At the Sleeter Group Accounting Solutions Conference last week, Brad Smith (President and CEO of Intuit) presented a keynote address that addressed Intuit’s plans for the future. It was a great presentation – Brad is a polished speaker– and at the end he accepted questions from the audience. This was great – lots of questions that put him on the spot – and he answered honestly and openly. Unfortunately, when you do this, sometimes you don’t get the complete message across the way you might want to. There were a couple of his answers that created a HUGE buzz in the audience. There were heated discussions over the course of the next few days about what exactly Brad meant in his off-the-cuff answers relating to the future of QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Point of Sale.
Some people in the room were in a panic, thinking that Brad was saying that Intuit is planning on the end of QuickBooks Desktop. Others, who make a living in the Retail consulting space, thought that Brad was saying that there is no future for QuickBooks Point of Sale. I actually didn’t take his message to mean that, but I can see how some of his direct answers might lead people to think that the end is near.
I wasn’t able to sit down with Brad right after is presentation, but fortunately I was able to sit down with Dan Wernikoff (Intuit Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Small Business Financial Solutions) to clarify what Intuit’s position is on the future of these products.
Is QuickBooks Desktop Dead? No!
Wow – is it? Intuit has been trying to make it VERY clear that QuickBooks Desktop (Windows) will not be left behind. However, there was the question from the audience: “When is the desktop going away”?
Brad Smith gave a long answer, from which I’ll extract some key points. He first said:
“We believe there is every reason and every incentive to help a customer get to the cloud.”
This isn’t surprising, Intuit has clearly been stating that they firmly believe that QuickBooks Online and other cloud/mobile based products are the future. This is clear from his presentation, which was very similar to the one I talk about in my article on the Intuit Business Operating System.
He also said:
“Our company has a 30 year history of not imposing a business model on our clients”
Sounds good! Then the statement that got everyone buzzing:
“We have not announced a date that we’ll shut down the desktop because we think it’s the wrong thing to do”
That was pretty clear to me, in the context of all of the other things that Intuit has been saying. They want customers to move to the cloud, they don’t want to force people into something they don’t want to do, they aren’t shutting down QuickBooks for Windows Desktop.
However, other people didn’t take it that way. There was a big buzz – people saying “He just said that they are going to shut down QuickBooks Desktop, they just haven’t ANNOUNCED the date yet.” Lots of worried people in the audience.
So, later, when I sat down with Dan Wernikoff, I asked him point blank: “Is this a new message, is the end of QuickBooks Desktop being planned?”
Dan said: “We are never discontinuing it. I can’t see a time when we are not doing a desktop release. We will still do over a million units of the desktop this year. The point we make about new users, over half are coming into QuickBooks Online this year? It’s still almost half that are coming in to the desktop also.”
OK, that is clear, and it is consistent with the message we’ve been hearing from Brad, Dan, as well as Jill Ward – there are no plans to discontinue QuickBooks on the desktop.
I’m a skeptic when someone says “never” – I personally believe that someday the time will come when Intuit will discontinue this product. Sales will drop to an unsupportable level, perhaps technology (like future versions of Windows) will leave out features the current product needs.
Doug Sleeter likes to remind us that Apple discontinued the Apple II even though millions of users wanted to just keep buying. So it goes with technology. Eventually new products become so compelling that the old products just have to be shot.
I’m convinced that there will be a time when QuickBooks Desktop, as we know it now, will just no longer be a useful product. But that could be a long time away, and by that time we hope there is a viable alternative.
Is QuickBooks Point of Sale Dead? No!
Another question from the audience after Brad Smith’s keynote address was “What is the commitment for Point of Sale in the retail world in your ecosystem.”
That is a fair question, as there is no mention of QuickBooks Point of Sale in Intuit’s presentations on the Intuit Business Operating System, and in their fiscal year 13 fact sheet they don’t seem to break out sales of QBPOS anywhere.
In response to this question at the Conference, Brad had a lot to say. As with QuickBooks Desktop, his comments started quite a buzz (both during and after the session).
Brad said: “Steve Jobs once said that strategy is not only what you are going to do but what you are not going to do”
Oh oh, that made people start to worry.
After explaining that moving forward, Intuit is focused on service based businesses, and that there are many other companies that have a great focus on retail and point of sale, he said:
“Our energy and our R&D and our innovation is going to be really applied over here to service based businesses and we’re going to let other people solve that problem particularly well, and make sure that it is frictionless with QuickBooks”
Brad is referring to Intuit’s recently announced partnerships with Square and American Express as examples of this – products that work well in these other markets. Intuit is focused on partnering with them to build a better integration with QuickBooks, rather than developing the features themselves.
The buzz in the audience, however was: “Brad Smith just said that they are not going to put any effort into QuickBooks Point of Sale!”
Again, lots of worried people in the audience, lots of people clustered in the hallway afterwards trying to decipher what this meant.
I brought this up in my interview with Dan Wernikoff. Dan clarified that while Intuit is not planning on developing their own Point of Sale product for QuickBooks Online, they are still committed to the current QuickBooks POS product on Windows.
Dan said: “If you think about our point of sale business, it is a Windows software application on a PC. It would be a significant investment to take our point of sale solution and build it on different platforms, and we are not planning on doing that. That doesn’t mean that we are not investing in our point of sale solution, just not on that platform.”
So the key point here is that Intuit won’t create their own POS product for QuickBooks Online, but they are still committed to QuickBooks POS on Windows.
I put the question to Dan point blank – “Will there be additional releases of QuickBooks POS for Windows?” Dan’s succinct answer was “Yes, our plan is to still do additional releases of QBPOS. “
That is very clear, no room for doubt.
“If you take Brad Smith’s comments in the context of the talk which is that “Intuit’s future is in the cloud”; combined with their partnership with Square, it tells me that Intuit will not be developing any cloud based POS systems. The QuickBooks POS business is a strong component of Intuit offering, especially since it offers such a natural attachment of merchant services. Merchant Services as well as Payroll are important components of Intuit’s offering since it offers recurring monthly revenue like QuickBooks Online. That said, we have already added another POS software offering to our practice. Not because QBPOS is not a strong offering in its market segment, which it is, but we need a product that we could transition our Multi-store clients where Intuit’s Multi-store offering wasn’t working well, or those clients who need specific customizations that QBPOS doesn’t support. While I’m a strong supporter of Intuit, my overriding goal is to serve my clients with the best solution in the marketplace that fits their needs and certainly Brad’s comments about open interfaces and connectivity echo’s my business practices.”
I’m an Optimistic Pessimist
It is easy to get caught up in the excitement that Intuit employees have for the direction they are taking with their products. When I listen to an excellent speaker like Brad Smith, when I talk to dedicated people in senior management like Dan Wernikoff, I am filled with optimism for the future for QuickBooks. There are many excellent ideas here and Intuit has the people, the resources, to implement them.
However, to temper this, there is my pessimistic side. There are wonderful plans being laid out in front of us, but can Intuit fulfill these promises? Their plans are very wide ranging and ambitious. In the past we’ve seen plans change. We’ve seen products get released and then be withdrawn. We’ve seen service outages. We’ve seen products that (in my mind) are released too soon with too many problems.
So, on one hand I’m an optimist: I believe that Intuit has a great plan for moving forward, there is a great future for their products. On the other hand, I’m a pessimist: Show me, Intuit, that you can actually accomplish what you say you will.