The shared database is one of the most versatile forms of situational software — that is, software that's built to suit the ad-hoc needs of a small team, department or community. I have a feeling it's also by far the most frequently deployed form of Web 2.0 collaborative application in the enterprise, even though mashups and wikis attract more buzz — Wikipedia's definition of situational applications, for example, talks about wikis and mashups but doesn't even mention database platforms. That may be enough to please the Web 2.0 crowd but it barely scratches the surface of what's actually being delivered from the cloud today for serious business purposes.Dabble DB, Rollbase and Amazon SimpleDB — they're all serious contenders but Dabble DB is the only one out of beta at this time. I'm thinking of platforms that got started during the previous bubble of Web innovation, back in 1998-99, and have survived to the present day. Platforms such as DataWeb and the one that prompted me to write this up, Intuit's QuickBase. The App Gap. This new blog community site is from the same editorial stable as the enterprise 2.0-focused FastForward Blog (which is sponsored by Microsoft acquisition target and enterprise search vendor Fast). The Corante team have done a great job with FastForward and it will be interesting to see if they can repeat the trick with QuickBase-sponsored The App Gap, which will focus on "the future of work and how new tools are addressing age-old challenges of organization, collaboration, and creation." They might even make people think enterprise software is sexy. A webinar on The Future of Work to mark the launch takes place this Friday.
The new blog is a sign that Intuit is serious about promoting QuickBase, but it wasn't always so: the story of how QuickBase became a strategic priority is an interesting one. Intuit itself didn't realize how much ground QuickBase was gaining with larger enterprises until it reviewed the user base around the time that Intuit insider Bill Lucchini took over as general manager a year ago. Conventional wisdom was that, like the rest of Intuit's product line, QuickBase was an SMB proposition. But when it did the analysis, it found that several organizations had more than a thousand seats deployed. So the company targeted those larger organizations for renewals and Lucchini told me it added 50,000 new seats just from its existing customer base, including one contract for 6,000 seats. As of July last year (the last time Intuit published QuickBase numbers) the total user base was 225,000, including 13 customers with more than 2,000 seats in use. When you take off the 33,000 users from within Intuit and its partners, those 13 customers account for at least 20% of the QuickBase paying subscriber base. Over half the user base are in larger organizations, even though the 'long tail' of SMB adoption means that the majority of QuickBase customers are smaller companies with just a handful of users each.
What's the attraction? When I met with Lucchini last November, he told me that the typical use case in those enterprise customers was to provide "an enterprise-wide platform for team collaboration". IT departments prefer their users to standardize on something like QuickBase for sharing data rather than emailing spreadsheets around. It gives them more visibility and control over what data is being shared and who it's being shared with, he explained. The QuickBase blog recently highlighted a customer story that brings this to life:
"... a Fortune 500 company is migrating some of their critical data from spreadsheets to a QuickBase application, and was explaining to me how their current process works. Previously, they had a single spreadsheet that tracks global project information. Since they have dozens of people in multiple global locations (across the US, Europe, Middle East, Asia, and Australia) they keep sending this spreadsheet around the world each day, essentially following the time-zones. Around and around and around.
"Not surprisingly, this is a nightmare! There is often a question as to which is the most recent document and folks have to wait their turn to update the spreadsheet with their own information. The security holes are pretty darn big too!"
Of course the IT department could have funded development of an in-house solution that achieved the same effect. But the infrastructure cost of implementing a platform that's accessible from around the globe and across all timezones would probably have left the project languishing on the to-do list for years. An 'in-the-cloud' alternative avoids those huge start-up costs, and if it's easy enough for users to manage and maintain it for themselves, the IT overhead remains minimal. Another recent blog posting conveys one customer's satisfaction:
"Both IT and the Business users couldn't stop smiling as they talked about their QuickBase use. At one point the IT lead leaned back and said 'QuickBase has taken so many headaches off the software development team!'
"... The business team lead walked me through an exercise he had to do for his budget department to detail what their alternative was to QuickBase if we disappeared off the face of the earth. He said it was very simple: to replace the ability for just his team of business users to create and manage apps in QuickBase, he needed 2 FTE's to build apps and $500,000 to purchase alternatives."
Last year, Intuit made a number of changes to QuickBase to suit its enterprise customers and in November launched an enterprise edition. The changes ranged from adjusting the pricing structure to make larger storage volumes more economical, to integration with LDAP and providing centralized management and tracking of usage across the organization (the image below is a sample screenshot showing usage costs broken out by company division).