June 14, 2012
I’ve written at length about the Intuit Partner Platform – it seemed to me the best approach by a traditional accounting vendor to provide a compelling offering in an increasingly SaaS-based world. the IPP allowed third organizations to use third party SaaS applications alongside their core QuickBooks data, all the time sharing a consistent user interface and paying one bill for all their products. It was a compelling vision but one which people tell me was fraught with complexity and compliance requirements. Despite its failings however, it seemed to me an excellent way for Intuit to enjoy continuing relevance, while not throwing away it’s entire desktop franchise.
The world moves on however and recently intuit quietly announced to its partners that it had decided to “decommission” their federated applications approach and to focus exclusively on Intuit Anywhere – a model that moves the focus away from having organizations use applications within the Intuit framework, but rather to let QuickBooks data flow out and interact directly with applications. The original IPP approach delivered some real benefits – it gave third party applications access to QuickBooks data and it did so within a consistent UI and billing model, however these benefits also created problems for developers and this would seem to have limited the uptake of the IPP by application developers.
In notifying developers of the change, Intuit admits that IPP forced them to adopt a particular approach and resulted in some burdens on them. Intuit told those developers that;
- You wanted to allow customers to access your app anywhere, including via the Intuit App Center AND your own website
- You didn’t want to have to use our billing system or user management
- You didn’t want create a new version of your application just for our channel and therefore support two versions of your applications
- You want us to use industry standards for authorization and Single Sign-On (SSO)
From a conceptual level this is actually a little disappointing – especially for the smallest of SMBs, a consistent UI and single billing relationship certainly removes some complexity form their life. Under the Intuit Anywhere model customers need to learn various UIs and have payment relationships with all the vendors individually – this places a degree of burden upon them that doesn’t do anything to ease the onramp to multiple applications.
It seems to me that there is another story here, one of sub-optimal execution. In talking with a number of Intuit partners, I’m told that the process of integrating with IPP was long a torturous – in fact many vendors decided to not integrate, mainly because the process was so difficult. In an environment where developers have only so much development resource and an almost infinite number of applications with which they can integrate – it’s an easy decision to make to forego one that is going to place a massive burden on the development side of the house. While I accept that creating and maintaining essentially two separate UI’s (one for IPP and one for a vendor’s own web application) is a pain for developers, I also believe that Intuit should have been able to reduce this burden by executing IPP well. I’m also told by people that outside of the development process, the approval process for acceptance into IPP was a little arduous.
Intuit is articulating the belief that Intuit Anywhere strongly follows the Facebook approach of embedding its presence across the web. The difficulty that I have with that is that there is no workflow tied to Facebook – users have a seriously limited number of functional options (like, comment or share). This is very different from a business application where there are real workflows that need to occur within and between applications.
All of this serves to highlight the real difficulties that a desktop vendor faces when it tries to move into a cloudy world. Intuit has a difficult challenge and it’s fascinating to watch it modify its approach over time. It will be interesting to see how quickly Intuit Anywhere develops now that all resource can be applied to it rather than split between it and the IPP.