Huge breaking news this morning is that Microsoft and Intuit (see disclosure here) have agreed to work together on the Intuit Partner Platform to bring a host of products and services to a greatly expanded customer base. This really is massive news for anyone involved in small or medium business – be it as a business themselves or in anyway selling technology products or services to SMBs.

First a slight recap – Intuit developed the Intuit Partner Platform in the words of Alex Chriss, Business Leader of the IPP to:

Bring end to end, best of breed products to small and medium businesses by providing an open ecosystem where customers have choice of products and developers have a choice of what tools and platforms to build on

The Microsoft tie up is beneficial for the two vendors themselves, existing and future IPP and MS developers and the end customers. Let’s look at the gains to each of those groups:

Intuit and Microsoft

Since the withdrawal of Microsoft Money, commentators were trying to determine what Microsoft’s strategy would be with regard to SMBs – we all know that SMBs constitute a huge and lucrative market. This relationship gives both Intuit and Microsoft access to the channel of the other – there’s hundreds of millions of SMB users of MS products who will now be exposed to the IPP, while Intuit’s customers will now have access to products built by Microsoft‘s developer community.

Microsoft gets a ready built channel to increase the uptake of its Azure cloud computing offering and, at the same time, gets themselves a ready built SMB applications marketplace.

The developers

Existing IPP developers get access to a massive new channel of potential customers, the ability to deploy their applications on Microsoft’s infrastructure and the ability to natively use Microsoft development tools.

Microsoft developers get the ability to utilize the tools the currently do, but market their products on a specific SMB marketplace backed by a channel with millions of customers already.

On a technical level, the diagram below sets out how the various integrations will actually work:

ippthingy

The customers

IPP’s stated aim is to give SMBs access to an end to end range of software tools – with this deal customers just got a whole lot more choice. Intuit is committed to integrating Microsoft’s Business Productivity Office Suite (BPOS) onto the IPP by the end of the year – this will mean IPP customers get the ability to use Exchange, SharePoint and (once they’re introduced) the online office products – all leveraging the core IPP offerings of single sign on, common data, single billing etc.

Summary

The playing field just got really interesting – over on The Small Business Web – a large number of small SaaS vendors are trying to build an ecosystem that includes clear and open APIs and a comprehensive offering of business applications – done correctly the relationship between Intuit and Microsoft could very well provide the same value – but potentially more quickly and more easily for the end customers.

APIs are great – wonderfully valuable things that allow applications to work together. But a common data model of the sort that the IPP is built around, is even better, allowing applications to be built from the start around an underlying and consistent model of data.

I spent a few hours today talking to the founder of a SaaS business app that is still very much in stealth mode – we both discussed our concerns about the high aggregate price that businesses would be forced to pay for an integrated set of separate applications with all the duplication that entails – IPP is one way to drive efficiencies that can in turn deliver the holy grail of reasonably priced point-to-point solutions for SMBs – the space just got even more interesting…

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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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