Intuit’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs

This is the second post in a two-part blog series discussing Intuit’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. The first, Intuit QuickBooks Connect: Where Small Business Is Big Business provides perspectives from Intuit’s 2014 QuickBooks Connect event. This second post, which is excerpted from SMB Group’s April 2014 report, Guiding Stars: Vendor Strategies to Bring Game-Changing Technology Trends to SMBs report, offers additional insights into Intuit’s approach.

intuit_blueThe writing is on the wall for any business: With customers and prospects racing into the digital, mobile, and social future at breakneck speed, SMBs must proactively deploy technology to improve both business processes and the customer experience. SMBs that figure out how to use technology to stay ahead of their customers’ demands will thrive, while those that don’t face extinction.

But there are lots of vendors and solutions out there ready to help you on your journey, and one-size-fit all doesn’t apply in SMB. Is Intuit a good fit for you? Read on for information and insights to help you decide.

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Intuit’s Top Technology Game Changers for SMBs

Simplifying business life for small business owners is at the center of Intuit’s strategy. Intuit’s mission is to “consumerize” operational functions such as payroll, accounting and marketing so small businesses can focus more on conducting business and less on business process.

Intuit sees the cloud as critical to enabling this, and it views mobile as inextricably linked to the cloud. QuickBooks Online is Intuit’s platform to let SMBs engage from any device, anywhere, at any time to manage their finances and connect to other applications for additional functionality. Today, most SMBs are managing the business through both mobile and traditional desktop and notebook devices. Intuit’s platform can discover, facilitate and customize identity, relationships and roles depending on users’ choices.

Intuit also views the cloud as the foundation to facilitate collaborative, social engagement. For instance, Intuit’s Demandforce marketing solution lets SMBs synthesize social feeds, comments, ratings and reviews to better serve customers and enhance their brands.

Intuit wants to deliver the benefits of analytics and big data solutions to small businesses through its QuickBooks Online platform. Intuit observes aggregated behaviors across its more than 560,000 users to discover patterns and best practices. Using these insights, Intuit simplifies how tasks get done, and tailors processes for different types of businesses and user personas. This lets users set up applications and perform tasks more quickly and easily, and frees them to spend more time focusing on building their businesses.

Intuit is also embedding analytics into its solutions to help SMBs better understand where they should focus time. This builds more value by providing capabilities to identify trends and act on them. For instance, a dentist using Intuit’s Demandforce marketing solution can see when patients aren’t coming in for biannual check-ups, and set up automated reminders to boost regular visits instead of spending time making phone calls. When mundane tasks are automated, customer centricity can move to the forefront.

Changes in SMB Technology Expectations and Behavior

Intuit sees several major changes under way, including:

  • Rising expectations for a “delightful” experience and total solution: Small businesses want to focus on their business, not on figuring out how to use software—whether in the cloud or on premises. Instead of piecing together product components, SMBs want more turnkey solutions, with capabilities to help them automatically integrate applications, and to connect with customers and suppliers. Intuit’s platform and developer network help small businesses extend the power of QuickBooks through third-party solutions by building data integration directly into their mobile and web apps. Project Harmony is a new initiative to make all Intuit solutions simpler and more “delightful” to use.
  • Trust as an increasingly valuable currency: SMBs want technology solutions validated via “social proof,” meaning that vendors must engage in an authentic, ongoing conversation to develop and maintain their trust. Vendors must augment traditional word of mouth with digital word of mouth. Intuit is building trust in several ways, such as increasing involvement with small business associations, such as ASBDC, SCORE and The Latino Coalition, and Hire Smart, a partnership with LinkedIn to help small businesses improve hiring results. Intuit also recently sponsored the Small Business Big Game contest, awarding a Super Bowl ad to winner GoldieBlox.
  • Better-informed advisors: Small businesses want the accountants and other professionals that help them with business decisions and processes to have a deeper view of their business, industry and other businesses like them. In addition to long-term accounting partner programs, Intuit recently introduced the Innovation Catalyst program to offer partners and customers hands-on training on innovative concepts and techniques.
  • Going mobile: In the future, Intuit believes many small businesses will start with and stay exclusively with mobile, and will expect full access and capabilities to run their businesses via mobile devices. Intuit’s internal development and Intuit Developer Network are focused on providing a seamless mobile experience.

Perspective: Intuit as an SMB Technology Catalyst 

With an installed base of more than 5 million small business customers, Intuit’s sphere of influence is enormous. Although Intuit’s legacy is that of a packaged software vendor, Intuit is now fully immersed in cloud and the mobile, social and analytics capabilities that cloud computing facilitates. QuickBooks Online subscriptions have grown by 30% over the past year—and should beat that growth this year now that Intuit has dropped the price from $19.95 per user, per month to $5—or the price of a fancy coffee. This should also help Intuit fend off recent small business accounting cloud entrants such as Wave and Xero. Intuit’s Developer Network has also bulked up. By connecting more partners and customers into this platform and to each other, small business can more easily reap the benefits of these technology trends.

With thousands of hours logged in “follow me home” visits to see how small businesses really work, Intuit also understands the importance of communicating that technology is a make-or-break business differentiator in the language that small businesses speak. Intuit doesn’t underestimate the hurdles it must jump to communicate this message through its web sites, advertising and influencers so that it resonates more meaningfully with small businesses. Instead of leading with technology, Intuit leads with how to take friction out of managing the business and engaging with customers.

But change is hard—especially in established small businesses, where owners are wearing many hats and juggling many challenges. To get past the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality in the very small business market, Intuit must work doubly hard not only to further consumerize the solution experience, but also to help businesses immediately grasp how new technology solutions can help them make real business improvements.

Disclosure: Intuit is an SMB Group client and paid for most of my travel expenses to attend QuickBooks Connect.

Intuit QuickBooks Connect: Where Small Business Is Big Business

This is part one of a two-part blog series discussing Intuit’s strategy to help SMBs better capitalize on technology. This first post provides perspectives from Intuit’s 2014 QuickBooks Connect event. The second post, Intuit’s Strategy to Bring Game Changing Technologies to SMBs, provides a detailed glimpse into Intuit’s approach in the SMB market.

QBconnectLast week, Intuit held its inaugural QuickBooks (QB) Connect event in San Jose. The 4,000-plus attendees included accountants, developers, small businesses, press, influencers and analysts. The agenda included a good mix of updates, announcement and inspiration from an all-star line-up of speakers. Below are my top takeaways from each of these areas.

Turning the Cloud Corner

While newer competitors, such as Xero, have made a lot of noise, they haven’t had much of an impact on the market. Instead, Intuit’s Small Business Group continues on its growth trajectory, especially in the cloud. QuickBooks Online’s U.S. subscribers grew 32% in 2014. QuickBooks is no longer just a U.S. solution, however. Intuit now sells QuickBooks in 124 countries, and has translated the solution into 12 languages. As of September 2014, the company has 705,000 paid subscribers for QuickBooks Online, and a total of 32 million customers worldwide.

cloudIntuit has clearly turned the cloud corner. In 2009, just 5% of new users were online, now the majority opt for QuickBooks Online over packaged QuickBooks products. In addition, 80% of QuickBooks Online customers are new to the Intuit universe, indicating the cloud version is doing a good job of pulling in net-new customers. The event signaled that Intuit will be doing more thought leadership as well, as evidenced by offering entrepreneurs one-on-one speed mentoring by Lean Startup Productions at the event.

Intuit’s QuickBooks Online development platform is also growing. Developer booths were in the spotlight at the event, and hundreds took Intuit’s Hackathon (link() challenge for a shot at winning a chunk of the $100,000 pot. Method:CRM took home the $55,000 grand prize for its Method:Donor app. Payments Cloud by Cloud Conversion, Safety Net by Jobber, and Service Titan won the $15,000 runner-up prizes.

Finally, Intuit’s Accountant Partner Network has always been essential to the vendor’s small business success. Throughout the event, Intuit speakers discussed “the power of we,” and ways in which the company is enhancing Intuit’s QB Accountant Edition to reduce the amount of time accountants need to spend on low-value data entry chores and increase the time they spend providing their customers with strategic business advice (some of which I note below).

Of course, the combination of a healthy pipeline of new QuickBooks Online customers plus a vibrant developer and accountant ecosystem bode well for continued growth.

Sometimes Less Is More

As Intuit CEO Brad Smith noted, Intuit is not focusing on creating more and more features for fewer and fewer small businesses. Instead, the company is looking for ways to make things easier for small businesses. According to Dan Wernikoff, senior VP and general manager of Intuit’s Small Business Group said, Intuit’s goal is to “make accounting completely invisible to small business owners.”

To that end, Intuit is plowing much of its R&D budget (which is about 16% to 17% of its revenues) into making its products simpler for small businesses, accountants and developers to use. Key announcements unveiled at the event included something for everyone:

Small businesses:

  • A full-service payroll solution, that handles payroll tax complexities
  • Automatic synching for bank and credit card transactions in QuickBooks Online
  • Easier ways to create reports, such as P&L and balance sheets in QuickBooks Online
  • Ability to accept credit card payments in QuickBooks Online in under a minute
  • A new payments offering that enables invoicing, accepting payments and updating books
  • A new QuickBooks Self-Employed solution to help freelancers, contractors and home-based business to separate personal and business finances

Accountants: 

The big news here was the new QuickBooks Online Accountant edition, which gives accountants the ability to work on their clients’ books anywhere, anytime and provides:

  • Customizable dashboards that provides snapshots of action items and deliverables.
  • Toolbox for one-click access to any client, from anywhere within QuickBooks Online.
  • Books-to-tax integration, so users can automatically push bookkeeping data to Intuit Tax Online.
  • Integration with Box, to give accountants a better, easier way to share content and collaborate with their clients.

Developers:

Intuit is striving to create a “drop dead simple environment” for developers to build and sell their apps. To that end, Intuit introduced:

  • New developer experience, featuring seamless cloud integration, new SDKs, and simpler documentation to make it easier to call on QuickBooks Online APIs.
  • New payments API to allow deep integrations with QuickBooks Online.
  • New Apps.com marketplace to enable developers to reach more QuickBooks customers with their solutions. Over 400 apps are already integrated with QuickBooks Online and available on Apps.com.

Inspiration On Tap

qbconnect speakersUnbelievably (this from someone who attends many events and co-manages a small business!) all the speakers featured at QuickBooks Connect were inspiring and informative. The speaker line-up was very diverse, but one commonality is that all are successful entrepreneurs. You can watch them on demand at www.qbconnectlive.com. Pearls of wisdom were flowing like water, but here are some of my favorites, which I hope will inspire you too! 

  • Arianna Huffington, chair, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post: Stop wearing “busy” like a badge of honor! It’s not! Success is more than the metrics of money and power. We need health and well-being to be truly successful and happy.
  • Debbie Blox, CEO of Goldieblox, and winner of Intuit’s 2014 Super Bowl ad contest: You need to put yourself out there, and ask for what you need, because it takes a village to create a successful, sustainable small business! Be specific about what you want, and get advisors.
  • Tristan Walker, CEO of Bevel: You don’t get what you don’t ask for, and trials are really blessings in disguise.
  • Martha Stewart, founder and Chief Creative Officer of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, reminded us that we need to work really hard to be successful but must be compensated fairly for our hard work, and that once you’re through changing–you’re through!
  • Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary: Find people who share your passion and empower them to break things. The future of business is to upend the unacceptable.
  • Marc Andreessen, cofounder and partner of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz: There’s a pivot happening with web, cloud and mobile enabling small businesses to use tech more aggressively.
  • Earvin “Magic” Johnson, chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises and NBA legend: Have the courage to say I don’t know everything and to get help! Also, know your customer, serve them well they’ll keep coming back
  • Scott Cook, Intuit Founder and Chairman of the Executive Committee: Every one of Intuit’s successful businesses takes off via word of mouth.
  • Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit: We strive to be the operating system behind small business success.

Perspective

Intuit may have been born in the era of green screens and DOS, but it is now all in with solutions for today’s cloud, mobile, social and analytics technologies. However, one thing that hasn’t changed at Intuit is its commitment to helping small businesses thrive. This combination of strengths bodes well for fueling the next era of innovation for Intuit and for small businesses.

Disclosure: Intuit paid for most of my travel expenses to attend QuickBooks Connect.

Tech Tidbits for SMBs: Xactly Express Integration with Intuit QuickBooks

If you’re one of the four million small and medium businesses (SMBs) that uses Intuit QuickBooks and are wrestling with a clunky sales compensation process, I’m serving up this next tech tidbit for you.

Last week, I was briefed on Xactly’s new Express integration with QuickBooks. This sparked my interest because SMB Group survey respondents always cite “attracting new customers” and “growing revenues” among their top three business challenges in almost every study the SMB Group conducts. But, it can be very difficult for small and medium businesses (SMBs) to execute well in this area. Sales and finance are typically coming at this from different vantage points, and its unlikely that the SMB has a dedicated sales comp expert–or the time and money to set up an enterprise-grade comp system.

So, if you’re like the vast majority of SMBs, you probably manage compensation with a concoction of Excel spreadsheets, emails, paper documents and manual processing. Besides giving everyone a headache, it can de-motivate sales people or head them in a direction that doesn’t sync well with your company’s goals.

Xactly (which also has an enterprise solution, Xactly Incent), introduced Xactly Express in 2010 to give companies with fewer than 100 sales reps–and without dedicated sales compensation staff–a cloud-based, self-service solution to “Incent right = pay commissions accurately, on time, reward behavior.” Xactly built Express on Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform, but as it grew the business, Xactly realized that a good 35% to 45% of its Express customers were also Intuit QuickBooks users. For them, QuickBooks is often the primary system of record. So Xactly decided to create new out-of-the-box connectors between Express and QuickBooks. The solution, which was introduced this week, will be available from the Intuit App Center later this summer.

This built-in integration provides an automated data feed from QuickBooks to Xactly Express, as well as single sign-on. Users can access Xactly through their QuickBooks logon to plan and manage sales commissions, bonuses and SPIFFs. Likewise, when you enter a transaction into QuickBooks, commissions automatically get calculated and credited to the right members of your sales team. If you’re doing business outside of the U.S. Xactly’s solutions support over 150 currencies and it provides customer support worldwide, 24/7. Currently, however, English is the only language that Xactly officially supports.

On the sales side, reps and managers can track their performance real-time on Express dashboards via the Web or with a mobile device. They can see where they are in terms of quota or what their commission will be when they’re working on a quote, or figure out which deals will deliver the best commission returns.

Xactly provides a library of customizable sales compensation templates (prospector, hunter, farmer, specialist and captain) to help small businesses get started.  Xactly says that it takes about 6 to 10 hours to get up and running with the integrated Express and QuickBooks solution. Most of this time goes to verify that the data is feeding correctly between the two programs.

According to Xactly, even very small businesses can get value from the solution. Some of its 200 current customers start out with only one sales rep, but have plans to grow their sales teams, and want to get things automated from the get-go.

Pricing for Express is $30 per user/ month, and there is a onetime set up fee that ranges from $1500 to 5000, depending on the complexity of the implementation and set-up–perhaps a bit pricey for the lower end of the SMB market.But Xactly does offer a free 30-day trial so you can see if it will give you what you’re looking for.

The net-net is that if sales compensation is giving you a headache, Xactly Express and its new QuickBooks integration can provide  relief–with the added bonus of helping align and empower your sales team to meet the ever-present challenge of growing your business.

Intuit and Salesforce Partner Up: Who’s the Big Winner?

Last week, Intuit and Salesforce.com announced that they would partner to integrate Intuit QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online small business accounting software with Salesforce’s small business CRM editions (Contact Manager, Group and Professional).

Under the terms of the deal, Intuit will resell a pre-integrated version of the Salesforce CRM application via Intuit’s App Center (as well as Intuit channel partners). Data will be automatically synchronized across QuickBooks and Salesforce, giving customers a real-time, unified view of the data, regardless of which application the customer is working in.

Intuit and Salesforce indicated that the integration should be completed this summer.

Above the Surface

Clearly, the deal provides Salesforce with a great entrée to Intuit’s 4.5 million QuickBooks users, gives Intuit a marquee CRM partner in the App Center.

This is also a very big deal for customers. While the small business CRM market is fragmented, Salesforce is a top CRM vendor in small business. Demand for integration between QuickBooks and Salesforce is evidenced by the fact that so many integration vendors—Dell-Boomi, Pervasive, Informatica, IBM-Cast Iron and others—offer this integration, which is typically priced at about $50 to $75 per month. With a direct QuickBooks-Salesforce integration, small businesses get a seamless way to synchronize data between QuickBooks and Salesforce.com without having to buy an additional integration service or solution. (Although pricing has yet to be announced, I’ve been told that it will be more economical than using third-party integration tools).

Below the Surface

The partnership also provides Intuit with substantial validation for the approach it has taken with the Intuit Partner Platform  (Intuit Partner Platform: Changing the Rules of Cloud Platforms with Federated Applications). Intuit’s “federated applications” approach means that instead of having to rewrite applications from scratch, partners that have built their applications on other cloud platforms can use basic XML integration to configure or “federate” their solutions with key integration points, including the user interface, billing, account management and permissions, data and single sign-on to ensure that their solutions integrate with QuickBooks and other solutions on the Intuit Workplace.

This approach removes a lot of development and partnering barriers—in fact, it seems that it removed enough barriers for Salesforce that it is, for the first time, providing its solutions via a partner’s platform, rather than requiring the partner to develop on Force.com.

Salesforce also gains a new venue for Chatter (free with all of its CRM offerings, including the small business editions noted above). As I’ve said many times, collaboration is the only activity that every employee in every company engages in everyday. In addition to getting another on ramp for CRM, Salesforce can also make new market inroads for Chatter and its collaboration strategy ( Salesforce’s Dimdim Acquisition–Adding to a String of Collaboration Pearls).

Quick Take

Many analysts and pundits have been asking (and arguing about) whether this is a bigger win for Salesforce.com or for Intuit. At first blush, my take was that Salesforce would potentially have more to gain because Intuit would be promoting and selling Salesforce CRM and Chatter to its installed base.

Giving it a little more thought, I’m thinking it’s a pretty balanced deal. Having a high-profile partner such as Salesforce should help Intuit attract more end-user customers to its App Center, and pull in more developers as well—in line with its goal to establish the App Center as “the” app store for small businesses.

Small businesses win big too. Integrating business solutions shouldn’t cost more than the business solutions themselves, and this partnership should make integration and the benefits it provides more attainable for more small businesses.

Furthermore, there’s nothing exclusive about the deal for either party. Salesforce, will, of course, continue to partner up with FinancialForce, Intacct and countless other financials vendors, and Intuit can do the same with CRM and collaboration vendors.  Which is a good thing—because small business is anything but a one-size-fits-all market, and neither vendor should presume that this is the best accounting-CRM pairing for all of their small business customers.

What is Hybrid Computing, and Why Should You Care?

(Originally published on June 9, 2010, in Small Business Computing)

What is Hybrid Computing?

A hybrid computing platform lets customers connect the packaged small business software applications that they run on their own internal desktops or servers to applications that run in the cloud.

As discussed in What is Cloud Computing and Why Should You Care?, more software vendors are deciding to develop and deliver new applications as cloud-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. This model helps them reach a broader market and serve customers more efficiently and cost-effectively. And, because cloud computing can often provide significant cost, time and ease-of-use benefits, more companies are choosing to buy and deploy cloud computing solutions instead of conventional on-premise software as new solutions needs arise.

However, most companies will continue to use a combination of both traditional on-premise software and cloud-based SaaS solutions. Think about it: You are unlikely to get rid of an application you’re running in-house just to swap in a SaaS solution. But if you need a new solution, you’re likely to look a range of options, including SaaS applications, to fit the bill. In some newer areas — such as email marketing or social media management — this may be the only way solutions are even available. In cases where you have a choice, you may simply decide that the SaaS model makes more sense, or that traditional deployment will work better for your company.

Why Should You Care?

Many software vendors with a strong presence and customer base in the traditional packaged or “on-premise” software world are developing platforms that provide new SaaS solutions that extend and integrate with their traditional on-premise applications. Some vendors provide app stores or marketplaces to make it easier for you to find solutions that will work well with those you already have.

For instance, Intuit has developed a platform and Intuit’s Workplace App Center so that customers can find and try applications that work with QuickBooks and with each other. Microsoft’s Software + Service strategy is designed to connect a myriad of Microsoft’s traditional software applications to Web-based SaaS solutions.

Recently, Sage launched its Connected Services offerings, designed to connect users of its traditional packaged software offerings with online SaaS services. The Sage e-Marketing application, for example, connects ACT and SalesLogix users with online email marketing services, while many of Sage’s accounting solutions connect with its new Sage Exchange online payment processing.

These vendors realize that most companies will use a mix of on-premise and SaaS solutions for a very long time. While companies can get some value from using some point solutions in a standalone fashion, in many cases, you’ll need to integrate the new SaaS solution with an existing on-premise application — such as integrating payroll to accounting and HR, or social media management to contact or customer management application — to get the value and efficiencies you need.

From the standpoint of their own corporate interests, vendors can increase revenues and profitability by selling existing customers new SaaS services (either their own or those of their partners) to connect to and extend on-premise solutions they’re already using. Having a strong SaaS play that is integrated with their on-premise solutions also helps them protect against competitive SaaS-only vendors that could steadily encroach on their turf.

More altruistically, these vendors want to offer their customers the means to bridge between the on-premise and SaaS solution worlds more easily. After all, it can be very confusing to even sort through and differentiate between all the solutions in a given category, and expensive and time-consuming to integrate them so they work well and easily with what you’re already using.

What to Consider

Most small businesses run at least a couple of on-premise software applications that are critical to their business. For instance, it’s a good bet that accounting and financials are on this list. Other applications will vary depending on the business you’re in, but could include things such as solutions to manage contacts and customers, projects, human resources, logistics or a function specific to your industry.

As you identify and prioritize new requirements to streamline and automate additional tasks, think about the overlaps they’ll require with workflows in the core on-premise solutions and processes that you’re using. For instance, if you decide you want to streamline payments processing, does your accounting software vendor provide a payments processing service that can easily snap into the accounting application?

By taking advantage of the SaaS offerings available from a vendor’s hybrid computing platform, your new solution will generally be up, running and integrated with the core application much more quickly. However, keep in mind that as you snap more services into that core on-premise application, your reliance on that anchor application will grow — arguably making it harder to switch should your needs change.

Intuit Partner Platform: Changing the Rules of Cloud Platforms with Federated Applications

Cloud platforms, or “platforms-as-a-service” (PaaS) are quickly becoming a key channel for application developers. By writing and publishing their applications to integrate with those of a major PaaS provider, such as Salesforce.com or Microsoft, smaller developers can gain instant access to a large installed base of customers.

With so many vendors creating their own clouds, however, it’s easy for software developers to get lost in them—or potentially, locked into in a cloud. After all, it takes a lot of time and effort to write an application that conforms to the requirements of a particular cloud platform. Smaller developers, without extensive resources, have to place their bets carefully, as they may not have the resources to rewrite their applications for different environments when a new or better opportunity arises.

But recently, Intuit unveiled a new capability called “Federated Applications”, which opens up the Intuit Partner Platform to developers that have existing software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications built on other cloud platforms, programming languages or databases. Instead of having to rewrite applications from scratch, developers can use basic XML integration to configure or “federate” their solutions with key integration points, including the user interface, billing, account management and permissions, data and single sign-on to ensure that their solutions integrate with QuickBooks and other solutions on the Intuit Workplace. For example, the partner solutions that Intuit announced at its launch—Expenseware, DimDim, Setster, Rypple and Vertical Response–are built on a wide range of different platforms.

Intuit also provides a wizard to help developers create their pricing plans, and checks each application to ensure that it meets Intuit security and privacy requirements. Once the process is complete, applications are published to the Intuit Workplace, where four million small businesses and their 25 million employees that use QuickBooks can access them.

With its Federated Applications model, and tremendous presence in the small business market, Intuit is poised to change the rules for cloud computing platforms, both for small business developers and customers, as well as rival PaaS vendors. Intuit’s model makes it much easier and faster for developers to leverage existing investments and reach a new market than for PaaS competitors without this capability. In turn, millions of Intuit customers get access to one-stop shopping, account management, connected data, and single sign-on for applications in the Intuit Workplace.

Intuit’s business model represents a dramatic shift from that of the current PaaS gorilla—Salesforce.com. In the Salesforce model, every user of any AppExchange solution must also pay a platform fee to salesforce.com, whether they need to use the Salesforce solution or not—a tax that many small business customers, in particular, are unwilling to pay. In comparison, Intuit charges Workplace developers a percentage fee (typically 14% to 20%, depending on volume) when they sell their solution on the Workplace. In return, developers get a sales channel, platform services, and a friction-free route to Intuit’s large installed base.

By lowering the bar to entry to its platform so significantly, Intuit’s federated approach makes it easy for developers to place a bet on the Intuit Workplace. Intuit customers, meanwhile, can look forward to a flood of new solutions that will work with QuickBooks. At the same time, its more likely that these solutions will be available on other cloud platforms, should the customer decide to move to another accounting solution. Seems like a win-win-win for Intuit, its partners and its customers—and a challenge to PaaS competitors with more proprietary models.

Will CPAs Bring the Cloud to Earth for SMBs?

Just last week, I blogged about how some IT pundits and vendors are falling into the trap of turning the cloud into yet another confusing and over-hyped industry buzzword, and the need to bring cloud conversations down to earth for small and medium business (SMB) customers.

A couple of days after I wrote this post, I had a briefing with Intacct, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and it’s subsidiary, CPA2Biz. The three organizations have just announced a significant partnership designed to do just that (http://us.intacct.com/corporate/news_events/2009/040709.php)  through some of the most down to earth people I know—accountants.The gist of the alliance is that AICPA and CPA2Biz have designated Intacct as their preferred provider of financials applications. Together, they will educate AICPA’s 350,000 members about the benefits of moving their financials solutions to the cloud. The deal will give all AICPA members—both CPA firms and their clients—discounts on Intacct solutions, and encourage accounting firms to use Intacct as a platform to provide services for their clients. In addition, AICPA will layer its best practices and vertical templates on top of Intacct’s solution to give accountants additional tools, guidance and content to create a unique CPA version of Intacct. The partnership is a big coup for Intacct, which currently has about 100 accountant partners. By joining ranks with AICPA and CPA2Biz, Intacct gains the potential to dramatically scale its accountant channel–and reach thousands of SMB customers through them. 

Not only does this alliance pose a strong threat to Intuit QuickBooks’ dominance in the small business accounting market, it has the potential to pull SMBs into cloud computing in vast numbers. Intacct, AICPA and CPA2Biz did a lot of homework beforehand, including research that showed online accounting solutions boost productivity by as much as 50%. By dramatically reducing the need for travel, and the necessity of exchanging paper and email files, CPAs have more time to spend providing guidance to clients to help them improve financial performance and decision-making.

Accountants are rarely bleeding edge technology adopters. But AICPA’s backing will give them more confidence in recommending cloud computing to their clients. The fact that Intacct uses IBM for its primary data center, a SunGard facility as a hot standby, and has exceeded all uptime guarantees for the past year should help mitigate concerns about security, reliability and performance. As important, the message that AICPA, and eventually its accountant members, are communicating to SMBs—that cloud computing can help them “improve financial performance, take better advantage of financial advice, and make better, faster business decisions”—is framed in business terms, not cloud speak!

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