QuickBooks Online is Pretty Cool, but Doesn’t Simplify Overall IT Requirement for SMBs
Intuit is doing some pretty cool things with the QuickBooks Online product. I really like the fact that there are mobile apps available, the product can auto-send reports, form templates can be imported from Word, and there’s a desktop application available to replace pure browser-based access. There are those who might believe that I’m a QBO hater, but I’m not. I am evangelist for cloud computing, mobility and cloud service… I just don’t necessarily believe that only one flavor of “cloud” applies to everyone. QuickBooks Online is some good stuff – but is it really making things simpler?
What QuickBooks Online does better than QuickBooks desktop, really, is provide a cloud-based accounting solution for small businesses for an affordable price. QuickBooks Online was built as a SaaS solution, so web-based access and a subscription service model are part of the package. On the other hand, QuickBooks desktop editions were designed to not simply function for the user, but to deliver the user experience expected from software running on the given OS/platform (e.g., Windows or Mac). When QuickBooks is running on Windows, it behaves like a Windows application and uses standard Windows conventions. Same deal with QuickBooks on Mac. It’s … Apple-y. Whether on Windows or Mac, QB desktop editions are considered to be the workhorses that really help get things done.
What some folks don’t know is that QuickBooks desktop editions can be hosted in the cloud so that they also have the benefit of anytime, anywhere accessibility and managed service. Working with an authorized hosting provider, businesses are able to have their QuickBooks desktop applications hosted and managed by qualified service providers, and can access the applications and the data via the Internet just as QuickBooks Online users are able. The oft’ forgotten additional aspect of hosting is that the other business applications may also be hosted by the service provider, turning the entire business IT environment into a managed, anytime/anywhere resource.
When I look at outsourced IT and how businesses might benefit from subscription and SaaS solutions, I tend to view things more holistically rather than pursuing one application or functional area at a time. The reason is that the business is an ecosystem of users, processes and capabilities. Altering one part of the ecosystem will, without doubt, impact the others. Note that, in many businesses, the accounting and finance systems are integrated with line of business applications and operational processes. At minimum, there are likely to be connections or dependencies upon certain standard productivity tools for reporting and such, potentially generating lots of data.
Consider the QuickBooks Online capability of allowing form templates to be imported in .docx format. Those templates had to be developed somewhere, and it was probably in MS Word on guess where? You got it… the desktop. How is that local non-QBO data being managed, and how accessible is that part of the system? Having accounting in the cloud is cool, but may also create separation in data silos and breaks in processes when it is removed so completely from the rest of the business information systems environment. This introduces a layer of complexity for the business, where making sure all the information assets of the company are protected and recoverable isn’t as easy as doing a complete backup and archiving offsite, especially when the data is in a variety of formats and it doesn’t all exist on your PCs or servers.
Addressing the compartmentalization of business data becomes a potentially bigger issue when connecting two or more SaaS solutions via API. Granted, this type of “extension” to the financial system helps businesses apply the right tool for the job, and ensures that workers are interacting with the information they need and not the entire financial system. Yet small business owners generally lack the technical sophistication required to understand where and how to fully preserve and protect even a single business data silo much less multiple silos. The ease of connecting systems to each other in the cloud often overshadows the complexity of creating a single data management strategy for the business. And another item to remember is to disconnect those SaaS services which are no longer in use, as they represent an ongoing potential threat to the security of your data as long as they are accessing it without the data owner’s watchful monitoring.
The moral of this story is that I believe businesses that approach their information technology needs with a holistic view will have greater success than those who focus only on particular processes or functional requirements. I think QuickBooks Online is pretty cool (especially now that there’s a desktop app!), and I (and a few million others) think QuickBooks desktop editions are pretty good, too…. They’re just different pieces of software that do things differently – each carrying different risks and rewards. The point is that neither solution stands alone in the business operation, so each should be viewed in the context of the overall business information management strategy in order to see whether they’re properly selected, placed, and managed. Trying to make things simpler doesn’t always actually make things simpler. Welcome to the cloud.