Cloud Accounting QuickBooks

QuickBooks Online Is the Future for Intuit

Written by Charlie Russell

QuickBooks Online is clearly the focus of Intuit’s development in accounting systems – that should be clear to anyone who works with Intuit. However, what is also clear is that the product does not have all the features found in QuickBooks desktop, and that there is a lot of resistance to the product from many long-time users and ProAdvisors. So, why is Intuit so focused on this product? Let’s examine QuickBooks Online, where I think it stands today, where I think it is heading.

This article is part of my series on Intuit and the future of QuickBooks. The articles are:

In my article on Intuit’s long-term vision I came up with five key points that I believe guide all QuickBooks product development at Intuit:

  1. Working in the Cloud will be the new normal
  2. Mobile technology will be the primary tool
  3. Data collection is critical, and the Cloud will allow for faster Machine Learning
  4. One-person businesses and contract workers will exceed 40% of the workforce by 2020
  5. Globalization is key, and emerging industrializing countries will rely on mobile technology

Let’s look at QuickBooks Online and how those five key points have driven Intuit’s focus, and the development of the product.

QuickBooks Online: Working in the Cloud

Well, that is obvious, isn’t it? This is a cloud-based product. It is based on Oracle and is mostly hosted in Intuit’s own data centers. In recent years, some functionality has been developed on or moved to Amazon Web Services (AWS), which I find interesting. A few years ago Intuit was focused on their own data centers (do you remember their big data center outage?), but Rick Richardson of Technology This Week (a paid subscription newsletter that I highly recommend) says that lately there has been a “growing sense that things may be more secure in the public cloud,” services like AWS. It is interesting to note that Intuit’s most comparable competitor, Xero, has moved entirely over to AWS in 2016.

Here’s a chart from Intuit showing the growth of QuickBooks Online subscribers:

QuickBooks Online Is the Future

Note that “TAM” is “Total Addressable Market.”

Clearly Intuit has focused on growth of their cloud-based accounting product. They are experiencing rapid growth in the US market and they are starting to grow in the non-US markets where they have recently released versions.

QuickBooks Online and Mobile Technology

The increased use of mobile technology in our society is very obvious. To someone of my generation, looking at my kids and grandkids, painfully obvious.

QuickBooks Online addresses the key point of mobile technology well, with a fairly robust and flexible app that is available on iOS and Android systems.

QuickBooks Online mobile

There are a couple of interesting points relating to QuickBooks and mobile technology.

  • One aspect works with the globalization key point. In some countries, you will find that there are many more people using mobile technology than there are using web technology via browsers on a computer. Development of mobile technology is one of the key factors behind Intuit’s entry in many of these “emerging” industrial countries.
  • Another interesting point is that Intuit is starting to place emphasis on mobile first. That is, they are starting to roll out features on the mobile app before they are available in the browser version. You may start to see features that are only available via the mobile app at some point.

Data Collection Is Key to QuickBooks Online

When you work with a cloud-based product, the developers of that product have a complete copy of your data. They can see everything that you do, including what kind of transactions you work with, how you classify information in your bank feed, how long it takes you to pay outstanding bills, and more.

Here’s a graphic from Intuit that shows how important it is to them to have access to all of this data.

Intuit ecosystem

All kinds of information flows through the Intuit ecosystem, and Intuit is paying attention. One key advantage that Intuit has over the other developers of online accounting products is that Intuit has access to a much wider scope of information, since they have their own tax, payroll, payment and personal financing products. By looking at your data and combining it with all the other users’ data, Intuit builds a picture of how people use their products and what kinds of decisions they make. They are creating computer algorithms that take this aggregate data and apply concepts of machine learning to modify how QuickBooks Online works with you.

“Machine learning is the ability of computers/algorithms to learn and draw conclusions from new data without being explicitly programmed to do so” – Steve King, Emergent Research, http://www.emergentresearch.com/


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About the author

Charlie Russell

Charlie Russell has been involved with the small business software industry since the mid 70's, and remembers releasing his first commercial accounting software product when you had an 8-bit microcomputer with one 8 inch floppy disk drive. He has a special interest in inventory and manufacturing software for small businesses. Charlie is a Certified Advanced QuickBooks ProAdvisor with additional certifications for QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Enterprise, as well as being a Xero Certified Partner. Charlie started blogging about QuickBooks in 2008 (Practical QuickBooks) and has been the managing editor and primary writer for the Accountex Report (formerly the Sleeter Report) since 2011. Charlie can be reached at [email protected]

Visit his CCRSoftware web site for information about his QuickBooks add-on products. He is also the author of the California Wildflower Hikes blog.

11 Comments

  • Great series, Charlie. I have three comments.

    FIRST, that 65% of new users prefer QBO. Have you tried to FIND the desktop product on Intuit’s website over the last couple of years? Increasingly, you have to wade through a quagmire of marketing and links for the QBO product, only to a) find the desktop link buried near the bottom of a multi-screen web page; b) traverse a dizzying set of circuitous links; or c) both. Perhaps the majority of new users DO prefer QBO, but I would discount the 65% to account for the overly aggressive marketing campaign being waged to steer new users to QBO.

    SECOND, the issue of machine learning. You know as well as I that heuristic learning is programmed into locally-based products all the time. Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird have been using manually-created rules and heuristic pattern-based learning to filter spam and refile incoming email for years now. Aggregate data has also collected anonymously by a variety of local programs as they “call home.” Certainly, cloud-based data collection can accomplish the same objectives, but this isn’t something new, nor is it the only way.

    THIRD, the issues of security and privacy. I agree with you on both counts. However, I suspect you will also agree that the social (human) link is the weakest in the chain concerning both security and privacy. It is the link most exploited to gain access to systems. It is also the link that produces breaches resulting from insiders who are disgruntled or dishonest, those who are under duress from outside forces (including government overreach), etc. As we surrender access to our data for convenience or other benefits, we MUST continue to weigh the cost to our data security and privacy. This is not a new issue either. Mozilla and other organizations are highly concerned about data security and privacy, and continue to focus on both.

    I absolutely embrace the online world in a number of situations, but not all. Perhaps I am being obstinate, but I am not yet ready to jump onboard the online bandwagon when it comes to sensitive information unless there is an overwhelming benefit coupled with proportionate safeguards.

    On the other hand, I believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach. For some, QBO may be (or may become) a perfect fit. For others, they will look for a desktop solution. If Intuit eventually ceases to provide it, they will look elsewhere. This group of consumers may become a niche market, but serving a niche market is how AMD got its start — and this is one of the aspects I love about capitalism.

    Anyway, I’m enjoying the read. Have a great day, and thanks for allowing me to pontificate.

    • Thank you, Keith.

      Please note that I’m not attempting to say “which product is best”, just trying to explain what I see as the reasons for Intuit taking the path they are, as well as explaining what I see as their path. The discussion of “which is best” has been argued extensively in many places, and will continue to be argued. I do agree with you, I look at the best product to fit the situation. Sometimes it is the desktop, sometimes it is the online, sometimes it is a product from someone other than Intuit.

      Note that the “65%” figure came from Intuit’s graphic, and they said “chose” rather than “prefer”, which is slightly different. Lots of factors go into that. As you point out, the QuickBooks website makes it hard to find the desktop product (although lately the links have been getting easier to find). No doubt there, Intuit is pushing QBO, for the reasons I’m pointing out. Also, “new users”, well, we have to look at who those new users are. I don’t have data on that. Younger people tend to be more comfortable with online products than older people like me, so there is less resistance to it. Add to all that, Intuit pushes (in my opinion) QBO into business types that it really isn’t suited for. Their marketing people make it sound like it is the best thing ever for EVERY business.

      Yes, heuristic learning has been there for a long time. I’ve not done a great job in describing the difference here. In the older systems using that, they didn’t have access to the kind of data flow that we have now. It is more than pattern matching. There is a lot more “artificial intelligence” involved here (a term that I actually don’t like). And the kinds of results that we are going to see in future generations of the products are going to go far, far beyond what we’ve seen so far. In any case, the strong points here are that Intuit has access to a huge amount of data, OUR data, and they are putting a new, strong emphasis on this kind of development in their software. It is a major thrust in an area that they haven’t really worked in before.

      Yes, the social link is definitely the weakest part of security, and privacy. But that doesn’t mean that it is the ONLY part. And if Intuit has access to all this information, there are people there at Intuit, so the human link is still a factor when you consider that Intuit has this data. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but I’m saying that you need to be aware of what you are signing on for, and that I think that Intuit is pushing the boundary on the current agreement that you sign when you use their product. We have to know what is going on…

      • Hi Charlie. I absolutely agree with you — and by the way, no criticism from me on the job you are doing; I believe you are doing a great job. No need for us to be paranoid about our data, but Ronald Reagan’s phrase “trust but verify” certainly comes to mind.

        Take care. Keep writing; I’ll keep reading. 🙂

  • I agree with Keith that the huge adoption rate of QBO has a lot to do with the fact that only QBO is really marketed by Intuit. It’s really hard to find QBD (desktop versions) on Intuit’s site anymore, especially for the average user. Given that, I would expect greater feature parity. On one hand, Intuit’s position is that QBO is not designed for feature parity with QBD, but as you pointed out, the core functionality is too limiting, especially when they market QBO nearly exclusively, as if it’s the solution for all. They can’t have both ways. I like many of the benefits that QBO provides (esp bank feeds), but I would caution Intuit from developing important features to be mobile first or mobile only at this point. Users and accountants get frustrated that they can’t accomplish what they need to do today. The change in platform hasn’t invalidated the need for much missing functionality, and Intuit may find tomorrow’s users being better satisfied somewhere else that had more respect for them, and their current need. I think Intuit does not fully realize how much impact accounts have on the product users use.

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