In the SMB space this week, a look at research that confirms what many have suspected: The cloud space in the SMB sector has yet to be fully exploited. We also find out that Facebook is the principal online market tool for small businesses, while Openbravo offers SMBs the agile ERP.

Cloud Market Under-Exploited

While we know that the cloud market in the SMB space is substantial, we’re always trying to work out exactly how substantial that is. Parallels (news, site) has come up with a figure in a study that was published at its Summit 2011 conference, which has just finished.

According to the report, entitled Parallels SMB Cloud Insights, the total value of the market is about US$ 21 billion, with much of it still under-exploited. This figure is broken up into:

  • Hosted Services for U.S. SMBs with 1-1000 employees is a US$9 billion market with US$ 4.9 billion of this spending in hosted infrastructure.
  • The U.S. SMB opportunity is at an additional US$ 13 billion.
  • The Hosted PBX opportunity could be worth up to US$ 3.9 billion, as hosted PBX becomes more accessible to the smallest SMB segments.

Parallels, a back-end vendor to other Web-based service providers, defined "cloud" as any IT function hosted offsite, with a focus on three segments: Hosted infrastructure, web hosting and hosted messaging and collaboration services such as email and PBX. The survey included 500 U.S. firms with between 1 and 1,000 employees.

While small businesses or those with fewer than 100 employees make up the largest part of this market with 80%, the mid-size range is also substantial, with high penetration rates in this space already.

Social Marketing is an SMB Hit

More new research, this time from SMB network the MerchantCircle, shows that local businesses -- which have limited time and money for marketing -- are gravitating toward simple, low-cost online marketing methods such as Facebook and other social media, as well as toward tried-and-true methods such as search and email marketing.

The research also demonstrates that, while new marketing services such as mobile marketing and group buying are generating significant buzz in the media, local businesses have yet to tap into these unproven marketing methods.

The figures are contained in the quarterly Merchant Confidence Index survey of over 8,500 small business owners across the U.S.

Interestingly, social media are now the top marketing strategy for local businesses, with Facebook continuing to be a popular way for merchants to market their business. In fact, 70% are using it for marketing, up from 50% one year ago. Facebook has now surpassed Google (66%) as the most widely used marketing method among local merchants, and is almost tied with Google search (40%) as one of their top three most effective marketing methods.

Twitter has also grown in popularity over the past year, with nearly 40% of small businesses using the microblogging platform to build awareness and community around their products and services, up from 32% in Q4 2009.

The Merchant Confidence Index is a quarterly survey conducted by MerchantCircle, the largest social network of local business owners in the U.S. with over 1.6 million members. You can check out the full survey here.

Openbravo Offers Agile ERP

Open source ERP vendor Openbravo continues to grow in the SMB space and expects to keep that momentum with the release of the upgraded open source Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software.

Openbravo 3 introduces the concept of Agile ERP to SMBs, a significant change in that mainstream ERPs often push businesses to over-pay for massive, inflexible systems.

Spanish-based Openbravo says there have been 2 million downloads of its product, and now has 2,800 active deployments in North America -- a doubling of the active base in just 12 months.

According to Openbravo, legacy ERP systems can consume as much as 18 percent of revenue from businesses. It says it aims to offer SMBs agile ERPs that will cost considerably less than they have to date.

Openbravo 3 is available in two editions, Professional and Community, both of which provide core open source functionality for Finance, Sales, Procurement, Warehousing and Master Data.

eXpresso‘s Document Collaboration for IBM’s LotusLive

If you missed it earlier, collaboration specialist eXpresso (news, site) has announced that its document collaboration software is now available on LotusLive.

As of this week, users of LotusLive can use the software to work with documents and collaborate with users anywhere and at anytime from within the LotusLive platform.

eXpresso software enables multiple users to create, edit and share documents simultaneously without compromising the native feature-functionality of whatever editor they happen to be using.

For users, from functionality level, the advantages are quite clear -- not least of which is the ability to work from within LotusLive. But pricewise, the advantages are even clearer. After a trial period offered as part of LotusLive trials, users can sign up for the not-so-princely sum of US$ 1 per user per month. Interested in more?

SmartDraw’s Document Process Management

Finally, more document management news for SMBs. SmartDraw has announced the release of Visual Process Management (VPM), which aims to provide SMBs with a visual method for documenting and managing business processes via a network server.

Using its existing SmartDraw VP, it creates a VPM collection and then stores it on the SMBs network server creating a model for each process with the position that is responsible for executing it and managing it.

VPM is different from traditional process documentation in that, instead of binders of documents on a shelf, it creates a collection of hyperlinked visuals that anyone in the organization can navigate, like a web site. Check it out here.