As the accounting software industry moves to a general acceptance of the fact that customers demand the sort of benefits that cloud application bring, there are two distinct approaches vnedors are making;
- Pure-play cloud vendors (FreeAgent, Xero etc) build pure Saas applications and do away with any need for desktop applications
- Hybrid vendors take existing desktop products and “cloudify” them in order to deliver what they believe is a “best of both worlds” solution
I was recently contacted by Levion, a new company that aims to deliver a hybrid desktop/cloud QuickBooks application. According to co-founder Jacob Gotleib, Levion is built to augment the desktop version of QuickBooks for users who need to interact with it remotely or from multiple devices. Rather than the traditional approach which is to integrate into specific functional parts of the desktop application, Levion has created an online user interface which mirrors QuickBooks functionality. Basically a user installs the Levion connector on the Windows PC that has the QuickBooks application on it – thereafter the connector allows users to access the online UI within a browser across various internet connected devices.
I was kind of intrigued by the Levion approach. Initially I was a little dismayed at the approach they were taking to pushing their product;
Getting a briefing from some people explaining the huge risk that cloud based accounting software is. Sigh…
— Ben Kepes (@benkepes) July 10, 2012
But outside of this FUD, it’s probably a fair comment that for some businesses at least, a hybrid approach to software is optimal. I reached out to Levion with some specific questions about their app.
Q: So you’re a web based UI integrating into QuickBooks right? Is this via the Intuit Partner Platform or what?
A: While we are an Intuit Certified Developer and love working with Intuit, the Intuit partners, and QuickBooks users, we chose to develop our own client program rather than use the Intuit Partner Platform. The reason for this is that the Intuit partner platform does not support many of the features that we plan for Levion. Our program, the Levion Connector, facilitates the integration from the web UI.
Q: How can you integrate with other web apps (e.g. Freshbooks, Zendesk, Taulia) is that via your API or QuickBooks?
A: We do not have any plans to integrate with non-QuickBooks business apps in the immediate future. We are focused on providing QuickBooks customers the benefits of a web based accounting app without having to switch off the desktop version of QuickBooks. We believe that the robust features of QuickBooks desktop, especially the more featured versions, combined with Levion’s online portal provide an unbeatable combination.
Q: Again – if it is a standalone app, what security is there over integration with QuickBooks – what versions do you support, what languages/frameworks are you built upon?? Rest or SOAP API?
A: Levion, later this year, will be offering flexible security roles and permissions. We already offer a robust revision/versioning system, which was built originally for a company to prevent employees from creating two versions of invoices–one version that stated higher prices to the customer, and the other version, changed on QuickBooks, to reflect a lower price that would allow the rogue employee from skimming of the price difference. Additionally, we plan to give our users security rules that could be triggered if a sale price was lowered by a certain percent, and required a manager to give approval. The main advantage is that you can have your QuickBooks experience inside a web browser without having to consider complex, and user-unfriendly technologies such as VPN, Citrix/Remote Desktop, etc. We support any version beyond QuickBooks 2007; the Connector/Sync Tool is developed in C#/Microsoft .NET framework 2.0, which communicates to our Goliath server using a push technology called long polling. The web application is built on JRuby using the Rails framework, built on distributed workers with Resque. Our database back end is MySQL, while we use Redis/Resque to handle some of the more CPU intensive aspects of parsing XML. Our app already supports the REST API; at this point, it is undocumented, but when there is enough demand, we will devote efforts to providing support for third party developers for our service.
I’m not against hybrid desktop + clpud solutions per se, but in order to consider them they need to deliver the benefits that pure play cloud solutions can bring. one of the reasons I’ve been bullish about the Intuit Partner Platform (IPP) is that it enables third party SaaS apps to integrate in with the core QuickBooks data – so if I want to use another invoocing, time tracking, project management or other application, I can do so. Levion on the other hand is a great integration with QuickBooks, but that’s all it does. it delivers on one promise of cloud software, the ability to access it remotely via the web, but it doesn’t deliver the true benefits of cloud (integrations, an API, agility etc).
I also worry about a third party application that is a hgihly customized deep integration with a desktop application. There is so much that can go wrong there, and so many ways that the desktop vendor can shut off access in the event they don’t like what the integration does. As such Levion, while an interesting idea, is a dangerous step for customers to make in my view.
(Cross-posted @ The Diversity Blog - SaaS, Cloud & Business Strategy)