Intuit and Microsoft have jointly announced a partnership that will see Intuit able to reach out to the huge Microsoft .Net and Azure developer network. According to the release:
The two companies plan to integrate the capabilities of their cloud services platforms – the Intuit Partner Platform and Microsoft Windows® Azure platform™ – to enable developers and channel partners to deliver solutions to the millions of employees within businesses that use QuickBooks® financial software. In addition, the two companies will provide small businesses with Microsoft’s cloud-based productivity applications via the Intuit App Center.
As of today, developers will be able to get access to a beta version of the Intuit SDK for Azure. Later in the year, developers will get access to Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (Sharepoint, Exchange and Coimmunications Server) - aka BPOS. A firm date has not yet been fixed for that part of the announcement beyond 'towards the end of the year.' The idea is that it should dovetail to Office 2010.
Intuit is in the process of building out its Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering via the Intuit App Center. It currently has 40 applications available via a button on the user's QuickBook's screen. This means there is single sign on for any and all of the apps offerings.
In discussing the offering, Intuit executives said that they are building what they see as a best of breed suite for small businesses that over time allows for both internal collaboration and collaboration with business partners to achieve higher rates of business productivity.
The company also says that it has no intention of making the platform a free for all. It wants quality applications that will sell. offering a win for both customers and developers. It believes the new partnership provides good opportunities to allow Intuit access to vertical market expertise. It cited construction where there are special forms of inventory management and non-profit where there are industry specific revenue generation and management needs.
My take: Intuit is joining a growing band of apps vendors that see PaaS as a way of delivering all sorts of aaS functionality, expanding its reach, developing deep domain expertise and helping it accelerate growth. These are bold ambitions and fit well with the idea that a single cloud platform should provide the ecosystem framework needed to achieve these goals. There is no reason why the SMB market should not benefit from these initiatives so at this level it is good to see both Microsoft and Intuit step up to the plate of opening up access to a large group of developers.
However, I wonder whether the inclusion of BPOS is what small customers will want. Jamin Spitzer, Director of Platform Strategy from Microsoft was on the call and he seemed a tad hesitant to delve into the applicability of (for example) Sharepoint for the SMB style of customer Intuit is used to managing: "I think Sharepoint, with BPOS will have a lot to offer for the smaller customer and will make it easier for them to deploy a range of useful hosted applications," he said. Not exactly revealing.
As always with these grand announcements, the proof will be in the eating. One to revisit in 6-9 months time to check on progress and a year out to see what BPOS brings to the table.