Intuit launches QuickBooks Online

We can probably by-pass the debate about it being the industry's worst kept secret for now (although the competence of Intuit's marketing might be an important success factor), but I thought I would post the press release received this morning headlined: "Intuit Launches QuickBooks Online, Providing Easy Online Money Management for Small Businesses"

London – 5 April 2011 – Over one third (38%) of senior decision makers in UK small businesses are in the cloud – using one or more Internet-based applications (excluding email and online phone services) to help run their business, a YouGov survey has found. The shift to online for core business applications including online document, customer and financial management will see high growth percentages over the next 12 months. And a small but growing number of small businesses, almost one in 10 (9%), say they would like to use online services for all their main business applications.

The online survey of 500 UK small businesses was commissioned by Intuit UK, which today launched QuickBooks Online (www.quickbooks.co.uk), providing easy online money management for small businesses. The survey found that the most likely small business senior managers to work using online services is either  aged 35-44 (63%) , London-based (66%), or a Mac user (71%). 

How and Why Small Businesses go Online
The survey explored how and why UK small businesses use online services within their business, and what online services they plan to use in the future:

What online or cloud-based services small businesses expect to use over the next 12 months:

  • Storage or document sharing services – 21%, an increase of 22%.
  • Word processing, spreadsheet, or presentation services – 16%, an increase of 62%.
  • Financial management – 13%, an increase of 33%.
  • Customer relationship management services – 9%, an increase of 81%.
  • Other – 5%, an increase of 25%

Why small businesses use cloud services:

  • Access documents or services anywhere – 70%.
  • Save time, with no need to install software – 41%.
  • Easier to share information with others – 49%.

Main online or cloud-based services currently being used by small businesses  

  • Storage or document sharing services – 17%.
  • Word processing, spreadsheet, or presentation services – 10%.
  • Financial management services – 10%.
  • Customer relationship management services – 5%.
  • Other – 4%

"Small businesses in the UK are showing increasing confidence toward using online services to manage core business functions such as financial management," said Pernille Bruun-Jensen, managing director of Intuit UK. "In launching QuickBooks Online we are helping this new generation of businesses to securely access their books online and keep on top of their finances wherever they are. QuickBooks Online is new and tailored for the UK market, but built on a decade of experience in the US where we have more than 215,000 paid subscribers.”

Easy Money Management   
Available on Mac and PC, Intuit QuickBooks Online helps businesses do their books, automatically backs up their data and offers secure access from anywhere. The key time-saving benefits include:

  • Create and manage professional invoices – Design and create invoices, billing customers promptly and professionally.
  • Track cash flow –Easily keep tabs on money going into and coming out of the business including sales and expenses tracking; get a real-time cash flow snapshot in a single screen.
  • Manage VAT returns – Automatically track VAT and generate VAT returns.
  • Handle multiple currencies – Work with customers and suppliers in their own currencies; easily convert back to sterling to view any gains or losses affected by fluctuating exchange rates.

Data Security
QuickBooks Online securely stores all financial data on central servers rather than on your computer, protecting it from computer damage, loss or theft. The service also backs up data automatically every two hours.

According to the YouGov survey, 60% of senior decision makers in UK small businesses, whose business use cloud services, cited automatic data backup as a benefit of online services. Some may have learned this the hard way with one in 10 (12%) reported having lost business data or files stored on computers at least once in the past 12 months after a crash, virus attack or hardware failure because they did not have a recent back-up.

Pricing and Availability
QuickBooks Online is available in three versions in the UK, including:

  • QuickBooks Online Simple Start – Design and create professional invoices, keep an eye on cash flow and have one convenient place for your customer data. £9 per month for one user plus accountant.
  • QuickBooks Online Essentials – Generate VAT returns with one click; handle multiple currencies, powerful reporting tools. £19 per month for three users plus accountant.
  • QuickBooks Online Plus – Plan ahead with budgeting and customisable reports. £29 per month for 5 users plus accountant.

There are no contracts, it is free for the first 30 days and small business owners can cancel the service at any time. Customers who sign up by 4 May can trial the service free for 60 days.
           
Notes to editors
All figures are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 529 small business senior decision makers. Fieldwork was undertaken 21-24 March 2011.  The survey was conducted online.

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John Stokdyk's picture

Brief response while I dig around

John Stokdyk | | Permalink

Just to say from our end, it might be more instructive to get a bit more detail about the product itself. I was offered the opportunity to get an early view by taking part in a UK beta test for the product, but since it was covered by a Non Disclosure Agreement, I didn't see any point.

First, I prefer to write about products when they're commercially available, and second, I'm am far too overworked to do Intuit's user testing for them. As far as I can tell, the software will be a localised version of the north American QuickBooks Online, which colleagues over there suggest hasn't eaten up the market (ironically the free Mint personal accounting Cloud system Intuit acquired in 2009 is doing just that).

We'll certainly be putting QuickBooks Online through our Cloud software review process as soon as we can, but I am curious about the initial positioning: I'm not sure why they need to commission and feature user research so proimently in the launch release. It might be news to Intuit that lots of businesses are using the Cloud, but we've been seeing that happen before our own eyes for the past two years. The company wouldn't have invested in the development project unless it could see demand in the marketplace, so who is it trying to convince?

Update: I've attached a first look overview to my news piece. Main points:

  • Requirement to enter credit card details for free trial is off-putting (but there is an option to cancel trial)
  • It packs in a lot of functionality (discounts, credit notes, delayed payments etc), but highly reminiscent of the desktop version. Accountants will like it, but will business owners?
  • Import/export facilities are good, but strangely not available for bringing in lists of suppliers.
  • Reporting: 60 options that I could count, but visual KPIs are buried within this menu section.
  • Help system is comprehensive and fed by updates from issues raised by users, but was strangely silent on some functions, such as how to export data (user ignorance - there were Excel output options all over the reports).

This one looks like a job for Nigel Harris. I'm going to be looking at some of the simpler applications over the next month.

John Stokdyk's picture

Beta user quote

John Stokdyk | | Permalink

The press release was accompanied by a comment from accountant beta test user Charlie Carne, of Charlie Carne & Co:

“As a firm advocate of cloud computing, I am delighted that QuickBooks has now launched an online product. QuickBooks has years of experience in developing great bookkeeping software on the desktop and has now brought that expertise to the cloud. QuickBooks Online can be used by smaller businesses being simple and easy, as well being flexible enough to cope with the demands of larger companies with features such as multi-currency and budgeting. As an accountant in practice, I can access my clients’ data online at any time and no longer need to send data files back and forth, enabling my practice to be much more efficient and pro-active to the benefit of my clients.”
 

garyturner's picture

Threading a needle

garyturner | | Permalink

John - I suspect the heavy emphasis research isn't to justify online accounting as much as it is an attempt to position this online product as only being appropriate to an audience that has thus far eschewed Quickbooks and therefore an effort to mitigate cannibalisation of the traditional Quickbooks PC app.

Drawing out the 71% Mac user propensity to work online statistic being a case in point.

Added to that, their UK website directs existing Quickbooks customers to avoid the online product and just upgrade to the latest version of old Quickbooks.

This is a particularly tricky and hazardous stretch of extreme product marketing you'll only find established desktop vendors like Intuit, Sage and MYOB attempting to navigate because they're forced to, not by design. "Buy our new online product but please don't buy too much of it.."

In our experience simply transposing traditional accounting and bookkeeping functionality into an online context is not sufficient, there are bigger combinational factors such as connecting startups and small businesses with their accountants and as well as their wider stakeholder communities. So, enforcing limitations on numbers of concurrent users as Intuit has done here is classic old thinking designed to push customers farther up the product family. At Xero we found that when faced with user caps, small businesses simply share user logins among different people which isn't great for security or audit integrity and actually prevents the wider small business stakeholder community such as non exectutive directors, advisory boards and other partners, from collaborating effectively to support the small business.

That's something that can only be acheived online so I'm not surprised that the old guard doesn't get it, but it's a shame to see them still attempting to monetise it.     

Gary Turner
UK Managing Director, Xero
@garyturner

PUREaccountants's picture

Concurrent Users Issue

PUREaccountants | | Permalink

 Why are desktop software companies obssesed by concurrent users. Its the one thing that points me off the most. I have even changed my tax software because of the licences required for concurrent users (as well as client numbers). Get a grip. Create a great product, charge for it, make sure it works!

The problem I have with Quickbooks creating an online system is that once again it is one of the major on-premise software giants trying to play catch up. So what they have done is transposed their desktop software to the cloud as opposed to writing a genuine cloud app. 

As gary says above (and I kind of understand) is that its not that simple. It wouldn't be so bad if wasn't for the fact the QuickBooks software has been getting worse and over the past years not better. I was a happy QB Advisor until I stumbled on Cloud Utopia and have now adopted Xero, WorkflowMax, OneSaas, Google Apps amongst others that I'm also integrating into my business. 

So much like Sage's god awful SageOne (or whatever it's called) I will be steering anyone who will listen away from such products. I don't even like there on-premise solutions (if you hadn't guessed). You can't beat Xero or Kashflow to fair as fantastic cloud systems, that integrate well with other cloud apps. 

And Intuits attempt at PaaS also appears to be an ill conceived platform (from what I understand) desparately trying to chase the Salesforce PaaS and so attract new users. Bit like Labour consulting with the public and claiming that they are redesigning the Labour Party. Nope - just fresh out of ideas boys!

I hope that the likes of Xero & Kashflow will continue to aggravate the bigger players, demostrate true agility in development and gain a share of the market that they deserve.

 

 

PUREaccountants's picture

A decade!

PUREaccountants | | Permalink

 So in 10 years Intuit have succesfully managed to garner 215,000 US users for their online system. Pretty small number considering their one of the worlds largest accounting software companies, and its taken that long to get it in the UK. Something tells me this wasnt top of the priority list!

I heard that Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founder) was worth around £10billion. Interesting as Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook) is reportedly worth £12 billion. Difference is Zuckerburg acheivevd this in less than 5 years. Still with on premise?

david_terrar's picture

Another good indicator

david_terrar | | Permalink

It was inevitable that Intuit's marketing team would eventually wake up and recognize the open UK opportunity. I'm amazed it has taken them this long, but it's another endorsement for cloud accounting which has to be good.  Very interested to hear what their early customers say and to see the AWEB review.

David Terrar

www.d2c.org.uk and www.twinfield.co.uk 

Adrian Pearson's picture

A very shy debutant though

Adrian Pearson | | Permalink

If QuickBooks had launched online when we needed it 5 years ago, I would have been onboard like a flash. Times have now changed though and leaner fitter vendors have already established themselves.

My initial take on the positioning of the product is that it seems to be a very tentative debutant:

http://adrianpearson.com/2011/04/05/quickbooks-online-a-very-shy-debutant/

Adrian

John Stokdyk's picture

Interview with QuickBooks Online product manager Richard Blitz

John Stokdyk | | Permalink

Here is an edited transcript of an interview this afternoon with Richard Blitz, Intuit senior product manager for the QuickBooks Online Global edition.

Q: QuickBooks Online has been available in US for more than a decade, but finally reached the UK as a buyable product this week. After such a long wait, the biggest challenge for Intuit will be to convince UK customers to take it seriously? (see Adrian Pearson's comment above). The company also has to re-establish credibility with former TaxCalc and Quicken users who were left in the lurch when the company abandonded development of those products in 200?

Blitz answered that at the time it pulled out TaxCalc and Quicken, Intuit was extremely focused on the US market. “There has been very serious rethinking of the global strategy since then, particularly under the guidance of our new CEO Brad Smith. In our most recent annual reports he says our priorities are: global; social; and mobile. Intuit has been very seriously restructured to ensure that the global initiative is resourced properly and there’s a commitment to doing it right.”

Taking the online product international is part of that move and Intuit decided to start with the UK because of the success it has had with the desktop product. “We spent a year tweaking it and building in major features to make right for the UK market and spent five months beta testing it.”

Q: Your offering what looks like a very mature application that will appeal to accountants, but the marketing message appeared to aim at the small businesses that are turning to online applications. Where’s QuickBooks Online being pitched?
Accountants are extremely important. Making accountancy straightforward for them is a key part of what we do. But we really need to get small business owners on board. QuickBooks Online SimpleStart [£9 a month entry-level version] is a part of that - the option didn’t exist in the US product. A small business person coming into Essentials could be frightened and needs something simpler. If you’re looking for drop-dead simple,  it can be that with a very little amount of configuration. With SimpleStart there is a page of Preferences with a lot of stuff you can turn off, but it still allows sufficiently sophisticated accounting so that accountants will like it.”

Q: Why the credit card sign-up; was that not flagged up as an issue in beta testing?
We’ve had some very serious discussions on this topic. It is controversial. If you have a system where anyone can sign up and they pay later if they want it, you get a huge amount of people who sign up, look at it for an hour, decide it’s not quite right and look at something else. The other way is we get people who are more serious about evaluating it. In the latter case, we get more qualified leads: not as many come in, but the data shows it doesn’t affect sales. This weeds them out at the front end rather than the back. If we find it’s having a substantial effect, we’re open to changing it.

Q: How similar to is the UK edition to the US application?
They probably have 80% of the code base in common and we’re in process of bringing them together. QuickBooks Online UK is built on same platform as US, and we’re taking all over the world. The US currently has inventory functions: we know that’s really important to UK businesses and something we’re keen on getting, but we don’t have announcement on that yet.

What has been changed?
There are couple of feature differences, such as multicurrency, which the UK has but is not in the US product. There is a brand new billing system with Direct Debit, which is really crucial to UK customers; 85% told us they are interested in paying that way.

Also the VAT engine: one of things we had to build in the UK edition was a new VAT model and we took pains to ensure it was applicable to the rest of the world. That model will be deployed in US. This will be first time something not built in the US has gone into US code - it reall does mean that global is really getting traction.

Why is there no VAT Flat Rate Scheme support? Will you be adding it in?
It’s all about setting priorities. We found that if we enabled full VAT accounting many small businesses get value out of doing it that way rather than the flat rate scheme. They often get recommendations from accountants to do that way. That’s what we prioritised. If we hear the Flate Rate Scheme is crucial, we will look at it more closely. For this release we prioritised that standard VAT accounting was bullet-proof from the implementation and audit perspective.

Q: What are connectivity options with between QuickBooks Online and desktop, for example to import/export data to accountants?
From a practice management perspective, we do have functionality built in for accountants. All of the versions come with free access for accountants, which we believe is crucial. If you long in as an accountant there is an extra menu with accounting functions such as journal entries and standard reports.

If an accountant is supporting 50 small business customers and companies in QuickBooks Online they need a tool to manage these companies and keep an eye on what stage they’re at. We know that is a crucial problem and it’s very much on our roadmap to look at that.

Q: Are there any plans to bring together the desktop and online products?
We’re still committed to the desktop product, but suspect the preference of small businesses will be to move to the online product. We’re looking to make sure data is accessible from wherever you may be. You may not be able to use QuickBooks Online as front end for the desktop version if you’re on the road, but I think convergence is something that will be investigated. Unfortunately, there’s nothing happening on that in the short term.
 

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