June 7, 2011
I’ve written at length previously about the Intuit Partner Platform, a platform that aims to allow third party developers to build solutions that integrate with QuickBooks. I’ve always loved the concept of IPP – I believe that, especially for SMB customers, providing a rich common data model is key to driving the benefit of cloud applications. While APIs go some way to doing this – the idea of using multiple apps across a platform that takes care of common data and authentication is powerful.
So I was interested to be pre-briefed last week about the latest version of IPP. Intuit Anywhere is the name for a product that will let developers integrate QuickBooks directly into their own SMB focused apps. The easiest way to understand what Intuit Anywhere does for SMBs is to think of it as a SMB Facebook Connect – in the same way that the all-pervasive Facebook widget appears on millions of sites around the web, so to Intuit hopes that the Anywhere widget will appear in SMB focused site and apps everywhere. The screenshot below shows anywhere within bill.com
Essentially Intuit Anywhere enables developers to easily incorporate a widget directly into their app’s workflow, making it simple for customers to make a secure, authenticated connection to their QuickBooks or QuickBooks Online data using one Intuit ID. This is a pretty major development for Intuit who has taken a very iterative approach towards developing IPP;
- They first built a completely native stack because, at the time, there wasn’t really a SMB focused PaaS available
- They then built in federation to allow existing third party application to leverage IPP
- They’ve now realized that forcing developers onto a platform is sub-optimal, and that billing really isn’t a differentiator. Data and identity are key and this is what Anywhere delivers
I took some time to talk to Alex Chriss, Director of Intuit Partner Platform, about what this all means. I started out by suggesting that Intuit Anywhere was, at least in some ways, an admission that the world has moved on from things being on any one platform. Whereas in another time Intuit would have been focused on driving the maximum number of eyeballs to the QuickBooks application, the reality is that they are much better to enable all the different employees who interact with SMB software to have an involvement with Intuit – on, or off, site.
Chriss agreed with this contention, he pointed out that while QuickBooks may have five million customers in the US, these businesses have an estimated 28 million staff. The reality is there are generally only one or two people within a business who interact with QuickBooks, a play like Intuit Anywhere allows all employees the opportunity to interact with rich business data – a staff member filling out a leave request, someone working on the business website, or someone developing an email campaign.
The other aspect to this move is that it’s fair to say that previous iterations of IPP, while promising hugely, didn’t gain real buy in from developers. True they snared most of the popular standalone SMB applications, but they didn’t really get new developers excited. With Anywhere, Intuit is really lowering the bar or developers and making it that much easier for them to build applications that leverage core business data. That strategy should hopefully see some blue skies applications created on the platform.
The big thing here is what Intuit Anywhere could unlock. I’ve long conceived of some sort of small business bus that brings data together in one way, giving employees, managers and other stakeholders visibility over what goes on within an organization. What anywhere could unlock is a sort of a social stream, akin to what salesforce.com is trying to do with Chatter, NetSuite is trying to do with SuiteSocial, Tibco is trying to do with Tibbr and Yammer is trying to do, well, everywhere. Essentially it’s about surfacing relevant data from all around an organization and its various stakeholders, and offering that up in some kind of centralized and contextual location. It’s the reason Facebook Connect works so well – bring social to wherever people happen to be hanging out. If Intuit does the right things with Anywhere it could drive the same sort of benefits for SMBs. Sunir Shah from freshBooks, normally a conservative sort of guy around these things, was also pretty bullish on Anywhere saying;
Intuit Anywhere is great for two reasons. For one, having a high quality online API for QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online has made it possible for us to build an integration with QuickBooks that lives up to our customers’ expectations. IPP provided this before, but Intuit Anywhere makes this API accessible from inside the FreshBooks user experience. That makes all the difference. Second, Intuit is really stepping up to build an ecosystem for small business software with Intuit Anywhere. We are excited to be marketed in the ecosystem around QuickBooks. By connecting their millions of customers with the wider market online, Intuit could very well expand and strengthen the online small business software market significantly.
According to the release, “Once certified, Intuit Anywhere-enabled apps will be available on Intuit App Center and Intuit Anywhere will be generally available this fall”. I have some concerns about the certification process – talking with developers already on the IPP, or going through the process of joining, it seems that certification is a length and difficult process – hopefully Anywhere speeds things up and lessens the number of hoops that developers need to go through.
Disclosure – I’ve previously done some consulting with Intuit – see my disclosure statement.