Accounting 2.0 at CloudAve
In an ongoing series of reviews and analysis pieces, CloudAve will
be taking a deep look into accounting software for the new world.
See the other posts below;
Introduction & Background
Intuit is the biggest player in the accounting software space, its QuickBooks product having massive following in the SMB space with over three millions users. QuickBooks Online Edition (QBOE) is its response to the growing popularity of web-based and online accessible offerings. Available now for several years, QBOE has had slow, but steady, uptake.
As is usual in this space, QBOE offers a 30 day free trial. Thereafter their are two different pricing and feature sets;
Online Basic covers just one user and their accountant while Online Plus allows up to three users plus an accountant to access the application.
The Basic edition covers the bare essentials – accounts receivable, expense tracking and check printing, arguably quite limited functionality for $10 a month. The Plus version adds estimates and invoice customisations, time tracking, recurrent billing, budgeting and online billing to the mix.
The user experience
It’s hard not to be negative about the QBOE user experience. After years of playing with the latest and greatest of web-apps, QBOE feel like a step back in time. Having said that we’re limiting our criticism to purely functional failings and won’t be sidetracked into the traditional Web 2.0 "rounded corners" debate.
QBOE has some serious failings when it comes to cross-platform, cross-browser support. It required Internet Explorer and needs ActiveX in all it’s glory. Personally any application that hampers my ability to work the way I want to (and this includes the operating system or browser) fails. Granted the majority of users are using IE, however forcing them to do so is a bad idea.
QBOE is horribly slow. I’m based in New Zealand where Internet access, while pretty ubiquitous, tends to be a little tardy. That said I’ve got a 5Mbps connection where I’m testing this and the speed is sufficiently bad to create a barrier to wanting to use this product. I have to admit that online applications will almost always come at speed disadvantage when compared to their installed counterparts – the QBOE speed difference however is greater than the norm. I’d be keen to hear feedback from US users as to how they find the speed of QBOE.
QBOE users a similar workflow to its desktop counterpart – as such it should be a fairly painless process to move a user from QuickBooks to QBOE – having said that QBOE culls a whole host of functionality from the desktop editions, inventory most noticeably, so it’s not going to be a direct one-to-one change.
The basic functionality
QBOE does some of the major things that businesses need. It’s got full double-entry accounting, allowing for correct balance sheets, profit and loss statements and trial balances to be run from it. The starting point for QBOE is the home screen. Unlike other online accounting apps which try and depict a "dashboard view" is where their business is at, the QBOE home screen is more a process diagram, showing a workflow style diagram that allows the user to dive into different functional area of the accounting system.
QBOE has no inventory functionality, as such it’s not really geared up for anyone in the retail or manufacturing sector. While this is somewhat typical for the online accounting vendors, I would have thought that QuickBooks, given their heritage of fully featured accounting applications, would have provided for even a moderate level of inventory control on QBOE.
QBOE is complex – some would say unnecessarily so. If you take a look at the image below you’ll notice a screen replete with a complex flow chart, a multitude of links and 11 separate options within the banking function. If QBOE was aimed at medium to large business I’d say that this degree of complexity is needed – however QBOE is a small business product – there is no excuse for this level in complexity – my mantra is that Web 2.0 applications should be simple on the front end while complex at the back end – QBOE fails to follow this mantra.
The value adds
Import from desktop edition – I’ve often said that in order to move customers from desktop to online software, migration support is mandatory. Intuit allows users to upload their existing QuickBooks data to Intuit’s servers for migrations. Be aware however Intuit lets you either import or export data only via a one-way data flow, so you won’t be able to synchronize the data between your desktop and online QuickBooks versions – it also only support QuickBooks so no joy for users of other desktop software products. Note that only the more expensive version of QBOE allows for this functionality – this makes the Basic edition something of an Island, an expensive one at that.
Scale! – While it’s a stretch to say that incumbency is a value add, the fact that millions of businesses use QuickBooks products means that their is a massive support networks built around their offerings. If Intuit could create an online product that truly meets users needs (and QBOE isn’t there yet), they have an odd-on chance of succeeding in the space.
The security issue
Intuit takes security very seriously. One would assume that this attitude has been passed through to QBOE however there is limited information on the website. QBOE tells us we can download our own data for backup purposes and that the security protocols they use are the same as those used by banks and online brokerage firms. It would be nice to see some more detail of exactly what that means on the site. It might be true that the mass market doesn’t understand terms such as multiple redundancy and SSL – but we should show them front and centre nonetheless.
APIs – connecting the dots
APIs are the way of the future – allowing for a dynamic ecosystem to be built up around accounting applications. The QuickBooks SDK supports all versions of QuickBooks, both installed and online. The technical details of the API are outside the scope of this review, however support for most languages and standards would indicate that Intuit are following best practice in this.
QBOE does what it sets out to do – take existing QuickBooks desktop customers and gives them a degree of web enabled-ness. It doesn’t do it particularly well, is overly complex, very specific in terms of operating environments and fails to really leverage the advantadges that web-apps can gain. That said if you’re an existing QB customer, need to access your accounts online and are used to the QB workflow, QBOE fulfils your requirements.