A small-business cloud: Conversation with Daptiv

Daptiv provides collaboration and BI tools for businesses both small and very large. This conversation with Tim Low explores the company's products and technologies.

I recently had a chance to talk with Tim Low of Daptiv. It's one of the companies developing SaaS (software as a service) applications aimed at smaller businesses, and it has an interesting take on what smaller organizations want and need from a "cloud" application provider. Here are some of the notes from my conversation with Tim:

Like Zoho, Daptiv is delivering a set of collaboration tools, plus an additional set of tools for managing work in businesses. They were formerly called e-Project and have always been an on-demand vendor. Tim stressed that Daptiv is pure SaaS; all the customer needs is a browser. Daptiv has more than 800 customers, with customers in multiple segments -- many SMB and many Fortune 500 where they're being used either across the board or departmentally.

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Daptiv has about 100,000 users in its online community, called Daptiv PPM. The smallest user communities are around 10 people, with the largest around 20,000. This points to the fact that while they have roots in project and portfolio management, there really aren't any companies that have 20,000 project management users. The large numbers come from organizations using the collaboration tools Daptiv makes available.

Collaboration is a component in pretty much everything Daptiv offers. Daptiv refers to business intelligence on demand as "Work Intelligence." Its literature uses "dynamic applications" to talk about the ability to create and provision applications on demand, including form creation and applications that track materials and staff movement within the organization.

While Daptiv uses Zoho as a point of comparison, there's a huge difference in that Daptiv doesn't do personal productivity -- Daptiv recognizes that it's valuable, but it's not central to what it does, so it's happy to let other companies deal with those functions. Tim said, "We think there's a missing link between personal productivity and organization impact, and that's where we come in. We've built in features that make it easy to use with personal productivity tools, but we think there's a difference between the business organization functions and the personal productivity functions."

I asked Tim what being a SaaS vendor did to Daptiv's release schedule for new products. He said that, as a SaaS vendor, Daptiv typically has three to four major releases each year, plus any enhancements that have to be released more frequently.

When I asked about what customers want from their vendors, and in particular whether small-business customers had different needs than larger enterprises, Tim was open about what Daptiv sees. "I don't think there's that much difference in the desire for functionality. We run into companies that are fairly small at this point in their life, but they're fairly sophisticated. What the smaller organization lacks is IT infrastructure head count. They also sometime lack a certain process maturity, though that's not always the case. The question is whether it's easy for them to add infrastructure functionality without having to add equipment and head count. Larger companies have head count already assigned to the functionality, but smaller companies need help." His comments echoed those I've heard from a number of vendors. They boil down to the opinion that small-business computing differs from large enterprise computing in quantity -- not functional quality. That's a massive shift from a decade ago, and it's a shift that will be more and more important through the next three to four years.

Daptiv does have an offering specifically for the small business; it's called Daptiv SMB. It comes standard with the apps more relevant to the smaller companies, but Tim says that they don't lock it down to a reduced set of functions. If the small business needs the capacity planning module, for example, they're welcome to use it -- it's just that the standard subscription doesn't show it in order to limit complexity. Functionality isn't the separator; ease of getting a customer into the application is.

It's always interesting to ask a company to define "small business," and Daptiv is no exception. Tim said, "Right now there are lots of SaaS companies that do have a sweet spot at 10 users. Our sweet spot starts around 50 users and goes up into the tens of thousands." The difficulty that customer sizes like this represent is that they can go hand-in-hand with long deployment cycles and steep learning curves. Tim admitted that rich function sets and larger customers can mean that it takes longer to figure out how you're going to deploy a solution. He stressed, though, that Daptiv has "subscribe to live" numbers that show the average customer organization going from start to live in less than 30 days. That is a remarkably short time for any substantial application to take for deployment.

There are arguments about whether cloud computing is a technology set or a business model. For Daptiv, it seems to be a bit of both. For smaller end-user organizations, though, it could be an interesting cloud to gaze at for possible business-intelligence and collaboration applications.