(This column originally appeared in Forbes)
With a 65 percent global market share, Intuit is one of – if not the – world’s largest providers of accounting and financial software for small and mid-sized businesses. So when the company announces its plans for utilizing artificial intelligence, I’m paying close attention and so are many accountants like me – and our clients.
Intuit’s AI strategy, which the company published this year, is very broad. In an effort to “revolutionize speed to benefit” the company wants to do a better job “connecting people to experts,” unlocking “smart decisions through more intelligent reporting and analysis,” being “the center of small business growth” (which is a nod to its acquisition of the popular email marketing platform Mailchimp) and helping to “disrupt the small business market.” The company will be doing this through the use of AI.
Sounds great and when you’re Intuit, you have to be broad. The company’s products focus on accounting and financial transactions but range from tax preparation (TurboTax) to personal finance (Quicken) to small business (QuickBooks and Mailchimp) among many other offerings.
Which is why there’s a problem with Intuit’s AI strategy: it’s not helping us understand how they will help to solve my clients’ problems.
Of course a company wants to use AI to do all of these things for its customers. But Intuit’s customers – like any software company – are diverse and have specific needs. Business owners, managers and their accountants need to know how their primary software vendor is exactly going to use AI to solve their specific problems. And there are different problems depending on the product they’re using.
Let’s take QuickBooks as the example.
All of my clients suffer from erroneous data. They need help ensuring that the information that gets into their QuickBooks system is complete and accurate, updated and reliable. How will Intuit do this with AI? Better and more intuitive importing? A more reliable method and interpretation for scanned invoices, receipts and other documentation? Data entry by voice?
Speaking of voice, everyone needs faster and more reliable analytics but few of my clients know how to get the information out of QuickBooks that they need to run their businesses. Most of them have to wait for that information to be available and then it’s still being delivered in very old-school ways like PDFs and spreadsheets. Can Intuit enable its users to voice their commands and then leverage AI to interpret those requests and automatically generate reports, dashboards and other output that can be immediately reviewed? Can that same user then make additional requests via generative AI which further hones the output into a more relevant report?
And what do to with that data? Future iterations of AI – like AutoGPT – should be able to use that data to automatically perform tasks – reorder inventory when low, alert when a sales rep isn’t making quota, prompt a customer for a new order, initiate invoices, create and post recurring journal entries based on past history, instinctively match cash receipts with open invoices, automatically complete and file tax returns, independently reply to requests from customers, suppliers, even the government.
Intuit wants to “connect people to experts” which is aimed at not alienating their channel (and experts will be needed to advise and configure all of these features) but in the end, my clients want AI to be their expert. They want their financial systems to recommend ways to make profits, suggest complementary products to sell to customers, warn if expenses are trending the wrong direction, suggest tactics for improving margins, compare their results with external benchmarks and propose ways to grow revenues.
Right now there are some excellent third party products which integrates with QuickBooks and aims to fill this AI void. For example, Bill, Vic.ai, ScanWriter and Expensify use AI to systemize data entry and process transactions. Booke.ai automates bookkeeping and Grabb not only sends alerts about changes in customer purchasing behavior but provides recommendations about supplemental or add-on products that could be sold and in what time period.
That’s great, but with all due respect to those companies dealing with other parties creates complications and support issues. We want this coming from our main software provider – QuickBooks – and not through integration with someone else.
Intuit’s AI strategy is fabulous…for Intuit. Many other tech companies with multiple offerings like them are publishing their AI strategies that are also fabulous. But the problem is that they’re focusing on their own corporate interests too broadly.
My small business clients who use products like QuickBooks don’t really care about Intuit’s overall strategy. They care about how AI will solve their problems. They want their software platforms to do more on their own instead of requiring more staff and overhead. They’re also hoping the “intelligence” of AI will be to interpret information and then act as their advisor, making adjustments and recommendations based on what’s learning so that they can focus on running their businesses.