It's been easy to be pessimistic about Internet-based accounting. It started with promise that quickly turned to doubt about whether products in that category would ever catch on.
There have been a number of entrants: eLedger, which dissolved; and Bizfinity, whose Web site shows that no press releases have been issued about its product since July 2003. Intacct is in a turnaround mode. There's a company called InSynq which markets eAccounting, but which has spent most of the last year paying off debts. Best hasn't talked much about its two online entries, ePeachtree and Peachtree for the Web, for a while. Best's Accpac unit has Simply Accounting Online, but isn't beating the drums too hard for that product. Only NetSuite has shown much growth, and it did so by moving up-market.
But now Intuit is making some noise about its QuickBooks Online Edition, taking the time to conduct a press tour about the product. It's not something the company has talked about this aggressively before.
The customer base is still small--25,000 customers for the year ended July 30. But Intuit predicts it will have 42,000 users by the end of fiscal 2005 and the growth path is starting to resemble the escalating slope of a bell curve.
The other important thing that has happened is that Intuit has stopped worrying about cannibalizing its base for desktop software. When the Online Edition first arrived a few years ago, it could not import QuickBooks data and was viewed as a product for new users, not for established QuickBooks customers. That limitation ended about 18 months ago.
That surely helped, and so does the increased comfort level that users of all kinds have with Internet-based applications and services and the recognition that remote access can be a pretty good thing for business.
Even Intuit admits it's not talking about reaching a tipping point--a point at which mass adoption of the online product occurs. But the fact that there is any talk is news, and just maybe, we are seeing the light at the end of the online tunnel.
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