Hosted QuickBooks and Office 365 a Complicated Technical and Licensing Model (until now)
When Intuit introduced the Authorized Commercial Host for QuickBooks program, service providers were presented with the opportunity to lawfully offer hosting for the QuickBooks desktop editions from host servers and provider infrastructure. The benefits of using QuickBooks desktop products in a hosted environment are many, including the introduction of mobility, disaster recovery, remote access and other things now associated with cloud computing models. But the evolution of application delivery technologies and software as subscription service models is challenging the “traditional” approaches used to deliver hosted QuickBooks services. One of the greatest challenges facing these QuickBooks hosts is the changing landscape of Microsoft Office licensing, because QuickBooks is just no fun without Microsoft Office.
While the QuickBooks application handles a variety of essential business functions, it relies upon other software to accomplish certain important tasks, such as reporting. Most of the QuickBooks reports can be exported to Excel worksheets, allowing users to refine and manipulate the document outside of QB; QuickBooks Enterprise Edition uses Excel to handle consolidated reporting. QuickBooks uses Word for writing customer letters, and Outlook as a tool to email invoices. There is a lot of functionality in QuickBooks that relies on the MS Office products, so it is pretty typical for a QuickBooks user to also be an Office apps user. In order for the applications to work together properly, they need to be installed on the same computer. If QuickBooks is hosted “in the cloud” with a hosting provider, and Office 365 applications are installed on the local PC, the two applications don’t “talk”, and the integration isn’t seamless or even functional.
When a small business subscribes to Office 365, they are provided with rights to install their Office applications on up to 5 computers (depending on the subscription level). While this enables users to have Office apps on multiple computers they use at different times, it does not provide authorization for the application to be installed on a hosted server where it is accessed by those users. If the service provider intends to host access to Office applications for customers, they can offer “license mobility” which is sold to customers having licenses purchased with Software Assurance. Only with the proper licenses and mobility added may the Office licenses be delivered from the host’s environment. What this means is that customers who purchase Office 365 subscriptions to get their MS Office productivity applications can’t generally use those licenses in a hosted environment; certainly there is no eligibility for hosting the Office licenses for pre-installed editions on new PCs. For QuickBooks hosting companies, this means that their customer has to pay a separate rental license for their Office apps on the host in addition to paying for the Office 365 subscription to have the applications on their local PC. All of this just to allow hosted QuickBooks to integrate with the Office applications.
But there is an answer for small businesses who want remote and mobile access to their QuickBooks desktop editions and who also have Office 365 applications on the PC. The answer is the Skyline delivery of QuickBooks from Uni-Data. This solution uses a new technology from Numecent, called Cloudpaging, to “deliver” the hosted and managed QuickBooks desktop application (complete with optional subscription license) to the user’s PC, where QB functions as a natively installed application and integrates with the other apps on the machine. In this situation, businesses subscribe to the low cost Skyline hosted QuickBooks solution in addition to subscribing to Office 365. The Skyline hosted QuickBooks solution launches the application using a very small piece of software on the local Windows PC. Once the application opens, it operates just as though it were installed on the PC, and is able to function with the other applications present. This allows the business to fully utilize the Office 365 subscription with their hosted and managed QuickBooks, saving the cost of additional Office license rentals and providing a much richer user experience.
The Skyline hosted QuickBooks service is geared to handle individual QuickBooks users or limited multi-user scenarios where users do not need simultaneous access to the company file. Uni-Data also offers partner and affiliate programs, allowing resellers and promoters to engage with the solution and earn annuity revenues from hosted accounts sold. For Microsoft partners working with Office 365, or VARs selling other subscription services to small business customers (like hosted email or website solutions), may find that Uni-Data’s QuickBooks hosting solution rounds out their small business cloud offerings quite well.
There is almost never just one way to solve a problem, and the cloud is introducing new options – and challenges – at all levels. As application licensing and delivery models continue to change, solution providers will come to recognize the value they provide in bringing the right selection of services and technology models together to benefit not just their customers, but their own revenue streams and profit potential.