A-Z of business apps: productivity highlights

What can taking an alphabetic tour of 26 business apps, from Apache to Zoom, tell us about the past, present and future of tech?
3 January 2023

Tech tour: part one of our 26 business app run through. Image credit: Shutterstock.

In the first half of this two-part series, we run through 13 key business apps (A through to M) – building up a map of the current technology scene, which charts the origins, features, and prospects for big names in business apps.

Launched in 1995, Apache web server software has spread far and wide to become a critical part of the internet. Today, it’s used by large companies, small companies, research institutions, schools, and individuals. Even if you think you’re not using Apache, you probably are. The web server is ubiquitous and puts the A in LAMP – one of the most popular software stacks out there.

Social media is integral to spreading the word on business success stories and product updates. And Buffer has established itself as a key marketing tool for scheduling posts across all popular social media platforms. Social media can give firms a powerful, free marketing channel, but not if it soaks up valuable staff time. A marketing partner of both Meta and Linkedin, the firm has climbed high in the sector thanks to its popular time-saving capabilities. And it hasn’t lost sight of core values, such as salary transparency. The company has published compensation data on its employees since 2013.

Often thought of as just a design web-app, Canva can also be downloaded as a desktop version. Other features include video editing and presentation modes. Digital designs can be printed and delivered through the app too. Fans of the business app enjoy being able to collaborate remotely on designs and get assets approved for upcoming campaigns. This month, the firm added AI to the mix with a copywriting tool that can auto-generate blocks of text based on an initial prompt, which it dubs ‘magic write’.

When a company becomes a verb, you know that it’s reached a new level. Today, billions of people have ‘DocuSigned’ contracts and other important documents, making collaborating with partners even more streamlined. The tool has more than 400 integrations, allowing it to work alongside Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP, and many other big-name productivity tools. Digital workflows are the norm, and the capability to service electronic signatures goes hand in hand with modern business operations.

You might not immediately consider eBay to essential when it comes to business apps, but the e-commerce site can prove invaluable in tracking down hard-to-source components and parts. Also, not every item needs to be purchased new, and firms can contribute to the circular economy by considering refurbished equipment as well as posting no longer used items up for sale. For smaller businesses, eBay gives firms a digital storefront and takes much of the heavy lifting out of getting online sales up and running.

Foursquare for business helps to put companies on the map. Interesting too, is the firm’s Places API, which gives developers an easy way of integrating ‘location intelligence’ into their products. The location data can help users to build more engaging business apps and keep readers on websites for longer, according to the firm.

Readily available and free, Google Drive is a convenient file storage and sharing solution for many companies. But firms are starting to reflect on how using free cloud services, where, as the saying goes, customers can find themselves becoming the product, impacts digital sovereignty. GDPR and US data privacy laws are prompting firms to ask more questions about where their data is hosted and who has access to this information and its metadata. NextCloud, an alternative to Google Drive, has turned digital sovereignty into a selling point for its services.

“In 2023, businesses that take a social-first approach to their brand and customer care strategy will be the ones to reap the benefits,” comments Maggie Lower, Chief Marketing Officer at Hootsuite. “Stronger brand reputation, greater customer interaction, trust and loyalty – now and in the future – depends on it.” Based on survey results, Hootsuite reports that big brands are spending less on influencer marketing. Being more creative and producing unique content, but for fewer platforms is another trend highlighted by the firm that enables users to schedule social media campaigns.

With Facebook floundering, Instagram’s value to Meta is significant. The social media site sets itself apart from others by, in the main, cultivating a positive environment for its users. Although heavy on celebrity endorsement, Instagram allows firms to show a different side and appeal to a potentially new audience. Following the company’s rise serves as an education in the boom of social media. And Sarah Frier’s ‘No filter: The inside story of Instagram’ remains essential business reading for start up firms and anyone working with social media.

Jupyter notebooks have long been popular in the scientific computing community. But developments such as JupyterLab, which the team badges as its ‘next-generation web-based user interface for Project Jupyter’, takes the programming and data visualization interface to new heights. It’s also worth taking a look at Google’s colab project, which has a similar feel and utility. In both cases, a big advantage of using the tools is being able to easily share code and interactive analysis with colleagues.

Klarna’s buy now pay later (BNPL) model has been one of fintech’s success stories. For merchants, it converts more clicks into sales and leaves fewer items abandoned in online shopping carts. Apple has even rolled out BNPL (funded by the company’s earnings) for items on its online store, which represents a strong endorsement of the revenue-boosting technique.

LinkedIn’s Chief Product Officer, Tomer Cohen, shared some rare insights into the inner workings of the Microsoft-owned social media site for professionals when he was a guest on Decoder. LinkedIn’s wealth of data on job postings and new hires give it a headstart on understanding the fortunes of the global economy and the expansion and contraction of different industrial sectors. And if you are looking for a trend for 2023 – skills and accreditation is shaping up to be an important one.

With its tagline of ‘turning emails into revenue’, Mailchimp makes a compelling case for its product. Email has endured as other electronic messaging tools have risen and fallen in popularity. And newsletters remain a great way for firms to engage with their customers. Journalists and industry analysts too, have recognized the power of the newsletter as a money-making tool.

Stay tuned for the final installment, where we complete our A-Z review, and tease out more useful facts on popular productivity tools.