Intuit QuickBooks essentially “owns” the accounting/bookkeeping software market in the US, having an enormous share of distribution and millions of users. Even with the emergence of new web-based and SaaS solutions designed to address the needs of small business bookkeeping, the visibility and momentum of the QuickBooks brand has kept it in the lead position and users continue to adopt the QuickBooks desktop and online editions in record numbers. What may be a surprise to folks who believe “the desktop is dead” is the reality that quite a lot of the adoption and usage continues to be centered on the QuickBooks desktop edition products rather than the purely Online, SaaS product, and this is at least in some part supported by the hosted QuickBooks service model.
The desktop is dead. Long live the desktop!
Software-as-a-Service and “the cloud” have become the focus of the entire information technology industry, and this new paradigm of computing continues to evolve and reveal potential at every level. What’s interesting is that the paradigm – which involves mobility, anytime/anywhere access, managed service delivered as a utility subscription, and more – is bringing new life to what many have come to refer to as “legacy” applications (like QuickBooks desktop editions). While many technologists would have us believe that the traditional desktop is dead, the reality is that the traditional part of it is all that may be dying… the desktop and what it offers and represents isn’t dead at all. In fact, it’s very much alive and well and continuing to do what it was intended to do, perhaps a bit better, due largely to advancements in desktop and application virtualization and other discoveries.
Several years ago the Application Service Provider model established itself, positioned to provide hosting of business applications as a subscription service (“several” is somewhat of an understatement; the first real ASPs emerged around 2000-ish). Using Windows Terminal Services and other tools, these early providers recognized the benefits of hosted and managed desktops, and further recognized that the value of the service existed largely with the applications and not simply the outsourced desktop. Back then, there was an awful lot of talk about how the “desktop is dead”, because delivered applications would become the norm. Then the dotcoms busted and a lot of ASPs went out of business, leaving a rather poor taste in the mouths of consumers and independent software vendors (ISVs) alike.
As web-based, SaaS and “cloud” solutions began to emerge and prove their viability, business users returned to the web in search of solutions to mobility and secure remote access to business applications and data. While a great deal of success has been realized by many of these SaaS solution providers, there has remained a significant need and desire for desktop applications, desktop presentation, and desktop functionality. The adoption by the market of SaaS and cloud services eased the adoption of hosted application services, as well, and now there are a wide variety of providers offering an equally wide variety of hosted and virtualized desktop and application services (application services like hosted QuickBooks, for example).
The popularity of the QuickBooks desktop products, coupled with new capability offered through advancements in hosting and application delivery solutions, directly address the desire of the market to eliminate complexity and reduce cost of IT operations. Hosting is somewhat of an “equalizer” between QuickBooks desktop and QuickBooks Online, allowing the QuickBooks desktop users to have the same managed subscription service as Online Edition users, but with the rich features and full functionality present in the desktop editions. Businesses wanting to run QuickBooks in the Cloud are not forced to transition to the product which may not fully meet their needs, or which is simply unfamiliar to them – they can continue to utilize their trusted QuickBooks desktop editions, only in a hosted/delivered environment.
Here’s the catch: It’s a good idea to only work with an Intuit-authorized Commercial Host for QuickBooks, because there is no other lawful way to obtain QuickBooks hosting services from a service or solution provider. No, it is not lawful to provide QuickBooks hosting services unless the hosting provider/service is actually authorized by Intuit to do so, and anybody using QuickBooks software has already agreed that they will not utilize the software with a hosting provider or similar entity without specific authorization. The hosting provider risks being targeted for unauthorized software distribution, and the customer risks losing their right to the software and services by violating the EULA terms. Even if the software doesn’t cost a lot, businesses will recognize that their business data has value, and keeping their software in a usable and properly licensed state is necessary to preserve the value of that data.
The End User License Agreement for QuickBooks products – an agreement between Intuit and the consumer – spells it out in plain language and describes specifically how the QuickBooks product is NOT eligible to be hosted, or provided by a hosting service. Note that this includes situations where the hosting company is providing the actual QuickBooks software, and in situations where a business already has their QuickBooks software and provides it to a commercial hosting company to have it installed and managed and provided to users. In short – QuickBooks is not supposed to be installed and managed by a 3rd party hosting provider who is not authorized by Intuit as a commercial host for QuickBooks regardless of whether or not the customer provided the license.
Why Businesses Use QuickBooks Hosting Services
The reasons why businesses elect to have their QuickBooks solutions hosted come in many forms, which explains why there are a variety of options for getting hosted QuickBooks service.
For users of the QuickBooks Enterprise products, managed IT service may be the primary goal in adopting a cloud hosting model. Hosted and managed IT services, including hosted desktops and managed applications, allows the business to benefit from predictability in IT cost and to transition from a regularly scheduled capital-intensive upgrade cycle to a consistent and budgetable operational expense.
Users of QuickBooks Pro and Premier, on the other hand, are more likely to see mobility, remote access, and real time collaboration as the primary benefits of a hosted model. While the small business owner will frequently argue about the true cost of IT management (which is pretty arguable when the totality of their infrastructure consists of a standalone PC), it is the access to the application and data at any time and from anywhere that gets this single user online – generally with a smart phone or tablet computer or some such mobile device accompanying the requirement.
In many cases, there are other drivers in the business moving the organization along the path towards “cloud enablement” of their solutions, and QuickBooks is simply one of the products to contend with. Hosted QuickBooks may not be THE REASON for going to an online working model, but it is one of the core components which can cause the project to either see success or fail miserably.
I have seen situations where an entire organization’s computing infrastructure was re-deployed as SaaS service, but the one critical thing they forgot was the controller’s requirement for QuickBooks Pro. Months of time and many dollars were invested in moving the rest of the company to online application service, only to find that they all returned to local application use because of the requirement to work collaboratively with the controller and with reports and data produced through QuickBooks. On the other hand, I’ve also seen where the accounting department was the only group moved to the hosted environment (in this case, the provider was focusing on QB and not on the rest of the business requirement), and this group also returned quickly to local operation in order to continue collaboration with internal team members and to benefit from the integration of applications (e.g., QuickBooks working with MS Office, etc.). One size certainly does not fit all, and any purchaser of a hosted QuickBooks solution should keep in mind the entire business requirement in case QuickBooks is only a piece of the puzzle (albeit an essential piece).
Hosted QuickBooks may come as a published or managed application, as a desktop application on a remote or virtual desktop delivery, or as an application“delivered” to the user’s PC. In any case, whether QuickBooks is viewed as a point solution – delivered alone as a single application – or whether it is part of a larger virtualized desktop or application deployment, it remains one of those products that satisfies a fundamental need in small businesses, and now it’s available in the cloud.