SMB vendors: Here today, but tomorrow ... ?

The floor of the Cebit trade show is littered with small vendors offering software systems for small and mid-sized companies. They could be just the ticket for smaller customers looking for products that work "out of the box" -- assuming the vendor is still in business a year from now.

"Customers have to be concerned about the viability of some of these smaller vendors," said Stephen O'Grady, a software analyst with RedMonk LLC. "Take a look at their customer traction, what do they have in the way of references? If they have a happy and vibrant customer base it still doesn't guarantee anything, but at least it takes some of the uncertainty out of the equation."

Products for small and medium-sized businesses, or SMBs, are a special focus at this year's Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany. A section of the show floor is devoted to them, where dozens of vendors are showing systems for content management, CRM (customer relationship management), ERP (enterprise resource planning), firewall security and other functions.

Most of the products promise "out of the box" functionality, meaning they include all of the key components needed and are easy to install and configure. They are aimed at businesses with anywhere from five to 5,000 employees and limited IT support. They also promise to let customers scale their systems as they add new employees.

"You can go from five to -- infinity!" said a sales manager at one ERP vendor here, with a grin that suggested he didn't even believe it himself.

While some offerings may deliver on more realistic promises, customers must be wary of picking smalls vendors that may soon go out of business, O'Grady said. A few of them put the source code to their software in escrow, he said, with a promise to make it available to customers if their company goes under.

"I think the opportunity for many of these small vendors is to target very specific customer needs. I don't care how big you are -- even companies the size of IBM (Corp.) are up-front that they can't address the needs of every SMB," O'Grady.

The following is a sample of the smaller business products on show here:

-- Structur AG is here to show a new version of its content management system, icoya OpenContent 2.5, which starts at

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