Three years ago, at the first QuickBooks Connect, it was clear that Intuit had its work cut out for it. Although it acknowledged cloud software as the future, the bulk of the audience was glued to desktop software, the company’s identity was bound up in the US, and its technology wasn’t leading the market.
Intuit’s a big ship and it takes a long time to turn around. In 2016, it’s clear that not only has CEO Brad Smith turned the ship around, it is picking up speed.
And in answer to the most important question: Can Intuit move as fast as Xero on the dev side? For the first time, the answer is unequivocally yes. Intuit is in fact moving faster, in some areas.
Take, for example, the mobile features in QuickBooks Self-Employed. QB SE is for the swelling ranks of self-employed, sole traders and freelancers – from Uber drivers to interior designers. Get in your car and start driving and QB SE will automatically record the trip using a smartphone’s GPS to map it. When the user gets out of the car QB SE will prompt them to swipe the trip left for business or right for personal use, and it is saved with the route, time and date.
The ability to automatically track mileage is a real winner for a lot of businesses, and so Intuit is moving that feature to the QuickBoooks Online mobile app too.
For example, Another powerful and well executed idea is auto-categorisation of transactions. When a new user adds their bank accounts to QB SE it will automatically categorise all their transactions (this process can take half an hour) and then estimates the size of the user’s tax refund or bill.
Intuit claims that of the 100,000 QB SE users in 2015 that had business expenses and tax savings, the app identified on average $4,340 per year.
In fact, QB SE is a bit of a secret weapon. Intuit can test out technology with thousands of freelancers before rolling it out to businesses using QuickBooks Online.
So you don’t make much profit on freelancers? Doesn’t matter. Ignore QB SE at your peril.
Here’s a promotional video showing how the mileage tracker and auto-categorisation features work (from 24 seconds in).
The big question is when auto-categorisation will come to QuickBooks Online. How well will it work?
As you can see, the technology is already in action on QB SE. Intuit is training up its algorithm until it is ready for primetime on QBO.
I asked Vinay Pai, Intuit vice president of the developers platform, when exactly we can see this appear in QBO. His reply: within 12 months.
Intuit is now rolling out new features, particularly on mobile, as fast or faster than anyone else. Incoming EVP for Intuit’s small business group, Sasan Goodarzi, has ordered that all features on the US version of QBO should be rolled out instantly to the international versions, removing the features gap.
Rich Preece, who has replaced Jim McGinnis, has a global role for the accountant channel. So it looks like Intuit is taking steps to address its US-centric focus.
And how fast is the US market moving? Is Intuit’s audience still glued to the desktop? Intuit staff say that the transition of the QuickBooks desktop market to QBO is accelerating. There are many more firms focusing only on selling QBO to their clients.
However, shifting clients from desktop to cloud software won’t help accountants if they don’t also change their business models. Intuit pushed the concept of value pricing – a key element of the new business model – more heavily than in previous years.
Given that auto-categorisation is around the corner, Intuit’s audience doesn’t look like it’s moving fast enough. Fewer than half of all accounting firms in the US may not survive the transition to cloud accounting, says Gary Boomer, the owner of a 70-person accounting firm and IT consulting firm Boomer Consulting. (Skip to 3min. 57 seconds)
Looking around QuickBooks Connect, it certainly felt that a good percentage are still coming to terms with cloud software let alone auto-categorisation.
As algorithms start to speed up bank reconciliation, business owners will want their accountants and bookkeepers to find other ways to help them. If you’re stuck for ideas, look to the ecosystem. There are plenty of accountants and business owners who have built apps to help other accountants or business owners do things better.
Learn and teach; it’s a great way to remain relevant to your clients and save or make them more money.
Here are a couple of interviews with three apps from QuickBooks Connect; Spotlight Reporting, Practice Ignition and TSheets.
Accountants can triple revenue with advanced reporting: Spotlight Reporting #QBConnect 2016
How can accountants move to value pricing? Practice Ignition #QBConnect
Moving to electronic rostering saves up to 6% on labor costs – TSheets #QBConnect 2016
Disclosure: Intuit paid for Sholto Macpherson’s travel and accommodation to attend the QuickBooks Connect conference.