Such Web-based software is transforming small-business functions from cash-flow management to marketing. The jobs are done electronically, often on the Web and typically for a monthly fee. "Small companies are getting, in essence, a virtual planning department," says Eric Hinkle, CEO of Atlanta's Servigistics Inc., whose software Subaru of New England uses.
Champions of Web-based software envisioned it as a way for big companies to decentralize, letting remote units use software at the home office. But the big companies were reluctant to let back-office functions operate outside their firewalls. And they wanted lots of customization. "Small companies are happy to forgo the bells and whistles," says Julie Giera, a research fellow at consultant Forrester Research Inc. "They're getting the back-office functions of an IBM -- without paying $250 million a year."
Small businesses often find that paying suppliers is a headache. So New York-based TradeCard Inc. provides Web-based software that, among other things, compares what's received against what was ordered, and releases payment if the two match. It enables Hi-Tec Sport USA, a hiking boot company in Modesto, Calif., with 70 employees, to pay suppliers on time and track boots for shipment from its factories in China.
Web-based software isn't the only new technology being embraced by small business. When Patricia C. Sibley started MediaSolutions, a media-buying company in Atlanta, 10 years ago, she needed two staffers per account. Now one staffer can handle four accounts. One key is a media-buying program called SmartPlus. Says Sibley: "What technology has done for us is unbelievable." By Charles Haddad in Atlanta