I was honored to speak at this year’s SleeterCon 2015 in Las Vegas, as it marked the end of a chapter for the largest independent accounting technology expo and conference. The founder and owner Doug Sleeter has sold his interests to Diversified Communications, and the conference next year will be known as ACCOUNTEX.
Doug Sleeter started his business as a trainer and educator of QuickBooks, and created a fervent membership of ‘Sleeterites’, dedicated to providing the best of accounting technology services for their clients. What began as a simple training exercise for using accounting software, morphed into education on integrating 3rd party applications with existing accounting software, to providing information on the best tools to streamline operations in small and large accounting firms.
I have had the pleasure of association with Doug – and his team - for well over a decade, and have been privileged to speak at his conference every year. Doug is a special visionary in this field, and I have enjoyed our conversations about accounting technology trends, and shared experiences with companies like Intuit, Sage, and Xero.
Doug has become a special friend, confidante – and a supporter of all that we do in the business analytics space. I and my staff are grateful for his support and encouragement, and wish him luck in his future endeavors. He is only a Skype call away, anyway.
Peachtree was the first player in the small business accounting software space. For those that might remember, there were the two 5 ¼” floppy disks; one for the executable program, and one to save the accounting data. Peacthree ruled the DOS world, until QuickBooks burst upon the scene in early 1994, when Intuit eventually took 85% of the small business accounting software market.
If customers wanted information outside of their Peachtree accounting software, it was done with something called DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange), and Lotus spreadsheets. QuickBooks was a closed system – tightly locked – until Intuit finally opened up the data system, using a Software Development Kit (SDK) in 2001.
As a result, the real wave of 3rd party applications for accounting applications was born. Hundreds of little applications – and full blown applications – were created by developers to do things that “QuickBooks Didn’t”. They were the real basis behind the various accounting technology conferences, of which Sleeter was the largest.
The very first Intuit and Sleeter conferences were filled with eager new developers, trying to get a piece of the claimed 4 million user market. It was exciting, thought provoking – and competitive, yet communal. We, as developers, were all part of a larger ecosystem and wanted each other to succeed.
Developers eventually found out that companies like Intuit will put things into their application to serve the shareholder, with little or no regard to the functionality of existing 3rd party applications. Developers have a desire to be purchased by Intuit or Sage, but in reality, it has been nothing more than a pipe dream.
As I visited the vendors and exhibitors at the SleeterCon 2015, the only successful remaining vendors - with several exceptions - from the early 2000’s, are those who have built a self-standing application, that just happens to integrate with QuickBooks, Sage, or Xero.
The days of building that little app to do something the main software accounting application like QuickBooks, is over – at least if the developer is smart. This has been true in the desktop world for the last 4 or 5 years, and it will remain true in the online world. The speed at which companies like Intuit, Sage, or Xero can add features into the product, means that small 3rd party developers will be less prone to taking risks.
Rather than lament the loss of the small individual risk takers, I see prescient opportunities for small businesses, as well as consultants in this field.
I have seen a generation of accounting technology specialists spend hours learning every little new tool, and wrestling with data integration between a multitude of applications – trying to get everything to talk together. All in the name of ‘efficiency’.
I am of the humble opinion that by focusing less on integration issues, and more on every day business processes, we move the needle of business success and profitability forward.
Does this mean that I think that companies like Intuit, Sage and Xero should muscle out all other developers? No. I want aspiring developers to get the message to create something that stands alone – and stay away from the simple add-on. Everybody wins.
Gauging from my observations at the Sleeter Conference the last few years – I think they already got the message.
Our flagship product QQube was a product of the original 3rd party “do what QuickBooks doesn’t”, and despite the addition by Intuit of Custom Reporting, and then Advanced Reporting for QuickBooks Enterprise, we have continued to thrive and flourish as one of the largest QuickBooks 3rd party applications, and one of only a handful of 3rd party applications ever reviewed by PC Magazine.
Our strategies have been successful for many reasons. Not only do we “do what QuickBooks doesn’t”, but we are still far better than Intuit, even when they try to fill in their missing pieces. After communicating with thousands of business owners, and tens of thousands of custom reports, we have been fortunate to become the best in our field, just because of the sheer number of projects we have been involved in.
But that is not the ultimate goal, especially as Intuit moves forward by investing all of their resources into online QuickBooks, and away from QuickBooks desktop.
As a company, we have to be much more than that. We have to contribute to the success of small business by providing better tools for owners to make better decisions for their organization.
In my recent lecture about Business Intelligence at SleeterCon, I discussed the following topics:
These topics will heavily influence our next version of QQube™ - and beyond.
In fact, Version 6 will be our most ambitious upgrade since we first created the product. We will keep the incredibly strong reporting components for job costing, inventory, and finance; but also add easier abilities to create visualizations and analyses, and more built- in metrics for analyzing opportunities, customer profiles and buying patterns.
Our goal is to remain highly relevant for the next wave of accounting technologists, and generation of business owners.