Intuit Partner Platform announcement has had me thinking and today I caught up with Alex Barnett and Alex Chriss from the company to explore what it means and where it might go. Prior to that conversation I spoke with Ben Kepes and Phil Wainewright to get two very different assessments. Ben thinks it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, Phil is more cautious. I’m somewhere in between but with an eye to the future.
The most optimistic assessment is that IF Intuit is able to get a good selection of partners and IF it solves the consistent interface issue and IF someone comes along and is able to orchestrate business processes then IPP will be a real game changer for the small business trying to operate in as efficient and effective manner as possible. None of those things are a done deal. At least not today.
The reality is that IPP is a way whereby businesses can avoid multiple logins and billings from multiple services – all to the good – and can have data represented in other applications without the headache of re-keying. Again, all to the good. You will still need to navigate between applications with different interfaces. On my call with Ben, he didn’t think this was a huge issue. It is. One of the reasons that FreeAgent has done well is because the developers pay a huge amount of attention to hiding complexity and presenting the right information to users in a readily digestible form. One of the reasons that SAP gets so much criticism is because the SAP GUI is horrible even though it arguably has the best set of standard business processes offered anywhere on the planet.
Intuit is going to be the gatekeeper for apps that go into the platform. That might mean you still have to step outside IPP if your favourite (take your pick) application is not represented on the platform. That could easily be the case if Intuit decides to limit the number of same class apps appearing in the platform. I’m not going to second guess but the fact Intuit is being coy about how many developer companies are lined up tells me this is very much in the early stages and that Intuit is feeling its way. It hasn’t for example articulated a way of describing how it will address business users and explain IPP except in broad and often technical terms.
Intuit is going to need a sampling of use cases that talk directly to user requirements. Right now I don’t believe Intuit has that capability though it could happen provided it takes a more ‘enterprisey’ approach to communications. That’s not as easy as it might appear. Vendors have struggled for years to parse technology into terms the end user can digest without feeling they need a degree in computer science.
Now think forward. What would be the most obvious application that could be developed for IPP? Practice management and automation tied in with accounts production. Yet in my conversation with the two Alexes, that is not yet something they’ve seen. Why do I say that?
Professionals recognize that there are plenty of options for small businesses but given the chance, they’d prefer to work with one application. That was the rationale behind Sage building the Accountant’s Club. The difference here is that IPP would allow clients to flesh out what they need they way they need while allowing the professional with a common interface into any and all clients using Quickbooks.
The logical next step then is that IPP becomes the channel through which to drive influencer adoption for Quickbooks. Given that Intuit is positioning IPP as a business play (with the caveat it neeeds fleshing out and explaining) then customers should not need to care what the accounting back end looks like, PROVIDED it remains easy and simple to use. That could lead to a whole new user interface discussion but park that on one side for the moment.
OK – so am I excited about this? Yes. It is streets ahead of where anyone else is right now with the possible exception of the SAP ecosystem – but that’s for big companies. Do I believe there will still be problems around vendor lock in? I’m not sure. I’ve challenged Intuit to consider open source thus paving the way for people to access apps on any cloud. They’re not ready to take that step but it is one they should absolutely consider. It may mean some short term revenue loss but it opens up HUGE market potential and thereby a massive long term win.
Will they be bold enough to drive interface ‘standards’ via IPP? I hope so but I sense the company knows it is a huge task. The fact they are using Flex could help in that decision because Flex offers ways of building highly functional yet attractive applications.
The really big question (at least to me) is how quickly they can attract developers into the fold. I’ve already hinted at what I believe would be a killer magnet app. Who will step up to the plate?
Next comes the question with whom will Intuit compete? I’m thinking that putting caveats aside, IPP will rock the market significantly. Other vendors will have to scramble to keep up. Even if SAP gets Business ByDesign into the market (which by the way I think is a phenomenal service) it will now face another obstacle. Whereas in the past you might argue a company can outgrow Quickooks, IPP may render that discussion irrelevant. Switch off one app and switch on another. Bingo! That also puts Microsoft under the spotlight. IPP could make it far harder for Microsoft to be a natural next step for a growing business.
Of course all of this is speculation. IPP is a big announcement but it is a tiny part of what Intuit is about. IPP will have to compete with the TurboTax cash cow internally to get developer resource. If it is successful then it could explode Intuit’s market share.
The final question is will it travel? Again, Ben doesn’t see this as an issue but let’s be blunt: Intuit may be a global brand but it hasn’t devoted the resource it could to growing outside its native US. IPP could change that. If Intuit recognizes the opportunity and responds accordingly.
There are many imponderables but what will make the difference is if Intuit is able to believe in what is a huge vision with masses of potential. For that to happen it has to move from being ‘strategic’ to central in its thinking. We can only wait and see.
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