Last week Intuit held the Intuit Apps Showcase 2011, a competition amongst developers of applications that integrate with QuickBooks. 30 products were presented by developers who were competing for $100,000 in prizes from Intuit. It was a whirlwind day, and I’ve going to give you my very quick impressions of the products that we saw. I’m splitting this into two posts, with the second part coming later this week.
According to Elisabeth Gettelman (PR Manager in the Small Business Division of Intuit) over 160 companies submitted applications. Of those, the Intuit Developer Relations team chose 30 to compete. According to Gettelman, “Of those, twelve are completely new to the world, have never been seen before”. The criteria were innovation, meeting customer needs and integration with QuickBooks.
What are Intuit Apps?
Before I get into the specific products, let’s discuss what these “Apps” are. By itself, QuickBooks by itself might not provide all of the functionality that your business needs. You can expand the capability of your QuickBooks installation by utilizing add-on products developed by outside (“third party”) developers, or by Intuit itself. Intuit provides several ways for a third party developer to be able to expand the functionality of QuickBooks (both the Windows desktop and Online editions).
One of these methods has been around since about 2005, commonly referred to as the QuickBooks SDK (QBSDK). This is a traditional desktop programming toolkit that has been used by many companies, and these products can be found in the Intuit Marketplace.
A few years ago Intuit started promoting another method of allowing programmers to work with QuickBooks, the Intuit Partner Platform (IPP). This is essentially a web based programming toolkit where your local QuickBooks company data is “synched” with a copy on the Intuit servers, and the developers work with that cloud based data. Products using this approach are found in the Intuit App Center. This is a newer technology, it is still changing, and it doesn’t yet provide access to all of the data in QuickBooks (more on that in a week or so).
The Intuit Apps Showcase was a competition between third party products that use the IPP method, and so would be found in the Intuit App Center. We’ll be talking more about the differences between these two approaches in more detail in blog articles in the future.
So Many Apps, So Little Time!
If you didn’t get a chance to attend this event, or you didn’t get a chance to see the webcast, let me tell you that it was crazy, wild, fun, and exhausting. Each of the presenters had just five minutes to present their product. After that, the judges had two minutes to ask questions about what they saw. Each session started when an Intuit employee (dressed in a Viking helmet and vest) banged on a gong (I’m glad I wasn’t sitting close to that, many thanks to Elisabeth!). Apps were presented in groups of six, with a short (and entertaining, thank you Intuit) break between each group.
The day started a bit rough because of Internet connectivity problems. Keep in mind that these are all web connected applications – the QuickBooks data is stored in the Intuit cloud servers, so Internet connectivity was essential. Things smoothed out, but I’ll have to admit that by the end of the day I was feeling very overwhelmed (and my head was ringing from that dang gong).
Because the competitors only had five minutes, I’m not going to be able to give you a detailed description or analysis of these products. I’m going to give my impressions of what I saw that day, and I may be a bit off base on some of the products. Some of the companies had very polished presentations, some did look like they were struggling with the time limitations. Also note that these are my personal observations, and not the opinion of The Sleeter Group.
I’ll list the products in the order in which they were presented, 15 of them today, the rest in another blog post later this week. Note that you can find all of these listed in the Intuit App Center. ALSO NOTE that when you look at these, pay attention to which edition of QuickBooks they work with. Some work with QuickBooks Desktop (Windows), some work with QuickBooks Online, some with both. I won’t always note this in my listing, as it wasn’t always clear in the presentations. And, watch what the product costs are. Some are free, some are very low cost, some can become expensive quickly.
- AgileShip: This was one of the really exciting applications for me, not just because they were first. This product provides a wide variety of shipping-related functionality, and some exciting ways to save on shipping costs. The integration with QuickBooks was top notch. I hope to be able to get a review of this product soon.
- HireFlo: This is a service that you can use if your company is doing a lot of hiring. You can post jobs and manage applicants. Since I normally work with smaller businesses I’m not sure how valuable this would be. I’m also not sure of what the QuickBooks integration was (they didn’t seem to show anything there, but again they only had five minutes).
- Costavior: This presentation suffered from the five minute limitation. I’m not sure what should make this product stand out. It does sync with QuickBooks. It performs a number of different analyses of your sales and costs figures to focus on profitability by product. It could be interesting if you are a sales oriented company, but I need to understand what it does better.
- Atduty Field Service: This looks interesting for field service companies – if you have trucks going out and servicing clients. But there are several of those around already (not IPP though?). I have to put this in a wait-and-see mode, there are some big questions about how their QB integration works (sales tax???), mainly because they have a lot of features (which is good) to show in only five minutes. Looks like you have GPS tracking of your field service employees…
- Transaction Pro Importer: This is a cool product by a great company (OK, so I know them already, I use some of their products). It didn’t show off as well in five minutes as the others, because it didn’t have a lot of flashy stuff and didn’t do big graphs and charts and things. But what it does is provide the best possible integration with QuickBooks for importing data. Note, though, that this is the IPP version of the product and it only works with QuickBooks Online. They have great tools for QuickBooks Desktop in their desktop based products.
- ProOnGo Expense: Expenses reporting and tracking, works with QB Desktop and Online. This was the first of several expense management products, so they got really good exposure (instead of “what, another expense manager?”). They claim to work with allmobile devices and tablets, which may be important. The person who has to “approve” expenses can do so from a mobile device, which is cool. I would want to look into the QB integration in more detail.One side note on expensing tools using the IPP interface – Intuit doesn’t yet support credit card charges via IPP, so the IPP-based apps suffer from not being able to post expenses that way. This might be a drawback, but it isn’t the fault of the developer, it is a current limitation of Intuit’s tool (which may change later this year?).
- Frequency Support: An online “help desk” application for small business. Works with QuickBooks Online only, I believe. Your customers can log in to a portal and leave you messages for support, it tracks them, it relates them back to your QuickBooks record on that customer. A Knowledgebase component is coming out soon. It has a low price compared to competitors, QuickBooks integration, is easy to learn, and has most of the work done in a single main screen that is easy to navigate. It has very good integration – you can drill down to see detailed information from QuickBooks. I’m not sure how relevant this is to many businesses, but if you do online work (software developer, maybe an online retailer?) it could be helpful.
- Postcard Services for Use with QuickBooks: Nifty tool, but I’m not sure how many people will want it? You can design a targeted direct mail campaign using their tool and templates. That part was pretty neat looking (although I’d want to see the selection of templates). It pulls your address list from QuickBooks (and other sources) and then builds your direct mail campaign. I wasn’t clear about how you get the ROI evaluation from it – I think you have to manually enter data on responses. All the time I was thinking, “who does direct mail campaigns any more?”. Of course, then I opened my mail and found a number of postcards from local businesses. However, I’m not sure how valuable this is, or how well it really works with QuickBooks data.
- ExpenseWatch.com Spend Management: To gain control over all company spending. It took me awhile to figure out what they were providing, but that was actually due to their presentation, not the product itself. This was a very nifty looking product, and it looks like the integration with QuickBooks was very good and very detailed. I need to look at it more to get a full understanding of what the benefits are. This was a Sleeter Group Awesome Addon award winner in 2010.
- OfficeAnt Customer Portal: Interesting. Starts free and gets more expensive as you add customers. Your customer logs in and can see their invoices, payment info and so forth, based on the QuickBooks data matching their email account and login info. The customer can also create support requests. They provide a FAQ page, a blog page, customer support pages and customer information pages. Customers can make payments via PayPal and Intuit Payment Solutions, and the data gets posted back to QuickBooks. I want to look into this more, it was VERY interesting.
- Corelytics Financial Dashboard: This is a tremendous product for analysis of a business – taking three years of data from your QuickBooks file and projecting forward one year. Then comparing your performance against industry benchmarks. I have to admit that this isn’t my strong area, so I have to dig into this more. The product is impressive, and it impressed the judges too. CoreConnex, the developer, has a special program in place for members of The Sleeter Group.
- FullSlate: This is an online scheduling application for businesses who see clients by appointment. Lets your clients schedule appointments via the web rather than calling you by phone, which makes sense for some kinds of businesses. Is a very simple interface, keeps a history of appointments. Zero data entry – because the user enters the data (that is one of our mantra’s). If you are in this kind of business this is worth looking at – but it might only be working with QuickBooks Online (not sure about that).
- Periscope: The presenters were very sure that this was the greatest thing for small businesses, and they had a very aggressive, self confident presentation. I wasn’t sure what exactly it was doing for us, at first. “Actionable financial tools and intelligence”. Uses your QuickBooks data. They are using zero data entry techniques (there’s that concept, again!) and they drew comparisons to mint.com. I have a lot of questions about how this product matches data from the web with your QuickBooks data.
- AuditMyBooks: This is a predictive analysis tool that scans your QuickBooks file and looks for errors, and potential signs of fraud. Cool concept, something that would be of value for any small business. The cost seems to be low. I think that it is well worth looking at, although Doug Sleeter (sitting next to me, I tried to ignore him) mentioned that when he tried it in the past he thought it as a bit too sensitive. I’m going to look at it some more.
- eBillity: Can’t decide if I like the clever name, or if it makes me think of Jed Clampett. “Three steps and 90 seconds to get paid”. I was less impressed with this, but it isn’t the kind of application that I have a need for so that might just be me. They work with a lot of mobile devices. This allows you to track every second of billable time you are providing while on the road or in the office, and makes it simple to quickly generate invoices, and submit them to the client. I’m not sure which edition of QuickBooks this is working with.
That’s the first fifteen – I’ll talk about the rest of them in my next post.