This morning Intuit will lift the wraps on the latest version of the Intuit Partner Platform. I took a briefing from Alex Chriss, Business leader of the IPP a few days ago (disclosure – I’m travelling to Boston for Enterprise 2.0 in a few weeks and will be doing some work with Intuit around the IPP). Intuit is one of the big boys in SMB software – the 4 million customers for their QuickBooks product alone employ over 25 million staff. Under new CEO Brad Smith, Intit are recgnising the need to shift users to connected services.
After the briefing I have to say that it looks to me like IPP is finally offering to fulfil the promise of the end-to-end integrated small business software platform that I’ve been evangelising for a few years now – my catch cry of late has been that application integration should only be seen as the very first step in building a SaaS ecosystem. Much more important is the aggregation of applications. This may be data aggregation, UI aggregation, sign-on integration or billing integration – and ideally users and vendors would determine what parts of the integration they bought into.
Similarly I envisaged a place where this integration could occur irrespective of what technology stack a partner uses – from the end user perspective it should not make any different if an app is built on a Microsoft stack or a Google one for example – integration should be possible regardless.
IPP v2 fulfils much of this promise – it allows applications, regardless of their base architecture, to integrate into the platform and leverage what the platform has to offer, namely;
- User interface
- Single sign-on
- Data integration
Intuit is calling this offering “federated applications” and it’s pretty compelling. Federated applications are delivered to customers through the Intuit Workplace, a place to find, try, buy and use various apps. Intuit ensures that platform participants follow a base set of guidelines and that the applications work together seamlessly.
Launching the app Chriss stated that;
Small businesses simply want the best products available that solve their problems, save them time and money and help them grow their business – and they want those products to work together
Which is a theme I’ve been harping on about for a long time now. below is the diagram Intuit uses to show how the marketplace will work.
How Federating an Application Works
According to Intuit, with Federated Applications, Web applications built with any programming language, database or cloud computing resource can be easily published to the IPP and used by the platform customers. The platform is open to everyone, including the 25 million or so existing Quickbooks users but Chriss envisages a future where IPP customers may not use any Intuit applications other than the platform itself. In other words there is no reason that applications which compete with Quickbooks directly wouldn’t appear on the platform.
Existing applications need to be re-configured rather than re-written, and need to meet with the four integration points:
- Data: Federated Applications that want to integrate with IPP data must program against APIs provided by Intuit to enable data synchronization. This is the aggregation I’ve been dreaming about and should produce the seamless data interchange I’ve been hoping for
- Login: A Federated Identity Web API allows users to use their Intuit Workplace login to access the Federated Applications within Intuit Workplace ie single sign-on to all your SaaS apps
- User management and permissions: Intuit provides developers with a Web API so that their application can handle processes such as inviting additional users to their application – this is trickier than it sounds as it needs to allow for complex permissions across multiple applications and businesses.
- Navigation: Developers with existing SaaS applications may have to make minor User Interface adjustments, such as removing sign-in/sign-out links within their solutions. The Intuit Workplace provides this in its toolbar to provide users a seamless experience between applications – one use-case that struck me was of an individual with multiple businesses using different SaaS apps – Chriss advised me that a UI update in the next month or so will provide for that situation.
Intuit monetises the IPP via a revenue share of between 14% and 20% depending on volume. End customers can have all their applications billed through one platform thus doing away with the tedium of separate transactions for every single app.
Workplace will also provide for the qualitative differentiation between applications. users will be able to review and rate applications from within the platform thereby giving their peers a qualified portal to different software offerings.
Most important for me is the usability of the offering – below is a screenshot of ExpenseWare running within the Workplace – you’ll notice the header bar which lets you swap between applications on the fly, sign out and also change user settings – nice and simple To borrow a metaphor from elsewhere a platform can be thought of as successful when its users forget they’re on a platform. Intuit Workplace feels much more like a single application environment than individual apps.
The Workplace will be launching with five federated applications which will join the 15 applications native to the platform, the newcomers are;
- VerticalResponse e-mail marketing, online survey and direct mail solutions. Pricing for VerticalResponse for Intuit Workplace starts at $10 per month or on a pay-as-you-go model.
- Dimdim, Web conferencing, enables small businesses to conduct live meetings, demos and webinars. Anyone can host unlimited Dimdim meetings with up to 50 people for only $25 per month.
- Rypple feedback monitoring for 360 degree appraisal of a team. Rypple is free for up to 20 users.
- Setster online appointments using an application widget. Pricing for Setster starts at $9.95 per month for one user.
- ExpenseWare automated travel and entertainment expense reporting for small businesses. Pricing for ExpenseWare is $9.99 per user per month for up to 1,000 users.
When salesforce.com launched force.com it was heralded as a new paradigm and, to a certain extent, that has somewhat been borne out with businesses running all their applications on, or through, force. IPP is in my view potentially bigger given that it allows applications onto the platform regardless of technology stack. Of course there are those who will have grave concerns about the ability of Intuit to “play nicely” – success in my mind would be users utilising lots of applications without necessarily using an Intuit product or the inclusion of another online accounting application into the platform – I’ll be watching for those developments with interest.
Update – Related posts: