New Horizons For Intuit

Customer focus: It's what drove Intuit to dominance in tax software and is driving its expansion.

Tony Kontzer, Contributor

November 19, 2004

5 Min Read

Intuit has infused its new businesses with its philosophy of regularly visiting customers to see how they're using the product so it can make needed improvements. "That's quite a reversal," says Noel Clark, CIO of Arden Realty, a $440 million-a-year real-estate investment trust that manages 18.9 million square feet of office space in Southern California and uses the commercial-property-management software now known as Intuit Real Estate Solutions. Additionally, under Intuit's ownership, the unpredictable upgrade schedule Management Reports had followed before it was acquired has been replaced by a steady schedule of new releases every six months, and the software is configured to accommodate customizations during upgrades. "We used to procrastinate on upgrades, and now we can't wait," says Clark, who spends $40,000 a year on upgrades and maintenance in support of a 170-seat deployment of Intuit's software.

That excitement is paying dividends for Intuit. The company won't break out numbers for its individual units, but for its fiscal year ended July 31, revenue in the three key vertical markets Intuit now serves--construction, distribution management, and real estate--was up 17%, to $96 million, representing 5% of its total revenue. The company's real-estate business boasts 50,000 users at 1,800 companies, for example, while the distribution-management business has 31,300 users at 523 companies. For its first quarter of fiscal 2005, Intuit's small-business unit, which includes the company's vertical offerings and IT-asset-management products, saw revenue increase 13% over last year to $66.7 million.

The company hasn't scored with every acquisition. in 2002, Intuit boughtAmerican Fundware, which makes fund-tracking software for government and nonprofit customers, for $22 million in stock and $4 million in cash. It hasn't been a successful move, with the unit posting flat revenue and modest losses since the acquisition, so Intuit unloaded it last week to Kintera Inc., a software vendor focused on the not-for-profit market, for $11 million. Forrester's Anderson says that single failure isn't going to deter Intuit from its vertical strategy, but the company may have to be more careful in scouting future acquisitions.

Another analyst wonders if Intuit is thinking more about how it integrates all its acquisitions. Using a services-oriented architecture to assemble software components into new applications would let Intuit deliver more-comprehensive suites to larger customers, says Ray Boggs, VP of small and midsize business research at IDC. "I'm not sure that's their plan, but it would certainly make sense."

While Intuit says it's not trying to compete with the big enterprise-software players, one very big name in the business says there's no doubt that competition between it and Intuit is growing. As D'Amico's experience at NCR shows, QuickBase is emerging as a frequent alternative to Microsoft Project, and earlier this month, Microsoft unveiled a small-business accounting initiative with partner Automatic Data Processing Inc. that clearly targets Intuit's small-business payroll services. The two companies have been moving closer to each other, with Microsoft reaching down-market while Intuit moves up, says Dave O'Hara, VP of small business for Microsoft Business Solutions. "It's been natural that we'd compete more," O'Hara says. "We have respect for those guys. They run a good business."

O'Hara even suggests Microsoft can learn from Intuit. "They've always had a goal of making the products really easy to use, and that's a goal we share," he says.

Small businesses that began using Quicken to manage their books in the early 1990s, before Intuit came out with its QuickBooks accounting software, were the first to discover that Intuit's products were both affordable and easy to use. Now bigger companies are discovering the same thing. Simplicity and cost savings were the main reasons Barnes & became a Track-It asset-management customer after Intuit purchased Blue Ocean in 2002. The online bookseller had been using BMC Software Inc.'s Remedy HelpDesk to manage its support activities and audit its technology assets. It made an initial investment of $200,000 in BMC's software and was paying an additional $50,000 a year in maintenance for a help desk that supports 1,000 users, a figure help-desk manager Michael Frank calls "outrageous." Frank also had to have an experienced Remedy administrator on staff spending all his time managing the application because no one else could navigate the interface.

Since Intuit bought Management Reports, customers have more say in product enhancements, says Noel Clark, CIO of Arden Realty

In contrast, Track-It provides an easy-to-use interface, required just $30,000 in initial licensing fees, and costs less than $3,000 a year to maintain, Frank says. And Track-It has simplified the process of automatically assigning help-desk tickets. Since deploying Track-It, Barnes &'s IT staff has seen its success rate in meeting service-level agreements rise from 70% to 95%.

In retrospect, Frank says, the presence of Intuit attracted him to a product he might have overlooked otherwise. "I said, 'Wow, if you've got a company like Intuit, which knows how to do banking, which is pretty complicated, it must be a pretty good product,'" he says.

The power of Intuit's reputation is helping it make conquests in new industries and among bigger customers, even as it retains its focus on the consumer and small-business markets that have been its bread and butter for years. But as its evolving strategy steers it down new paths, chairman Cook and company won't shy away from taking business from larger enterprise software vendors when the opportunity arises. "If someone's happily ensconced [with a product], they should stay," Cook says. "But there are enough people who come up every year who say, 'Our system just isn't hacking it for us.' We just want to be able to win our fair share of that new business."

So far, so good.

Also, read our interview with Scott Cook by Tony Kontzer, "Intuit Founder On Expansion And Customer-Driven Innovation.".

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