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Intuit rewrites QuickBooks for small business

The company keeps companies with less than 250 employees in mind for updates to its QuickBooks accounting software and to its QuickBase Web-based information management package.

Intuit released updates to its QuickBooks accounting applications and to QuickBase, its Web-based information management software, on Thursday.

The latest versions of QuickBooks Basic, Pro and Enterprise have an increased focus on small businesses, as have new applications in QuickBase, according to the financial software and services company. The products are best suited to companies that have 250 or fewer employees, the company said Thursday.

Such companies face many of the same general challenges as do larger enterprises, such as integrating and simplifying business processes, said Dan Levin, senior vice president for Intuit's QuickBooks division. But the server-based solutions pitched to enterprises are too expensive and difficult to install and maintain for smaller companies, which aren't interested in technology as much as in solving specific business problems.

"We don't deal with IT decision makers," Levin said. "In most cases, our decision maker is the guy who runs the company. The fact that our applications are using very sophisticated XML instructions to exchange data over the Internet--that's irrelevant to our customers."

Intuit introduced versions of QuickBooks designed specifically for certain industries--retail, professional services, manufacturing and wholesaling. It also put out an upgrade for accountants and a version of its QuickBooks Point of Sale software for retailers.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based software maker said a number of its development network partners are expected to release follow-on products that integrate with QuickBooks soon.

Levin said working with outside developers is a fairly new idea for Intuit, but the company has already signed up more than 50,000 developers and has won high marks for its application programming interface releases.

"We don't have a lot of experience with recruiting developers," he said. "We're learning. But I think we've made a lot of progress."

Outside developers help make QuickBooks more useful by producing specialty versions targeted at specific industries and jobs, Levin said. "There are a lot of developers building solutions for small groups of customers we wouldn't address ourselves, and everybody benefits from that," he said.

Among QuickBooks' new features are a Business Checklist, which centralizes information regarding state and federal financial reporting requirements, and a Cash Flow Projector, which is meant to help companies predict income and spending trends.

QuickBooks' existing Loan Manager, Fixed Asset Tracker, and Vehicle Mileage Tracker functions have also been upgraded, Intuit said. The company's vertical industry offerings feature applications such as billing and inventory management tools for manufacturers and in-store product tracking for retailers.

The QuickBooks offerings range in price from $19.95 for the company's Web-based Online Edition to $3,500 for its enterprise product for businesses with 20 or more employees.

Rebuild of QuickBase
The newest version of QuickBase, Intuit's Web-based business management application, includes a Project Portfolio Manager tool meant to give information technology managers increased ability to track and prioritize project requirements. Another added feature is the Request Manager, which organizes data from internal customers. In addition, a new Knowledge Base function promises to help build a repository of technical information.

The revamped QuickBase package also has a library of business process templates for launching marketing, sales force automation, human resources and customer relationship management applications.

Jana Eggers, general manager of the QuickBase business, said the service is aimed at small businesses and small workgroups within enterprises, neither of which can justify the expense and complexity of installing a server-based collaboration system. The service includes prebuilt functions that cover most business tasks and can be easily customized.

While the service has proven popular with sales teams and other expected customer segments, it's also had an unexpectedly strong reception from IT professionals, who use the service to track projects and other basic administrative tasks, Eggers said. The QuickBase enhancements announced Thursday include special tools aimed at IT workers.

"We didn't think the IT people would be very interested in the product, because it's so simple and easy to use," she said. "But they're saying it does what they need and lets them concentrate on their work."

A monthly subscription to QuickBase costs $249, which includes access for 10 simultaneous users per application.

The product releases follow an apology from Intuit last month for building experimental antipiracy technology into its TurboTax products and has vowed to refrain from doing so again in the future. Customers complained that the company's product activation feature, meant to tie software to a specific PC, which made its applications difficult to install and run and made changes to their computer hard drives that were difficult to disengage.