BT offers online applications for small UK companies

BT Group PLC on Thursday launched a new business unit that targets U.K. small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with NetLedger Inc.’s online application suite and a new policy management product from Orchestria Corp.

The new BT Group business, called Open Orchard and based in London, hopes to attract over 12,500 customers within five years, said Yvonne Thomas, chief executive of Open Orchard. The unit estimates there are about 1.3 million SMEs in the U.K. that could use its product.

“We want to deliver big business functionality to all small and medium-sized businesses,” said Thomas, who has been with BT for nine years and previously worked as director of BT’s SME division. BT is one of Europe’s largest phone companies and the dominant player on the U.K. market.

Open Orchard has signed a five-year, multimillion dollar deal with NetLedger for an exclusive license to offer the NetSuite and NetCRM products in the U.K., said NetLedger President Zach Nelson. The U.K. announcement marks the first move outside North America for the San Mateo, California, company that is majority-owned and chaired by Oracle Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Larry Ellison.

NetSuite is an integrated application suites accessed via the Web that companies can use to perform tasks including accounting, inventory management, customer relationship management (CRM) and running an online store. NetCRM offers only the CRM functionality.

“Marketing and sales are major issues among U.K. SMEs. It is difficult to deliver national or local class marketing if you don’t have the systems and off the shelf it takes a lot of time to install,” said Thomas. A typical U.K. SME has an accounting package in use, but no CRM or sales force automation software, she said.

NetLedger has worked to localize NetSuite, which was announced in the U.S. earlier this month and is the big brother to the Oracle Small Business Suite. The U.K. version supports the local tax system and “anglicized screens,” to make it a “pure English version,” said Nelson.

The U.K. versions of NetCRM, due available in January, and NetSuite, scheduled to be out in the second quarter of 2003, will be branded by Open Orchard, NetLedger and Open Orchard said. Hosting and management of the software as well as the help desk have been outsourced to PinkRoccade NV by Open Orchard, Thomas said.

Open Orchard will start offering Orchestria’s Ensure product from today. The “active policy management” product analyzes and implements policies determined by the user and is the same as the one Orchestria sells to Fortune 1000 companies, said Thomas.

“Ensure will provide SMEs with unprecedented visibility into the unstructured business content of email and Web communications, allowing them to apply policy controls in real-time at the point of origin. The product represents a major step forward in risk mitigation and business process improvement,” said Peter Malcolm, executive chairman and chief technology officer of Atlanta-based Orchestria.

Open Orchard employs 24 people, but is planning to grow to around 40 by January and on to 70 employees by the end of next year, said Thomas. Most of the employees will work on sales, marketing, and product management. The team at PinkRoccade for Open Orchard will peak at around 200 people, she said.

Pricing for the Open Orchard offerings was not immediately available. In the U.S., NetSuite costs US$4,800 per year for the first three users and $50 per month for each additional user. An unlimited user version costs $3,750 per month. NetCRM in the U.S. costs $600 per user, per year with a minimum of two users per customer.