Intuit Moves up the Stack for IPP – Drops Native Platform

I’ve been following Intuit’s moves to become a relevant Cloud player for many years now, and was one of the first people to write about the Intuit Partner Platform when it launched almost three years ago. The Internet Partner Platform was created in order to enable applications to be created on a platform that shared common data with Intuit’s desktop SMB accounting products. It was a kind of a hybrid “best of both worlds” type set up.

We need to look at IPP in context of when it was launched. A lot has happened in those three years and whereas in 2008 there was very little choice in terms of PaaS solutions, today there is an absolute plethora of options – CloudFoundry, AppHarbour, Heroku to name but three.

Given the rapid development of the PaaS space, and given the fact that Intuit is in the business of creating applications and business software ecosystems but not in the business of creating software platforms, it’s not surprisingly that Intuit have announced that they’ll discontinue offering developers a native development stack to develop upon. Rather they’re closely integrating IPP with Windows Azure platform – very much a case of sticking to the knitting, let Microsoft handle the lower level parts of the stack, where it has scale and expertise, while Intuit will deal with the higher level aspects.

I’ve spoken with developers who tried creating products on Intuit’s native platform and the experience was largely one they described as painful – as I said before, Intuit isn’t a PaaS provider so they simply didn’t have the bandwidth to keep their own native stack up with industry development. Director of IPP, Alex Chriss alluded to this when he said that;

Three years ago, platforms-as-a-service were nascent. To help accelerate our partners getting to market, we created and offered an end-to-end platform. This helped a number of our partners get to market, but it wasn’t a perfect offering. It was a stack that solved the needs of a small set developers, but couldn’t scale in features to meet the needs of all our developers.

This move to concentrate n the higher levels of the stack doesn’t come as a major shock and shouldn’t be seen in a negative light – providing a platform was never a revenue generator for Intuit, allow developers to build solutions that integrate with core SMB products and share common data models certainly is.

Unsurprisingly, Xero’s UK MD, Gary Turner didn’t see it this way, commenting that he thought it was a case of Intuit looking to capture a big prize that was beyond them. In his words;

We forgot we’re an app s/w company, not a platform vendor & discovered that was too hard and not driving licenses… but we’ll clothe our story in Jedi language to make it sound like we’re geniuses and always planned it that way

While I’m sure Intuit had a business model illustrated on a multi-page power point document that showed how powerful being a platform vendor could be for them, my belief is that the creation of the native stack was a sad reality of the time, the dropping of that stack is a natural reaction to a changing landscape. Either way it’s a reminder that focus on core competencies is key, other software vendors looking to create a platform should look to Intuit’s example closely.