QuickBooks

The Demise of the QuickBooks Third Party Developer?

Written by Chuck Vigeant

I remember the first Intuit developer-Pro Advisor conference in San Francisco back in 2002, where I started friendships that have lasted throughout the decade. I remember meeting Bonnie Nagayama and feeling honored to meet this famous person whose name popped up all over the place; I am still honored to have such a smart friend, and to have watched her kids grow in front of my eyes.

I remember meeting Brad Smith for the first time and commenting to myself, that this guy was something special – still the most humble and honest friend I have known all these years; people like him only come around once in a lifetime. It is easy for us to criticize Intuit at times, but I challenge anybody to walk in his shoes for a week.

It was a time of excitement for me, as it was the first time I was involved with the big name ‘Intuit’. And I helped man the booth for QODBC/FLEXquarters with whom I had partnered, after pestering them for months to be a part of their team.

Everything was first class – a fancy food layout with jumbo shrimp… and Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream!

The SDK and the Development Rush

It was a year or so before this, when the SDK (Software Development Kit) first became available, and developers lined up to get involved. I had later heard from Intuit’s founder Scott Cook that he had to “fight” with his team to open up the QuickBooks system to others. People wanted access to their data, and their frustration would finally be removed.

Well, it was nice while it lasted.

In the beginning years, developers all found some ‘niche’ that focused on what QuickBooks didn’t have – Scott Cook’s dream a.k.a. “one size does not fit all”. However, if you look at the developers who have ‘survived’ from those early years, you will find that they have one thing in common: Their product doesn’t solely depend upon QuickBooks. Exceptions noted, but for the most part, developers creating tools for QuickBooks’ missing features, have ended up as sole proprietors doing custom work or moving on to other things.

In my early years in the Intuit world, my company focused on QuickBooks integration – and I was stubborn in my belief that our team could create re-usable code. But the price to create those custom integrations was higher than the market would bear, and no matter what it was, everybody used their QuickBooks files differently, so that if something changed, the program wouldn’t work – and of course the customer didn’t understand that. I didn’t blame them.

I barely got out with my shirt on my back, and concentrated on the data extraction, business analytics, and report writing business. Best decision I ever made – albeit a few gray hairs later.

During my time on the Intuit Accountant Council, I had the pleasure of getting to personally know three gentlemen in charge of the IDN (Intuit Development Network): Harvey Alcabes, Peter Vogel, and Ed Schaffer. Ed was the ring leader, and was great in helping us to solve problems, Harvey went out of his way to accommodate new developer SDK requests, and Peter was a genius; he coded the original QuickBooks web connector while sitting in the backyard of somebody’s BBQ party! And Shannon Atkins – who was the glue in that team; she kept everything fresh.

That team was actively involved in developer conferences, meetings, group activity, and personally assessing feedback.

But sadly, that time and those methods have passed. In the last few years, at the various conferences – including Doug’s Accounting Solutions Conference – I would make it a point of asking other third party developers if anybody had reached out to them, or if they had even seen somebody at the conference from Intuit who represented the developers. The answer was almost always no.

Oh sure, there are some who have made some personal relationships, but in general- the tone, two-way participation, and camaraderie is nothing like it was in those first years. No roundtables for feedback, no national gatherings.

Additions to the SDK have technically kept up with the yearly editions, but that is because it is necessary for Intuit to write back to their own products when communicating with cloud applications. But I can’t use the word ‘timely’ to describe each release to the developer.

I remember one year, the SDK wasn’t even available until months after the QB release. On another occasion, I recall that while developers were asking for the budget information to be exposed; it was being used by the Intuit Statement Writer – but not available to them. Only to find out it WAS there, but nobody bothered to tell us – until a year later. Even in the most recent SDK, the additional fields for contacts were shown to be exposed, but we soon found the data itself was not available. Yes, eventually fixed, but at a later date.

There are still items not exposed, and the Intuit canned response to developer’s requests for those items has always been “what is the business case?”. My tongue-in-cheek answer has always been – “because the people worked hard to put in their data, and it belongs to them – NOT you.”

As I learned, during my work inside of Intuit, there were some technical reasons, but I formulated by observation two mentalities: One that said “we decide what data is important for you – not you”, and another that said “we are gung ho on version 1, but we may not get version two or three complete”. There is some semblance to these statements, as I have found out.

If anybody wants to take exception to this, I will be glad to debate a decade’s worth of interactions to prove this point. This not about personalities – it is about fact.

From the SDK to the IPP

Isn’t the SDK supposed to be over? We are, after all, moving to cloud applications. New QB users are flocking in high numbers to QuickBooks online.

Well, there are still millions of desktop QuickBooks users, and developers need some way of creating a bridge between their application – desktop OR cloud – and QuickBooks.

Intuit’s answer to this was the IPP or Intuit Partner Platform. It has gone through several name changes and iterations since its inception, e.g. Intuit Anywhere, Intuit Data Services, but it is still about providing QuickBooks data in the cloud. I actually helped the original architects during my 2 ½ year stint there a few years ago, and the idea was good, but the implementation had problems – generally in the area of synchronization. The learning curve was steep, and the technology was not ready for prime time. I saw this first hand.

The original intent of that program was to allow developers access to data in the cloud – using a Platform as a Service model where all the developer had to do was build a product using tools provided by Intuit, and Intuit would take care of the rest: hosting platform, collection of monies, etc. They also allowed ‘federated’ applications whereby an existing third party application could hook into the QuickBooks cloud data.

However, the results – years later – are less than stellar, from any objective measure.

Go to the current Intuit App Center– and you might be stunned at the low number of applications using the Intuit cloud data extraction methodology and wanting to be listed on the App Center. You hear about Apple or Android creating applications in the hundreds of thousands – but there are only 60 or 70 (10% are Intuit’s own offerings) in the App Center.

Furthermore, if you go the Intuit Marketplace – which contains all applications using both the SDK and the IPP, there are only several hundred –and some of those applications have been extinct for a while.

This is the demise of the QuickBooks developer. Our developer community has gone from sizzle to fizzle.

What Happened?

While the current stewards of that program aspire to a larger list of offerings, there is a history of problems that began to evolve long before they got there – and they have compounded over time.

First, I want to make it clear that these are my own opinions for this turnaround of events – and are not representative from anybody in The Sleeter Group or its associations.

Secondly, while some Intuit employees may take offense to my opinions, I am making my conclusions based upon personal observation, private conversations with other developers, and as an actual third party developer. Even good employees may have honorable intentions, but they don’t always have final say over the decision making process – and unfortunately end up at the point of our wrath instead of the decision makers.

Lastly, I call these ‘golden nugget’ criticisms. The fact that many of us have survived is a testament to the development outreach from Intuit, including its programs and offerings; many of us are blessed to be making money in this space.

However, we are going backwards – not forwards. This is my premise.

  1. IPP suffers from lack of data availability compared to the SDK. I know Intuit has made promise after promise, to make all the data available ‘like the SDK’, and it has never come to fruition
  2. Intuit keeps changing the model. The reality is that if developers had written their products for that first IPP iteration, they would have had to RE-write it two or three times to use the current iteration. Not just simple changes, RE-writes. And the billing issue, as first promised, must now be implemented by the developer.I personally know of one developer who, several years ago, made an attempt to move their product to use the Intuit cloud offering, and lost a whole year of development in doing so, eventually saying “Intuit couldn’t keep its promise”. The developer eventually reverted back to the SDK and created his own mechanism to bring the QB data in the cloud. There are many companies who have finely honed their methods of synching their cloud applications with QuickBooks desktop using the SDK – and they have no plans to change. Intuit wants to move developers over to the cloud model – but the reality and theory are still far apart; and some have already been through the wringer.
  3. SDK developers are penalized for using what works. IPP developed applications are moved to the front of the line in terms of visibility to the general public, but because the implementation is a subset of the SDK, developers are penalized for using what works best for them.
  4. There is no sense of ‘development community’. Intuit does not go out of its way to reach out to developers in a personal way or create a sense of camaraderie and community. Part of this is generational – as some may be more comfort in a Facebook type of communication setting. Part of it, is that it is not a priority, and may lack funding resources. Furthermore, they may not want to hear our war stories – they are not always pretty. Personal PR takes a lot of time and effort, and I can’t remember the last time I saw a survey to developers about what we thought of the current program and its offerings.
  5. Intuit will do version 1 but may neglect version 2 or version 3. There is an interesting conundrum at Intuit. Many times they will go through several iterations of something to get it right, but there are other instances where they never quite complete an initial offering. The SDK is still missing pieces after all of these years, the IPP is still far from being what is optimal, the ODBC (‘Custom Reporting’) views in Enterprise that originated three years ago are STILL missing critical pieces for people to be able to use all of the components.
  6. Intuit will eventually build it on their own. Intuit always has a ‘we can build it better ourselves’ mentality. I don’t necessary fault Intuit for this approach, as it is their right to add functionality to their products – and many customers would rather have the feature IN QuickBooks. But I have seen instances of an attitude that purports “if we DO build what we are doing, we don’t owe you an explanation, and frankly that’s your problem.”There are two sides to this coin. Some third party developers have created better applications than Intuit has been able to reproduce, or Intuit actually withdrew their competing offering. But there are also other cases where developers were at odds with Intuit in terms of what they were told, and what transpired. There is a lingering trust issue in certain corners of the development community, and many say “why should I even try?”I don’t want to criticize the basic Intuit ethical model – I know Brad wouldn’t tolerate ethical breaches. However, I do know aberrations have existed, and some still linger.
  7. The shareholder is king. Bottom line is that Intuit’s primary objective is to take care of its shareholders. The various Intuit communities and the resulting interaction are important pillars, but unless it benefits Intuit directly, it won’t get priority. Business reality.
  8. Questionable importance of third party applications. Years ago Intuit publicly purported statistics about the large number of users who depended upon some type of third party applications. Are those statistics about other Intuit products? Or non-Intuit third party applications? What is the true target market for developers? The statement ‘millions of QuickBooks users’ is not a true statement of the actual target market for non-Intuit third party applications.

 

What Does This Mean For The developer?

Regardless of what Intuit does or doesn’t do, there are still choices and opportunities. If you currently develop applications that integrate with QuickBooks, you have already made your decisions, and you will make the best of it – or move on. Many of the aspects of development I have described in this article are no strangers to long time QuickBooks developers.

However, if you are considering new development in the QuickBooks space, here are my ‘two cent’ tips:

  • Don’t build an application that QuickBooks will eventually put into its products. If you think that Intuit will buy your product, think again. If you have an application that increases a sizable market share, and is more effective to buy as opposed to build – and is worth millions – then maybe.
  • If you do build something, produce one of two types of applications:
    • Standalone applications that happen to integrate with QuickBooks, but don’t wholly depend upon it.
    • An application that – if it does depend upon QB – has advanced features that Intuit would most likely not address, e.g. it is a specialty product that isn’t for all QB users.
  • If you happen to build something for the masses that QB does not do, just know that you have a two to three year window to make your big splash. If it is popular, that will be the next thing that Intuit will put in their product. You may in fact have a better offering – and do BETTER after Intuit puts their iteration of the technology in its product, but just be careful of picking your poison.
  • Make your choice of data extraction methods, based upon what is – not upon what is promised. Some things are beyond the best intentions of Intuit employees.
  • If you continually ask for data that is not available, and it does not come to fruition, then know it will most likely only be available if it benefits something Intuit will build. Resources may not literally be available in their current planning cycle.
  • Involve yourself with the Intuit Accountant and Pro-Advisor community – but don’t force yourself upon them. Get their input, and advice; and if you don’t know anything about accounting find someone that DOES. Call Doug Sleeter or Bonnie Nagayama.
  • Find other developers to engage with. Some of us have been around for years, and can tell you about the trials and tribulations of QuickBooks development. We may tell you to run away as fast as you can, but we have good intentions. Even the competitors in a particular space talk with each other.
  • Be your own island and move to your own beat. There was a time where I constantly wanted to know about what Intuit was doing, but I have learned over the years to just take care of my customers. You or I can’t control what they do, and it is a waste of time that we could be using to improve our offerings.
  • When Intuit decides to put something into a product that somebody else has already built, there are three considerations: Ethical, legal, and public relations. If you approach Intuit, you need to consider the ramifications of all three – just like Intuit must.
  • Lastly, think LONG and HARD before engaging in this business. You will be frustrated, and you will have days where you wonder why you ever pursued your aspirations in this space. You will be told of ‘Millions of QuickBooks’ customers, and ‘diamonds in the sky’ – and you will have a hard time separating reality from fiction. But, if passion is your true ally, you take care of your customers, and are careful about your target development market, you might survive. Just keep your eyes open.

About the author

Chuck Vigeant

Chuck Vigeant is the Managing Partner of CLEARIFY, LP and is known as the “grandfather” of Crystal Reports and Business Intelligence for QuickBooks. He is the principal architect behind QQube™, the ground-breaking data warehouse technology for QuickBooks, and his company is the largest provider of Business Analytics and custom management reporting systems for a variety of small business products.

There is one common thread from Chuck’s days as a controller in the late ’70s, through his three decades as an accounting technology specialist, through his stint as a data analyst and schema architect for Intuit – and, yes, even as a QuickBooks ProAdvisor: his passion to make it easier to grab data from everyday software applications and formulate it into usable information from which people can make more educated decisions. He has received awards from the Austin Entrepreneur’s Association; was a keynote speaker at the National Association for Professional Saleswomen; taught business curriculums at local community colleges; and spoken at dozens of Intuit functions, CPA chapters, and various technology conferences. He now limits his speaking to special engagements.

Chuck is a member emeritus of the prestigious Intuit Accountant and Advisor Council, holds a bachelor’s degree in business and public administration from the University of Hartford and a Master of Education from the University of North Texas.

50 Comments

  • OK, I’m not a developer, but I’m a qualified accountant and been a QB cert advisor in Canada since the program existed. I’ve worked on integration projects, with QB and other soft wares that took me quite deep technically. I done training, implementation ….

    And this article describes the ups and downs of working with Intuit better than the 10 000 other rants and bitching sessions I’ve experienced.

    Such promise, such heartache.

    We survive.

    Just

  • Chuck,

    Thank you for such an insightful, clear, and honest piece on this topic. As an IRP whose focus is on INTEGRATION of components within the QuickBooks ‘eco-system’, what has been going on with developers has been the subject of my interest and concern for quite some time.

    I am hoping (against hope?) that Intuit folks read this and take it as the ‘wake up’ call they need. Third Party Developer products have been / continue to be an important part of our engagements. Most businesses have needs that Intuit ‘alone’ can’t meet, meaning, a significant / vibrant Third Party Developer community is CRITICAL if we are to continue to provide complete solutions on a QuickBooks foundation.

    Again, Chuck, thanks for this article…as well as for you work over the years (which I have greatly admired).

  • Chuck, my dear friend, you were eloquent, as always. As someone who has endured much of the experience you described, I could not have said it better myself. As ProAdvisors, Intuit Resellers, and end users, my opinion is that the developer community is critical to the success of the entire ecosystem. With that said, no matter what they do right, it is such an uphill climb to build a successful business. As promoters and customers for these developers we can only do so much. Especially when, as you described, the data is illusive, even with “business use case” discussion numerous times directly with the Intuit team. The constant “evolving” and changing rules can also lead to developer demise; the IPP, especially for native apps, is a perfect example.

    I agree with the others, I love the developers and all that they provide to make us, and Intuit, more successful as we all strive to solve real client issues. I hope that Intuit will see the article and related posts, and find a way to improve the current situation.

  • Chuck,
    Thanks for the great post. You make several great points and you and I have discussed these issues many times. I share your sadness that somehow the party is over but I really hope it’s not.

    The whole ecosystem (SMBs, Accountants, Developers, Intuit, and even Intuit’s competitors) has a huge interest in a thriving development platform where developers innovate and SMBs benefit from new efficiencies. The world is changing fast, and there are SO MANY unsolved problems and unmet needs that we NEED Intuit and others to provide robust platforms on which developers can innovate and thrive.

    But to support your basic thesis here, you may remember that in 2010, we started a project to write a book “Best Practices for Developing QuickBooks Add-ons.” We thought we could have a companion to our QuickBooks Consultant’s Reference Guide, but this new book would be specifically for developers.

    Bonnie, Charlie and I spent dozens of hours on the project, and we kept running into many of the issues you point out here. I finally cancelled the project because I saw three undeniable facts/trends:

    1 – The SDK works great, but Intuit began steering people away from it. So that sent me a huge signal that the demand for this would be waning.

    2 – We were trying to write “best practices” for IPP developers, but the platform was simply “not ready for prime time,” so we felt we had no definitive foundation of features to recommend to developers. There were many promises for “the next version will do this or that,” but since we’d see those promises broken before, we decided we had to just wait and see. It turned out that we spent more time arguing with each other about WHETHER this or that developer COULD use the IPP than we spent on HOW they SHOULD use it.

    3 – The developers we respect the most kept telling us that they have no plans for IPP. They generally say they’ll “look at it when it’s done,” but until then, they’re just serving their customers. Just like you recommend here.

    Anyway, thanks for the great write up. Like you, I have incredible respect (and even LOVE) for Intuit, and I would do anything to help them fix all this. The developers CAN be won back, but only if and when there is a stable platform that works and the road map is clearly laid out for the developer entrepreneurs. It’s all about trust. Easy to lose, and VERY hard to win back.

    Long live CHUNKIFICATION of the business processes! 🙂

  • History repeats…
    In our part of the world, Australia/NZ, the incumbant market leader, MYOB, had a similar attitude; ‘we know what is best for you, we will determine what you get and when’.
    What is playing out in North America with Intuit dragging its feet over IPP connectivity for the development community is very similar to how developers have been treated in our region. MYOB failed to grasp the fact that embracing the development community is one of the keys to success, not something disposable until getting around to building an adequate API. So this is very much deja vu for us down-under. Meantime in this region, Xero, the fast growing SaaS competitor, is currently eating MYOB’s lunch, grabbing market share and enjoying their stock price rocketing upward.

    So the MYOB attitude of; ‘Developers, you go play in the corner and we will summon you when we are ready with an API’ has really backfired. Currently MYOB is trying to win back the development community as it rapidly loses marketshare to yesterdays minnow, Xero . Meantime, developers have moved on from MYOB and turning that around will require a major effort and probably not achievable given the speed at which things are playing out with the competition at their heels.

    The lesson is that the world has changed. You have to keep the eco-system fed or you become isolated, no matter how big you are. Social networking, web enablement and proliferation of APIs from web competitors is leveling the playing field. How big you are as a software vendor today, how pervasive the influence you had in the past is not a determinant of future success. Will Intuit understand that in time?, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  • Charlie,

    I have the upmost respect for you and have followed you for years. I am also a former Accountant Council member. I love Intuit let me start there. You have brought up a very relevant point of the heart of Intuit currently.

    The current theory is to throw things at the board and watch them stick. The developers and the engineers are getting bogged down with the ideas and being shifted and pulled in many directions. The ideas and goals of the company are not inline with where they are asking the current staff to follow along. I have watched so many be shifted an moved from projects that were in line and targeted but only to put that project on hold and then to have it die midstream.

    My favorite reference to this would be QBMac. Again, I don’t believe that the SDK and the IPP programs are being followed to the true core and intital goals. Thus, they loose the steam and the resources that were intended to carry out the programs and their focus to move them forward. The next shiny ball comes along and shifts the programs and morphs them into a completely different product and failure occurs.

    As we approach a key pivital point in the industry as well technology in general, time is critical. I am anxious and hopeful that Intuit will ground themselves in a technology that will lead them to the forefront and establish them as the key player that they have always been.

    If this does not happen our family as we know it of end – users, accountants, and Intuit employees will be hurt in the long run.

    Charlie your article is tremendous. Thank you again for this

    Jan

      • Chuck & Charlie I apologize.

        I have followed both of you. I was reading Charlie’s response to the blog on the Yahoo Group. I replied to the wrong one. Thank you Charlie for the correction. It all still applies.

        Jan

  • Wow, the first SDK conference in San Francisco. That really takes me back!

    Frankly, I can certainly see where Chuck is coming from. The sdk worked for us, and continues to do so, and Intuit was always amazingly good to us, but then we went into it with both eyes open and were also asking lots of questions along the way. You could say we hoped for the best but always prepared for the worst.

    We also had a lot of support from our original investor that I’m guessing not many other developers had, and so were able to weather some of the hard times that others couldn’t when the sdk caused problems. When the IPP came out we really looked it over and, like Chuck says, it simply didn’t have the data we needed for it to work for us and it didn’t look like it ever would. So we simply continued on with the same approach hoping that things would change and knowing that in the technology world things can change on a dime.

    Right now Fishbowl is doing better than it ever has and we continue to grow (100 employees now) as we keep our eyes open about what’s happening in the market and the online world. Who knows where we’ll be 5 years, 10 years from now? We’ll just keep our eyes open and prepare as best we can for changes we see coming.

    • Grant, the problem is, IPP is the direction you have to go if you want to work with QuickBooks Online. And, QuickBooks Online is being heavily emphasized as the future for Intuit. But, then, we have time to let IPP settle down before we are forced to jump into that.

      IPP makes more sense (if they fix the dang thing) for the online product, and for larger firms like yours. It is extremely difficult to consider for the smaller developers.

    • Grant, Thanks for chiming in here too. Fishbowl is a great example of developer success in the SDK days. And I think Chuck’s key point is that with the great new architecture and promise of the IPP, developers like Fishbowl haven’t even been able to consider the platform because it simply did not give you what your application require to function fully and deliver customer value.

      I still hold out hope that there will be a strong, stable IPP platform for developers like Fishbowl. But until it’s actually available, we understand that you cannot even start your development. And then, it will take both time and money for you to get there. So your question will be about the ROI for switching platforms. So far, you and many other developers have told us that the ROI just hasn’t been there.

      So we remain hopeful and will support Intuit’s efforts to delight developers, but we feel your pain.

      • Well said Doug, I think you’ve managed to speak for a number of 3rd party developers and cut to the chase as to what their thinking is at this time. At BizTools we also eagerly await a stable and comprehensive IPP platform but at least for the medium term, there’s a huge gap between what we require and what’s on the known roadmap.
        John

  • Chuck, you brought back some old memories.
    We weren’t at the first conference but did exhibit at the next one in San Jose in 2003. As you say, the connections made with some great people have lasted the test of time. I recall with some amusement Scott Cook’s keynote and his use of the Wonderbra as an example of early innovation. Sadly I think the IDN, SDK, IPP journey in terms of access to QB data shares a key characteristic…they both over promise yet under deliver.
    As to building a business around the ecosystem, new entrants would do well to heed your advice…it’s a LONG game and not for the under resourced or feint hearted.
    Cheers
    John

  • Chuck,
    As always, your article is extremely thorough, well articulated, and factual where needed.
    What you mention as the lingering trust issue with developers, I think is growing more than lingering.
    Also, in the cases where Intuit does build it on their own, it is important to point out that, even if inferior to that of the existing 3rd-party developer, Intuit’s offering is in-product and has “first dibs” on the unsophisticated QuickBooks user (which is the majority of users, especially the ones not using an advisor’s help), many times not giving the chance to such users to venture outside of QuickBooks for perhaps a better solution to their specific data or process needs. That to me is the pervasive concern.
    …MARIO

  • Hi Chuck,

    When we started Xero we looked hard at the small business software space. We formed a clear view that small businesses owners did not want the cost, risk and complexity of integrating software on premise.

    We saw there were many accounting software products, often with speciality functionality wrapped around a general ledger with vast differences in quality.

    We see quite a different model evolving in the cloud accounting space. Commodity General Ledgers with open and free APIs (e.g. http://developer.xero.com) and a rich community of add-on partners where the software is already integrated between the vendors (e.g. http://www.xero.com/add-ons). We actually believe that small businesses should spend more on their business specific applications than accounting as that will make their business better.

    It is a vendor mindset shift that is easier to make when you start again from scratch.

    After the SDK for desktop apps, the IPP made sense as a strategy for Intuit to try to step back a layer and have developers build on their platform keeping them at the centre. They had a window to pull that off but as history shows it was poorly executed and the world has moved onto open API’s. This is great for innovation.

    We don’t think any one accounting solution will win the entire market. New vendors will come and will specialize in industries where their focus will allow them to create a compelling proposition in those markets.

    What the vendors should be doing is making it super easy for small businesses and their advisers to interact with each other. So initiatives like a common electronic invoice format and standards for sharing data between online systems is far more interesting now that single vendor closed models.

    Vendors and industry professionals also need to pushing old world organizations like banks to provide more of their interactions electronically (and through web services) so we can smooth those workflows and save our customers time and money.

    The ability for small businesses to choose the best ‘lego blocks’ to assemble a connected operating platform for their business is real and a great opportunity for developers, integrators and advisors.

    Great discussion and hope this adds something.

    Rod

  • Chuck –

    First off, hats off to you for the courage to post these thoughts publicly! I know many of us, myself included, refrain from sharing our experiences and concerns for fear of being cut off from the mouth that feeds us.

    Echoing your recommendations to other developers – IPP should not be a developer’s sole source of leads. I’ll add that, depending on your app’s pricing and conversion rate for this audience, you might find that the ROI from IPP is actually quite good (it is for us).

    Building, on your advice to developers…..Never put all your eggs in one basket, period. Full stop. IPP is just one tool in a developer’s marketing mix. You need to have lead generation from word of mouth, partners, OPNs, SEM, SEO, inbound content…and the list goes on. Otherwise you’ll never scale, and you’ll never be comfortable that the mothership you are relying on isn’t about to send its death beam your way!

    Paul

    • It saddens me to hear about ‘fear’ of reprisals. I have received many personal e-mails about this blog, also because of ‘fear’.

      During the years I was on the Intuit Accountant Council, I was ‘spoiled’, because I learned from Jill Ward, Scott Cook that feedback was always a new opportunity for Intuit to improve.

      My intent here is not to denigrate, but to portray the reality of my outside experience as a developer for over a decade – and to express disappointment at the disappearing eco-system in a company that I have invested so much in, and with whom I have established many great personal relationships.

      Intuit will always succeed and we as developers will always find what works best – or move on.

      I have nothing but encouragement for a man like Brad Smith to continue his successful growth at Intuit; if you look at what he has done in the last few years, it is phenomenal.

      But I also want a ‘large umbrella’ successful eco-system where everyone prospers – without unnecessary pain, or without losing members who become frustrated at no fault of their own.

      Win-win scenarios have no room for retaliation – just trust.

      When I look at how successful your business has become, it is exactly that sort of trust that I see.

      Thanks for sharing your advice. Well taken.

  • I don’t know that there has been a “reprisal” – I’ve not heard of a specific case. Of course, a “reprisal” can take multiple forms. You could, for example, not be offered an opportunity to participate in a particular promotion if you have spoken out, which is a subtle issue.

    However, even if there is no documented or reported case of a “reprisal” by Intuit (I would be surprised if there was, it hasn’t been my experience with the company), the FEAR of that happening can still be there. Intuit staff don’t have to say that there will be a problem, they don’t have to make a threat or carry out an action. Given that with IPP we are totally dependent on Intuit for access to the data and being approved for use (and listing in the App Center) there is always that worry in the back of your mind, “what if I say something they don’t like”.

    Just their being in that powerful position makes you worry.

  • I’ve been around the desktop SDK for years, also going back essentially to the beginning. I agree with the points that the SDK has been very good for both developers and for Intuit. It totally makes sense to have an open API as has been proven over and over again with other companies. It has its place and my company, like the other developers, use it regularly. We have a big investment in it as part of our Autofy integration platform.

    But, what I don’t understand is all the misgivings around IPP. Over the past few years, Intuit has decided to take their API to the Cloud. They have promised over and over again not deprecate the SDK, and they haven’t. I’ve heard them promise this at least a dozen times to developers, but it seems to fall on deaf ears. It doesn’t make sense for them to completely remove the desktop SDK. But, the investment is clear and is correct, to invest in the Cloud.

    I believe if any of us were starting a new business today, we’d all launch it in the Cloud. It makes sense in so many ways. For them to pour investment into IPP and not so much into the SDK, I say good for them for seeing the light. They’ve been super supportive of developers who want to partner here. My company’s Autofy system integrates with dozens of apps and we get more support from the IPP than we could dream of from other companies. The IPP team pays attention, listens, and helps on both the technology and business side of things. I’ve had a number of in person one on one’s with them where they have offered help and interest in what’s next for my company.

    If you ask anyone on the IPP team if it has been smooth sailing from day one of IPP, they’ll agree that it hasn’t. They have tried things and failed, but again, they’re looking to future and, with the proper feedback from many of us developers, are now on a pretty clear path using some nice industry standards. It’s still developing and the work is far from done, but it’s making good progress and is the right solution if you have a cloud-based solution.

    Regarding retaliation, I agree that many developers have feared this, but it’s pretty unfounded. I haven’t seen them retaliate against anyone, but instead have seen them reach out their hand and offer help toward moving forward. It’s pretty typical of the classy way Intuit, and the IPP team, handles these things. I’ve even offered some pseudo-competitive offerings to what Intuit has and the IPP team has been great with it.

    At the end of the day, if you have a cloud offering, IPP is the best tool for integration today and has a promising future. Our Autofy integration platform is evidence of this as we’re continuing to accelerate our growth in being used as the tool to integrate other company’s apps onto IPP.

    -Joe Dwyer
    Propelware

  • Hi all,

    I’m Ronny Tey, a group manager with Intuit and IPP. I’ve been watching the conversation unfold here and appreciate the dialogue and feedback. As many of you know, Intuit is a company built on customer feedback and input. Two of our core values are “integrity without compromise” and “delight customers,” so I felt obligated to address Chuck and Charlie’s statements and correct the inference that Intuit would take any sort of reprisal against any developer, or any customer for that matter, who voice a negative opinion about our products or services.

    Full disclosure, we know that the developer experience with the QuickBooks SDK and IPP has not met expectations. But as we do with every product and every service, we rely on our customers to help us get better. Because of the customer feedback we’ve received, we’re investing in the future of IPP and we’re working hard to improve the developer experience. Just last Thursday, we launched a new developer site on https://developer.intuit.com. The new site provides an easy way to get information on the QuickBooks API and the new Customer Account Data API and streamlines the experience for developers to get on IPP. At Scaling New Heights in June, Intuit will host a Developer Track for current and future IPP developers. There’ll be sessions to get an introduction to IPP, a developer panel with current IPP developers and Intuit, and a session to hear about the latest developments. Also, we’re hosting a pre-conference networking social the Sunday evening before the conference so if you’re a developer, come join us for that. More information on the Developer Track at Scaling New Heights is here: https://developer.intuit.com/page/SNHTechTrack.

    I wish I could share even more with you today, but you can expect to see exciting progress over the coming months that will directly address issues raised by Chuck and others on this thread.

    We view all feedback as an opportunity to delight customers. And again, negative feedback from any customer would NEVER solicit a negative reaction or response from Intuit. If anyone would like to share additional feedback on IPP directly, please feel free to email me at [email protected].

    -Ronny.

    • Ronny, to clarify, I was specifically saying that I wasn’t aware of ANY evidence of “reprisals” or anything like that from Intuit. And I wouldn’t expect any. My point was, regardless of how good you are about that, people on the outside are going to worry about it and be cautious, because Intuit holds the key.

    • I am also glad see Intuit respond to this, as it starts a dialogue.

      I also want to be clear: I wasn’t inferring anything. I was only sad to HEAR of a fear factor, whether it is real, imagined, or something in between. My first reaction would be “why would they fear anything?”.

      I have had an exceptional relationship with Intuit over the years – and like any relationship, it has had its share of ups and downs. I have been fortunate to be privy to things that most don’t get to see. Having said that, I am just like any other developer on an equal playing ground.

      If I didn’t care about this relationship, or what I see around me, or standing up for what I believe, then I wouldn’t speak up.

      Personally, I do hope that you produce something that will serve the needs of the development community and you have hundreds of applications listed on the IPP marketplace. I would certainly be the first to congratulate you.

    • Ronny, before Intuit spends any more time and money on marketing efforts they should get back to basics…delivering stuff that works and delights customers. So you launched a new developer site but the link you list above doesn’t work for anyone using IE (around 31% share at this time). Intuit have confirmed that “We have IE10 support coming very soon! It was really a prioritization call as we had a hard launch date.”
      I can’t imagine any priority that could justify releasing a “product” that is known not to work – I’m assuming it was tested. It was a bad call. Stop promoting the sizzle and focus on the steak.

  • Nothing says more about IPP’s failure than what Intuit has done with it. Take mobile entry of timecards. In many industries, there is nothing more asked for than being able to enter time remotely. A simple process that plainly is tailor made for IPP if there ever was one.

    So it is not surprising that Intuit introduced a product for this, but has now removed that product. I can only speculate on the reason, either too buggy, or not profitable enough. Any reason given does not bode well for the last 5+/- years Intuit has spent on this platform.
    And if Intuit fails at this, then why would anybody want to pick up the stick & make it work? So what does this say about IPP? Either it has to make huge amounts of money to be of any value or that IPP is a failed platform that does not work by Inuit’s own tacit admission.
    I have always felt that Intuit fails to see value in a product that 10,000 businesses need. If 500,000 need it then they pay attention, otherwise you are insignificant and a tax on their resources.
    To point out that they do things for themselves but not others, look one of the very first IPP apps, the display employee paycheck info app. They are using tools not available to developers, which from day one, they say they will not do.

    And yes fear of reprisals should be foremost in peoples head because you can and will be blackballed by Intuit if you don’t toe their line. Been there done that. They can and do remove you from lists that you had been on for years and ignore your requests for basic information.

    Intuit deserves all the disgust and mud that can be thrown at them because they have been two faced and acted like the big bully they are.

    • B: I’m not sure if the timecard product was IPP based? Although I can’t say for sure, I’m not exactly sure which of their products you are referring to. They’ve dropped timecard products in the past (see https://www.sleeter.com/blog/2011/10/intuit-drops-time-tracker-and-time-billing/). And I don’t know if you can attribute that to IPP directly, Intuit has a history of trying things out and then dropping them for various reasons. So, while you can talk about the buggy/profitable angle, I’m not sure it is directly an IPP issue.

      • Whether or not it was developed with or without IPP is pretty much beside the point.

        If it was not developed with it then Intuit is selectively releasing data as it behooves themselves.

        Either way, it is a product that is perfectly suited to what IPP is to do. As Intuit cannot make it work, there should be no interest in anybody else developing something as relatively simple as timecards.

        • Ben, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

          I can point out many features in QuickBooks where they have done what I consider to be a poor or half-done implementation of a feature. Sometimes it sticks, sometimes it is retired. That doesn’t mean that the concept is invalid, just that Intuit didn’t do the work necessary to make it successful. The demise of the older time tracking products doesn’t mean that nobody else should have any interest in that, and in fact there ae some very good time tracking add-ons out there.

          The article is referring to developer relations and points out IPP specifically – so my comment about the product not using IPP still is valid.

          I will agree with you that if Intuit creates a product that uses features not available to us, it isn’t fair, but it is their product after all. You and I are both SDK developers, there is a long list of fields and tables that aren’t available to us via the SDK that Intuit can work with.

          I do, however. agree that they should let us get to ALL of the data.

  • Hi Chuck,

    I am the Director of Bill.com Platform and I manage our integrations and partnerships including Intuit’s partnership. We integrate with QBD via SDK and we have been early adopters of all versions of IPP for QBO and QBD so we share the frustrations you mentioned. But I have a different perspective on it:

    – IPP did go through a lot of iterations to get where they are. It was a wild and costly ride for us. But eventually, Intuit did listen to our feedback and the current version of IPP for QBO is good. However, IPP for QBD is still not where it needs to be (see more below).

    – My only complaint about IPP – QBO is the $5 per month connection fee. It just doesn’t make sense. No other cloud accounting platform charges any fees. It would be OK if the fee was related to customers Intuit gave to us via App Center but they are actually charging everyone (it’s a data access fee), i.e., they charge us even for customers we acquired via our Marketing efforts (which is the majority of our customers).

    – Everyone I worked with at IPP has been great and they are working very hard to make the apps successful. In my opinion, there are still people at Intuit (outside of IPP) that believe the company can build apps better than third party developers. The company just isn’t embracing an open platform like Saleforce.com has.

    – IPP – QBD: This just doesn’t work for us. We tried to migrate our QBD sync from SDK to IPP and could not get it to work. Not only is the V2 API limited, but the architecture is broken. Having a cloud database that is NOT the master and depends on Sync Manager doesn’t work. It will only work if they give developers a direct access to the Master database (QBD file).

    – We currently use the QBSDK for our QuickBooks PC integration, and use IPP for our QBO integration. We look forward to the day QBD-IPP matches the functionalities of the QBSDK.

  • Hi Chuck,

    Thanks for kicking off a really informative and interesting post.
    We’ve been working with a few online accounting platforms for the past year or so, (xero and FreeAgent) and we’ve been asked when our QuickBooks integration is coming out.
    For a startup company – reading this post confirms our suspicions that its still far to early to be trying to build a solution with QB. Never mind the $5 charge!

    Developing 3rd party integrations is always a challenge – even with the best API’s but Xero and FreeAgent are both responsive and have built solid platforms that make it possible. QuickBooks seem to put up to many barriers, and unless that changes, it feels like new packages like Xero are growing fast enough to be a big enough market place for 3rd parties to thrive in – without the need for QB.

    Maybe there will one day be an industry standard?

    Colin

    • One thing I could have done a better job in delineating: the IPP offering for QBO seems to have a better ROI for cloud based application developers, despite the fact that it is not a complete dictionary. (See above post from Paul Jackson of Method CRM, who is one of the best in the business).

      If your target market is QBO, then I would still consider the options as that platform is growing; again with ‘eyes open’.

      The real hotspot has been ‘older’ developers who can’t move to the IPP offering for QB desktop based synchronization.

  • Wow. Thanks Chuck for validating all the ‘problems’ developers encounter today and why we, as the advisors, have such a hard time explaining what is available to the end users. You’ve expressed the frustration of many beyond just the developers.

    We just went over ten years in business of supporting the QuickBooks products. What I’ve seen, and you’ve hinted at, is the change in culture at Intuit. Within the first six months of being a ‘pro advisor,’ I was invited to attend a ‘town hall meeting’ at the Intuit campus to discuss what we liked and didn’t like about the product. Unannounced, Scott Cook joined and stayed for the whole meeting. Man, was I impressed. The meeting was run by their VP of operations, and they listened to us. Similarly, the tech support provided to us was nation-based, and I frequently got the same person on the line. Back then, I really felt I was part of the group.

    Now, I know this is going to sound like I’m just reminiscing about the old days, but it’s a reality that the culture has changed. While I respect Ronny and the work they do, Intuit as a whole does not listen to us — the professionals who most closely serve as the bridge between the software company and the end users. We have been pushed out by whomever is making the strategic decisions at Intuit. I have TRIED working with the individuals at Intuit in the last couple of years, and gotten little more than lip service. Intuit’s product development has been sporadic and unorganized. My frustration is beyond words. Like Chuck, give me a call and I’ll give you a litany of examples.

    Anybody who knows me knows I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours studying and promoting Intuit products. I ‘loved’ Intuit products after working with nine other accounting packages. Intuit ‘got’ what the clients were hungry for. But now, they’re so unfocused, that everyone’s confused — the clients, the tech professionals, the advisors/bookkeepers, and probably even Intuit employees. When is someone going to provide direction for this company? Intuit, do you really want to end up in the same position as the ‘Blackberry?’

  • Great article. Various groups/companies have failed to become successful and your post appropriately addresses why they failed. This part is very important —

    “The shareholder is king. Bottom line is that Intuit’s primary objective is to take care of its shareholders.”

    Hopefully someone like QODBC or QuickbooksConnector.com or someone else with a better idea may be able to ‘unlock’ all data for the ‘millions’ of us who need it.

    • Sam, for the Windows Desktop product, there are really only two programming interfaces – the SDK and the IPP methods (Intuit is changing the name of IPP). Products like QODBC are built on the SDK – they can only let you get the data that Intuit exposes via the SDK.

        • To be honest, the alternate is to start looking at working with a different product, at this time, perhaps Xero. I’ve not worked with their API yet, but on the surface it seems easier.

          QuickBooks desktop is a locked database. You can only work with the pipes that Intuit provides, which is the SDK or IPP.

          Another thought, for QB, is to work with a product like Method. They have their own sync engine, they take care of all the interaction with QB, you deal with the Method database (which uses the Intuit pipes to get the data). So you don’t have to deal with the headaches…

  • Chuck, this article is a winner. It is a huge revelation what developers were suspecting but had nothing to back their suspicions. Now that the truth is out there, how can Intuit use this an an opportunity to do the right thing?

  • […] The future of QuickBooks may be online. Desktop versions of QuickBooks are being moved and hosted in the cloud (making them a kind of online-desktop hybrid). Still, it is not far-fetched to think that, one day, even these cloud-hosted versions of QuickBooks desktop will be phased out in favor of the online one. One of the indications is the so-called demise of the desktop QuickBooks third party developer. […]

  • QB Developers – The article caught my eye due to the ‘developer’ term. I am looking to install QB Enterprise for our small co. I have an outside web developer that runs our website – been with us for years. He take data from our current ERP system (Pics/images and Specs on the product) and loads them via script to our website each day. My problem is QB item file offers 1 pic. I am just trying to find a developer that can add the additional 2 to 4 more pics. I was quoted an extremely high cost to do this. Any suggestions?

    • If you are referring to the item picture that is available in the item list – there isn’t any way to change how QB works with these images. There isn’t a place to store additional info, add-on developers cannot access the database information about them either. They are just stored in a particular folder in your system. Besides, QB doesn’t actually DO anything with those pictures, so it is a feature that really isn’t of any real value, anyways.

  • I happened on this article by accident and I wanted to thank the many of you who responded to an excellent article by Mr. Vigeant. I am not a software expert but I do own a SMB in Canada and have used QB Pro since 2000. For the most part it has been a painless exercise…at least until now.
    Currently the file size is too large and there appears to be no way of reducing the file size securely other than starting a new company file. QB is recommending I migrate to Enterprise. QB online appears to be a combination of Pro and Premiere. It will not accommodate this file size. It Is presently not housed in Canada which raises a series of questions with respect to Canadian Tax Law and Privacy.
    All of this research started because I want to move the company online and make use of PC’s, tablets and smart phones to integrate what we do in field service with QB.
    Thank you again for providing valuable insight into my considerations.
    J. McVeigh VP

  • dear everyone at quickbooks. in the spirit of this party keep up your confusion. it is the only way some of us are able to survive your monopoly. adios.

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