QuickBooks Enterprise adds Web hooks

User conference highlights new modules, new access options.

Have you ever had a service or delivery person come to your home or business carrying a smart phone in place of a clipboard with pre-printed forms? You know, the ones you have to mash down hard when you write so all three copies will be completed? Outside of UPS or FedEx, I never have. But users of QuickBooks Enterprise can zoom their techs from the 1950s to 2009 with one of the add-on modules demonstrated at the QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions User conference last week.

Officially called the “Intuit Field Service Management ES” application (which marketing genius came up with that mouthful of a name?), Intuit has integrated WorkTrack powered by Corrigo into QuickBooks Enterprise, or they will later this fall. This and two other major module additions were the hits of the user conference held in Dallas the week of Sept. 8.

I rarely talk about what isn't available today, because you deserve better than another “coming soon” product story from a major vendor playing games. But WorkTrack powered by Corrigo is real, and QuickBooks Enterprise is real, and they're just hooking them together. That's a different story than waiting for Version 1.0 of some new product.

The other two major modules introduced for release later this year are Intuit Warehouse Management ES and Intuit Sales Management ES (now in beta). All offer something new for Intuit and QuickBooks Enterprise: online hosted applications that integrate with customer's server-based software. This major step for Intuit shows the paranoia of users about their accounting data in a hosted environment is moderating with the promise of easy access through Web browsers. All three of these new modules are hosted by Intuit, unlike QuickBooks Enterprise which runs on site on the user's servers.

Intuit execs told me about 44% of their current users claim to have no interest in hosted, online applications for their accounting information. That's a huge percentage, but I'm thinking the paranoid are being more reassured every day. Look at QuickBooks Online, a less-complex version than Enterprise, that has over 130,000 businesses using a hosted accounting application already.

It appears online applications doubters are being convinced by the market shift. Remember those 10 million active Google Apps users from 500,000 companies? And Intuit's own TurboTax processed about half of their 23 million tax returns with their online, not desktop, version.

So when QuickBooks Enterprise customers are ready to go online, Intuit is ready with these three new modules. I particularly appreciate the two modules for companies going real work with real people: the warehouse and field service applications.

The Field Service module saves tech's time because they get assignments via smart phone rather than driving to the office to pick up another clipboard full of paper. Techs check off boxes on their phone or PDA-based application when finished, rather than fill in paper forms. Accounting gets the information faster, meaning bills go out faster and get paid faster. Techs can squeeze in another call every day or two using mobile electronics rather than paper on clipboards. Most field service people I know would be happier going to the office twice a week rather than twice a day, and these tools can make that a reality.

Warehouses, at least for smaller companies, also remain mired in the paper world. Sure, you can print picking tickets with the bin labels with expensive warehouse management systems today, but few have made that move. Tying the actual number of products in a particular location, like a bin number, back to your accounting system from your warehouse system can become a giant nightmare. Intuit, working with Velocity Inventory from AccuCode, does all the integration for you. Well, at least the demo looked good, so Intuit is getting close to tying everything together. Multiple warehouses? No problem. Transfer sales tickets from one warehouse to a closer warehouse for less expensive delivery? Done.

Intuit leads the market with QuickBooks and QuickBooks Enterprise (depending on how you slice the market, of course). Their approach to working with other developers and Pro Advisors (certified QuickBooks experts) has helped them spread the word.

Since “every customer needs just one more thing” according to Intuit executives, Intuit has tied their hosted QuickBase database application more closely than ever to various QuickBooks products. Again, customers have to accept a hosted, online component to their applications for QuickBase and the field service and warehouse modules, but they can keep their accounting data on their own servers. Proposed business analytics modules require the hosted app to pull data up for reporting improvements. That may be a harder sell, at least for some data paranoids.

Will Intuit and others convince most small business owners and managers that hosted applications are safe? Yes. Will every small business move to online applications? No, but most will. Why? Because hosting application providers like Intuit have much better security than your own small business server(s).

Intuit's new QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions 9.0 offer a transition between strictly on-premise applications and hosted services and applications. It will be interesting to see if others pick up this hybrid application model, or if more users just move to a pure online application model.

The closing keynote by Intuit founder Scott Cook veered far from the typical “let's cheer our new stuff” model so often used that so often bores the attendees. Cook led the large crowd through a creativity exercise to illustrate how Intuit management works to develop ideas and solutions. The best takeaway for attendees? The more people bringing multiple ideas, the easier it will be to collect all the best features of each person and keep moving forward. If attendees get that message and take it home, they'll be ahead of most executive management teams in Fortune 1000 companies.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.