Remember that vision of the paperless office? Twenty years ago futurists regaled us with prophesies of a time when the office would be completely electronic and automated. Take a peek inside any office however and the truth is very different from what was foretold. Paper forms are still the norm – sure we have awesome technologies to scan and digitize them, but it’s kind of bizarre that there is an analog intermediate step which comes between two digital systems.
This is both the problem and the opportunity that Canvas is trying to solve. Canvas is an application and a platform – primarily it is a place for businesses to create mobile forms that replace paper-based ones. But as well as that it is a marketplace where businesses can find, customize and share forms among a community of user. To share the captured data with back office systems and to create value from the captured data.
Canvas’ “app store” includes around 14000 forms that are being used by a plethora of different organizations, ranging from Pepsi Bottling Ventures, Target TGT -0.34%, IMAX and the 2012 London Olympics down to 1-person plumber shops. But unlike manual paper forms, being digital these Canvas forms are actually dynamic and are more rightly called micro-apps. In this way Canvas reminds me of Podio, a startup that I was very bullish about but that was unfortunately acquired by Citrix and, in my view, has been left to wither on the vine.
Anyway, using Canvas, individuals can either find existing apps and customize them, or alternatively create their own apps. That usage looks set to expand with an announcement today that Canvas has extended its platform and integrated with Dropbox, Box, Evernote and Google Drive. The data collected within the individual Canvas apps can be sent to these digital stores and become the start of a broader workflow process.
Users of Canvas’ cloud-based service can set rules for each mobile app they create, so that, for example, a construction company that has replaced paper forms with a Canvas construction site inspection mobile app, can have data collected with that app automatically sent to their cloud storage service of choice. The data will also continue to be simultaneously stored in the Canvas cloud.
I really like the Canvas model – true it’s a little unorthodox and takes a little bit of getting used to, but the concept of small, lightweight situational apps is one that totally resonates with me. The fact that all the data in these apps can now reside in a central repository only heightens the value that Canvas offers.
I’d love to see a platform vendor such as Salesforce.com embrace the Canvas approach – imagine lots of little point apps cantilevered off the main Salesforce application platforms? That would fundamentally transform the way Salesforce customers worked. In the meantime, Canvas will keep on broadening its market penetration – my fingers are crossed that this company does well.