Microsoft-Intuit PaaS Marriage in the Clouds
This week’s announcement that Microsoft and Intuit are linking their respective Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) capabilities has attracted lots of attention and generated plenty of speculation. It is also the latest escalation of the PaaS wars I predicted would take center-stage this year.
Although Salesforce.com’s Force.com PaaS has gained the lion’s share of industry attention because of the company’s unparalleled marketing machine, I’ve felt that Intuit’s Partner Platform (IPP) represented a dark-horse in the PaaS race because of the vast installed base of small- and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) using Intuit’s QuickBooks and QuickBase, along with its powerful channel relationships.
I’ve also believed that Microsoft would make considerable progress in penetrating the cloud computing market this year, not because of the technical capabilities of its Azure PaaS, but because of its historical prowess in building a vast partner network of ISVs and developers.
With those thoughts in mind, here’s my take on the strategic business implications of this alliance,
- Both companies are aggressively attempting to catch up to Salesforce.com’s Force.com PaaS initiatives both in terms of mindshare and marketshare. Both companies want to quickly expand their reach into the ISV/developer community to strengthen their competitive position in the PaaS market. (Disclosure: I’ve written a series of whitepapers on behalf of Salesforce.com regarding the Force.com capabilities.)
- Both companies also want to demonstrate the ‘openness’ of their PaaS capabilities to offset the alliances which Salesforce.com has made with Amazon, Google and Facebook, and capitalize on accusations that Salesforce.com’s Force.com PaaS is limited because it is built on a ‘proprietary’ language.
- Gaining greater market penetration via access to the other party’s installed base of customers and partners is a given, but capitalizing on their respective functional capabilities and channel relationships is important.
- Intuit is primarily seeking to make its IPP more attractive to developers by expanding the functionality it can provide its PaaS users. Adding Microsoft’s development and collaboration tools, including the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) which consists of SharePoint Online, Communications Online, Exchange Online, and Office Live Meeting gives developers greater functional capabilities to satisfy their customers’ needs.
- Microsoft is primarily interested in adding the service management capabilities embedded in Intuit’s Partner Platform (IPP) which include service provisioning and monitoring, along with pay-as-you-go billing and pricing. Adding these capabilities makes Azure more relevant to developers from a business perspective.
While this alliance is squarely focused on small businesses, it could also appeal to the regional offices or small divisions of larger enterprises. It could also attract crossover opportunities in the consumer market, especially when you consider the growing influence of consumerization in the corporate world.
But, most importantly it could open new opportunities within traditional channels and create new channel opportunities for cloud services and vendors. Salesforce.com, Google, Amazon and Facebook have not made much progress penetrating the channel and will face serious challenges gaining the trust and confidence of traditional channel organizations who feel threatened by the cloud computing phenomenon. Intuit and Microsoft can leverage their established relationships with key channel companies to overcome their concerns.
This alliance is the most recent in Microsoft’s escalating efforts to regain its dominant position in the software market which has been quickly slipping away with the accelerated growth of SaaS and broader cloud computing services. Microsoft also announced earlier this month that it is teaming with HP in a three-year, $250 million initiative to develop and deliver a new generation of cloud-based solutions.
Conspiracy theorists will also point out that Microsoft announced last June that it is discontinuing its Money software service, which leaves a convenient gap for Intuit to fill with its QuickBooks solutions.
While ‘coopetition’ is not a new idea or business practice in the tech industry, this week’s Microsoft-Intuit alliance is certainly an important new test of the concept. Whether this proves to be a win-win relationship or simply a Machiavellian maneuver by these companies remains to be seen.
It is also important to note that this isn’t a mutually exclusive alliance. Microsoft is already working with Amazon, for instance. In fact, it will probably spark additional discussions and agreements with the other players by both parties.