Gordon Plant, VP of Product at BaseKit, on the benefits of the ‘open ecosystem’ for small businesses
Starting and growing a successful online business is not without its challenges. And while microbusiness owners are notoriously resourceful, knowing where to begin with online success is tough. With so many applications available to microbusiness owners, it can be bewildering. At BaseKit, our mission is to enable micro businesses to thrive online. Our vision is to build a future where micro business customers can see a clear path from the starting point to accomplishing their mission, no matter how many different applications they need to use along the way. Increasingly, we believe that collaboration on an open ecosystem is the surest way we can help bring that future closer to reality.
What is an open ecosystem and why does it matter?
Micro businesses, just like their much larger counterparts, rely heavily on technology to run. BaseKit’s research shows that people typically use 12 to 18 different applications across a phone and computer to run different parts of their business. That’s a lot of different data to input into different systems and a dozen or more applications to learn.
So how does this relate to an open ecosystem? Tech companies who are part of an open ecosystem actively build and program their products with the ability to seamlessly integrate with any other vendor. Data is shared between the constituent companies and enables all players to respond to customer needs more effectively. Of course, any vendor who participates in the open ecosystem must comply with privacy and data protection legislation. The onus is on the vendors to manage data responsibly and protect it adequately.
Cooperation within an open ecosystem means less friction for the small business end-user, because they need only input one set of data. When more vendors collaborate in the open ecosystem, there is greater choice for the microbusiness owner. And when businesses cooperate to create better products for the customer, the customer wins.
Simplifying the user journey
The owners of micro businesses have various challenges which can be addressed by various software, from accounting software to a CRM system. No one company can build everything a microbusiness will need. And solopreneurs, in particular, don’t always know what they will need until they need it – urgently. People start with whatever they already have and add new applications as they discover new problems they need to solve.
This user journey, then, evolves as the business grows. It’s driven by the micro business owner, as the onus is on them to go out and find what they need in the hope that it will solve the problem they face. As it stands, each independent software vendor works hard on making their own application easy to use. However, they rarely think about the larger customer journey and the many different applications needed to complete a single task.
In an open ecosystem, the applications developed by different vendors have been built to work together. The user journey can operate across different products with minimal friction, thanks to the collaboration of providers in an open ecosystem.
The outcome is a much simpler, more valuable experience for the end-user. The open ecosystem encourages vendors to think more widely. Not necessarily in trying to build products beyond their niche, but to consider the whole of the user journey, not just the part that pertains to their product.
The alternative: a closed ecosystem
If an open ecosystem is a strong contender for the future, then what is the present alternative? Closed ecosystems.
A closed ecosystem keeps customers fixed within a set of applications and, sometimes, devices. While this simplifies some tasks it greatly reduces the freedom of the customer to decide what kind of applications best meet their unique requirements.
In terms of products directly related to micro businesses, vendors such as Shopify, Wix and Squarespace operate as closed ecosystems. These closed ecosystems may fulfill customer needs to a point, though a closed ecosystem is generally good for the software vendor, while minimising the micro business owner’s freedom of choice.
BaseKit’s part in the open ecosystem
At BaseKit we’ve been talking to other vendors about how to make it simpler for their customers to work with our products. In time, this could lead to the development of an open ecosystem. We believe it will benefit customers and vendors alike to make different software applications work seamlessly together.
BaseKit’s participation in an open ecosystem would afford our partners access to a much larger group of applications that operate together. Customers would benefit from the breadth of choice and the simplicity of one point of contact to access the abundance of resources – their original service provider. Therefore collaboration, even with products we may see as competition, is in our long-term interest if it helps our partners and their micro business customers to find success with our products.
The key to successfully embracing the open ecosystem
Embracing the idea of the open ecosystem is one thing, but there is a critical component that makes the whole thing viable in practice: platform neutrality. We need to offer the same level of support for every platform that our customers might reasonably want to use. Offering support for selected platforms doesn’t work, because it reduces choice for the micro business and forces them to settle for what is available.
By being ‘platform neutral’ and offering support far and wide, micro businesses benefit from more choice. It also allows our partners to create compelling offers – they have the flexibility to build deals that appeal to their customer base.
The future of the open ecosystem
At CloudFest, the annual cloud industry conference held in Germany last month, we were excited to hear other vendors share our ideas about the importance of creating an open ecosystem. In the long term, this could lead to standardised application programming interfaces (APIs) for exchanging information. The practical benefit of this to the customer is that they only have to enter information once instead of repeatedly entering it for each new application they use in their business. Once applications ‘know’ about each other, they can help the customer navigate across several applications to complete a task fast.
The future of the open ecosystem is about creating openness in practice, not just theory. It’s encouraging to know that helping micro business customers shift from confusion and overwhelm to quickly and smoothly completing tasks is a priority for other industry players too. Collaboration gives us the opportunity to empower more micro businesses, to help everyone thrive online. We’re excited to explore the path ahead and look forward to sharing our discoveries.