers, you are probably better off with a traditional desktop, multi-user, network system like QuickBooks or Great Plains. However, smaller businesses, especially those on a budget, will find back-office "webware" to be very attractive.

Also, if you have remote offices or if you have vendors (like fulfillment houses) that might need access to your data, web services are the way to go. You can buy a "read-only" account and give that to outside vendors (or employees) and they can use it (anywhere in the world) to view data, but not change anything. Large firms have Virtual Private Networks to do all of this. The small business sector will now have the save advantage. The web is the network!

One of the best things about webware is that you can truly "try before you buy" without having to download and install anything. The "demo" that you use on the vendor's web site is the same system that you will use "for real" when you subscribe.

A lot of business people don't use the latest software products (or they don't update the software they have) because they fear they will have trouble installing it or learning how to use the new system.

One of the advantages of webware is that everyone knows how to use a browser. Well-designed webware is intuitive by nature... just like the web. There is hardly any learning curve. Contrast that to learning how to use one of the more popular back-office desktop systems.

There is no underestimating what a well-oiled office infrastructure can do for your business. Being able to take orders, create invoices, account for the money, keep track of customers, do your taxes, and create reports to show you how you are doing are invaluable assets to anyone running a small business.

With webware, it finally gets easier.

Alan Canton
Adams-Blake Company, Inc.
8041 Sierra Street, Fair Oaks, CA 95628

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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