Big “friendly” giant says it’s here to listen.
US accounting software giant Intuit formally launched an Australianised version of QuickBooks Online today, which had been in beta since July. Australia was one of four priority markets targeted by Intuit, after the US, the UK and Canada, which received localised versions of the online platform.
Another 130 countries used a generic global version of QuickBooks Online which could be “dialled in” to match local requirements. (Intuit intends to expand the number of countries it considers to be priority markets.)
BoxFreeIT had a long chat about Intuit’s plans with Nora Tucker, product manager for the Australian version of QuickBooks Online and her boss, Barb Anderson, global product marketing manager for QuickBooks Online.
An edited transcript is below.
BoxFreeIT: How long have you been working on localising the Australian version?
Nora Tucker: Several months ago we started to build critical relationships with small business and accountants locally. They were a critical part of those early efforts. We had a lot of hypotheses from our own research but we didn’t want to pretend that we knew better than the locals. They helped us to vet a lot of our earlier work and give us guidance. Then we had the beta in the market since late July to give it exposure.
BoxFreeIT: What is the difference between QuickBooks desktop software and QuickBooks Online?
Tucker: QuickBooks Online is an online offering which means it’s focused on the core functionality that a small business needs. There’s a lot packed in our desktop version and a lot of it isn’t used. There’s a lot more complexity and overwhelms frankly a lot of users.
With the online offering we’ve focused on what’s key to business and tried to make it as easy to use as possible, and introduce a lot of time savings for the invoicing and reporting they’re doing every day.
BoxFreeIT: So what’s included in QuickBooks Online?
Tucker: We’re not cutting any corners here. You can invoice clients, receive payments, purchase orders, track your suppliers. But we don’t have payroll. We’ve received some feedback when interacting with users that that’s pretty important. We do have users using it today that are still tracking their payroll by using general ledger entries. We realise that’s not as easy as we want to make it and that’s an area that we are making a priority.
BoxFreeIT: What else is in the pipeline?
Tucker: We’re listening to the market first to get feedback. There are no dates for payroll. We do have customers working with the product today, they still have employees that they need to pay and they say it’s not that big a deal (to not have payroll).
BoxFreeIT: So what are they using for payroll?
Tucker: Some of them are just using Excel. I talked to a guy last week, and he said super is 9 percent, my employees are all salaried, I know what I’m paying them, I know what the tax is, I just enter in the general ledger entries and make them recurring – he said, “what’s the big deal?”
BoxFreeIT: What role do you see for of accountants and bookkeepers? Or are you only selling direct?
Tucker: Certainly there is a direct component and we do see a lot of users adopting on their own and that’s great. But accountants are often the ones that will recommend accounting software so of course we want to have those relationships.
We have our ProAdvisor program which has 300,000 accountants globally. We have started meeting with hundreds of accountants and bookkeepers in Australia, there’s a lot of early interest.
BoxFreeIT: What incentives are there for joining the ProAdvisor program?
Tucker: It hasn’t been fleshed out yet. Free product access for the accountant is included.
Anderson: I think it’s similar to how we think about customers. We get into the market, learning what we need to do and how we get small business happily using our products. The same is true with accountants. In a lot of ways this is a big learning phase.
BoxFreeIT: The accounting channel strategy seems to be all-important with accounting software. Will the Australian QuickBooks channel go with Intuit or will the bonds of loyalty to Reckon be too strong?
Anderson: I think a good question to ask is, what does Intuit do well? It really learns from customers and accountants. We have four million small businesses around the world using QuickBooks and 300,000 accountants in our ProAdvisor program.
With that insight we’ve built products that are easy to use, which has been very important to us. So as I think about trying to win here in Australia and deliver great product experiences for customers and accountants, I think this will be a strong legacy to draw upon.
Next page: Add-on programs and comparison to QuickBooks Hosted (Reckon)
BoxFreeIT: Do you think accountants and SMBs will want to buy Australian rather than from a US company?
Anderson: We have small businesses in 130 countries using QuickBooks. Small businesses are going to use the product that’s right for them, that delivers a great experience regardless of where it’s built.
There are small businesses here using Salesforce.com, Google and other things that aren’t built here. I feel confident that we can build a great experience even being a North American company.
BoxFreeIT: Are there any plans to include a tax platform that files electronically to the Australian Taxation Office’s portal?
Tucker: That’s another item we’ve had feedback from our users. Over the next two weeks we’re meeting with tonnes of businesses and accountants and if at the end of that the group is screaming a lot louder for something else, then that’s what the market wants (and we’ll build it).
BoxFreeIT: But how often will Intuit update its online software?
Anderson: We are on monthly releases for QuickBooks Online. We do have opportunities every four weeks to innovate for our customers. We don’t have a desktop hangover in the online world where we only have releases once a year.
Tucker: We’ve already seen two additional releases (since the launch in July) and just last week we came out with decently large new functionality for the market. We gave the the user the ability to create their own custom tax rate so they can define it themselves. We’re still in the innovator phase and making some pretty big contributions to the product.
BoxFreeIT: How do you distinguish QuickBooks Online from QuickBooks Hosted (a hosted service provided by Reckon)?
Tucker: There is a bit of confusion in the market right now. One of the things we honestly talk about is what does a cloud based offering relay mean? There are differences in the hosted model. With the cloud you don’t need to download anything, you can use it on the mobile device, and access it from anywhere.
BoxFreeIT: But QuickBooks Hosted can do the same, you just need the Citrix Receiver browser. Won’t businesses care about getting bang for their buck?
Tucker: Yes, the version Reckon use for QuickBooks Hosted is the enterprise version. But that’s a pretty heavy piece of software. Ours is focused on the key workflows that 90 percent of SMBs use. We focus on easy to use, time savings, and the performance is quite good. It’s pretty full featured.
BoxFreeIT: What about pricing? It’s pretty similar to Xero but then you don’t have a payroll application. (QuickBooks Online’s medium plan is $40 a month compared to $49 a month for Xero’s)
Tucker: We have had a bit of feedback around the pricing. We’re keeping an eye on it. If you were going to do a feature-to-feature comparison that would be a glaring one right now but we’re working on it.
BoxFreeIT: What bank feeds do you have?
Tucker: We have feeds with the four major banks. We have just started with the first four. We’re always listening to our customers to see where expansion is needed but so far it seems to have done right by a lot of them.
BoxFreeIT: So are more bank feeds in the pipeline?
Anderson: This is an area that the investment to bring on incremental banks is not extremely large. Payroll is one that we need to work on but to get incremental banks it’s not something that will take weeks and weeks. If we hear that there’s more banks to get on, we’ll get them on just like that.
BoxFreeIT: Do you have add-on programs for QuickBooks Online?
Anderson: We do have a developer program for QuickBooks Online but it doesn’t work with the Australian version yet. We are taking a similar approach – let’s launch and learn. What are those things that need to be built into the API? So you can imagine things like sales tax to handle GST, that’s being built into our API.
You make the comment about being open as such a big part of having a cloud-based program of any kind. We certainly feel the same way and we’re trying our best to get there as soon as we can.
There will be a local launch but no dates as yet. We’re really focused on what we need to do to engage and support a handful of those partners.
BoxFreeIT: How many applications are there on the QuickBooks Online developer program in the US?
Anderson: Less than 100 but they include Bill.com, Salesforce.com, Freshbooks and Shoeboxed.com.
BoxFreeIT: Why is Australia a priority country?
Anderson: Australia is a really exciting space in that it’s really a nation of small business. Intuit has had such a history of helping small business grow, why wouldn’t we be here? I think we’re really excited to bring QuickBooks Online and bring everything we know we can do.
BoxFreeIT: How many subscribers does QuickBooks Online have?
Anderson: The global numbers for QuickBooks Online is 360,000, including the US.
BoxFreeIT: Why is that number so small? QuickBooks Online has been on sale in the US for 10 years, and now is on sale in three other countries.
Anderson: Online just hasn’t been a focus for investment until now.