It’s all happening with Intuit today. No sooner do we get a saas payroll deal out the way and the company formally launches Internet Partner Platform (IPP.) The first report I saw in this was from Ben Kepes who declares:
…it looks to me like IPP is finally offering to fulfil the promise of the end-to-end integrated small business software platform that I’ve been evangelising for a few years now – my catch cry of late has been that application integration should only be seen as the very first step in building a SaaS ecosystem.
At first sight I was confused and even now I am not quite sure what to make of this announcement. It seems to me like a lock-in play to create a marketplace for saas applications on the promise that Intuit can address a huge market of some 25 million businesses. Given what Intuit itself has said about addressable markets, that seems a tad over the top. BS antenna at the ready!
Anyhoo, I commented on Ben’s post, suggesting that the only way this makes logical sense for Intuit is if those coming onto its platform are able to leverage against potential integrations to Quickbooks.
My ZDNet colleague Phil Wainewright provides a much greater depth of discussion noting that:
What Intuit brings to the party when developers federate such applications to its platform is all the ‘middleware’ of cloud service delivery — single sign-on, consolidated billing, a consistent API for exchanging data between applications — along with the reach and trust of its established brand name. In that sense it is a mirror-image of Force.com and other cloud platforms out there, which have focused on what may turn out to be an outmoded notion of lock-in to a technology platform. Instead, Intuit’s lock-in is to the service delivery infrastructure, irrespective of the underlying technology platform on which the applications themselves execute.
As I thought – sort of. Phil adds:
Of course it is still lock-in, but it’s a different kind of lock-in from what we’ve seen before, leaving developers free to host elsewhere and connect into rival PaaS ecosystems. Customers are more locked-in, but if they carefully choose add-ons that are also available elsewhere then it’s probably easier to move off Intuit than another more closed platform. And when I asked whether it might be possible for another small business accounting application to offer itself on the Intuit platform, the team didn’t demur. So you could in theory envisage someone offering a ‘graduate from QuickBooks’ offering within the Intuit ecosystem, even though I can’t imagine it would be welcomed with open arms.
Ben on the other hand is taking at Intuit’s word that there may be no Intuit software to which customers might connect. I just don’t see IPP making any sense except in the context of a much broader Quickbooks play as part of its broadening saas/on-demand/cloud (SOC) play.
All of which leaves me with several questions. Later on today there will be a podcast but in true blogger fashion, I prefer to raise my questions here and hope they get answered. If they don’t then I will be meeting Phil next week at which we can dive into this further.
- Past attempts at providing marketplaces have met with failure, one of the most recent of which was the demise of Coghead. How does Intuit believe it can prevent a similar fate happening to IPP?
- I’m less than convinced about Phil’s benign stance regarding vendor side lock-in. Developers that choose to come into the IPP orbit will still have development effort to undertake. How many times will they do that, especially if other platforms emerge?
- Is this a direct play against Salesforce.com’s Force.com and AppExchange?
- What about interface consistency between applications? That’s something you do get with Force.com but isn’t immediately obvious in the IPP play?
- We seem to be looking at a play which is somewhere between product and service. Why not simply open source the whole thing and put the argument to bed? This would give Intuit a much better chance of attracting many saas players. The fact they only have 5 for this V2 launch seems a bit lame.
- It seems to me that with a smorgasbord of apps to choose from, end user cost could ramp very quickly. What is intuit doing to counsel developers about pricing?
- Intuit doesn’t have a great track record outside the US. Does it see IPP2 as a platform that can travel?
These are questions that any professional should be contemplating. Best advice would suggest that clients be advised to use integrated suites wherever possible. By putting IPP firmly into play, Intuit is signaling that small businesses can have it all albeit lock-in is ever present. If it works then oit could be a game changer subject to getting solid answers to the above. One to watch.