Upgraded QuickBase hastens competition

Intuit announced Tuesday that it's girding its QuickBase Web-hosted collaboration software to compete with offerings from Microsoft and software-as-a-service start-ups by adding new features such as easy-to-build dynamic forms and dashboards and compatibility with Microsoft Project management software.

Best-known for its Quicken line of personal finance software, the California-based vendor has carved out a tidy business with QuickBase since its first release in 2001. QuickBase is used by several thousand companies, including 43 of the Fortune 100, mostly at the department or workgroup level to enhance workflow and share data among remote workers, according to Intuit.

Those features were relatively rare when QuickBase was first released. But in February, Microsoft released Office Live, a set of hosted collaboration applications based on SharePoint, its collaboration server, aimed at small businesses. It is also readying new versions of enterprise software such as SharePoint and InfoPath, which let users create XML-based forms.

"Intuit has done a pretty good job of migrating some of its user base onto the Web," said Paul DeGroot, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based consulting firm. "Microsoft clearly can't ignore this area."

In addition, Web-focused companies like Google, with its Google Spreadsheets and Writely beta applications, and smaller start-ups have released a raft of Web-based applications that mimic Office applications and provide Internet-based collaboration.

So far, neither Microsoft's nor other vendors' offerings have tempted Anne Walsh, a database administrator at Genworth Financial who has used QuickBase for five years. About 250 employees in her division, which sells insurance for long-term care, use QuickBase for sharing documents and keeping track of processes.

"We were an extremely siloed organization," she said. "People didn't feel like they were in the loop. Also, salespeople were e-mailing PDFs of spreadsheets to each other. That led to the problem of dueling versions." Now, "rather than manage 10 million spreadsheets, I can have a single source of truth that I can then disseminate everywhere," she said. Workflow has improved so much, Walsh said, that "people grab me in the hallway and literally hug and tell me that QuickBase has changed their life."

Other divisions at Genworth, a 7,000-employee financial services provider that was spun out of General Electric Co. in 2004, are considering moving to QuickBase, Walsh said.

Mark Shnier, vice president of customer service and logistics at G.E. Shnier Co., a US$150 million-a-year Toronto-based wholesaler of carpet and tile, said nontechnical users like himself can now create dynamic forms using QuickBase that add or delete questions and fields depending on respondents' answers.

"I don't know Javascript or HTML. I'd say I'm about a B+ level user of Excel. But I can develop applications pretty quickly with QuickBase," said Shnier.

The company integrates data from its central ERP system into QuickBase. It also uses the software to centrally host important documents that are accessible by 200 employees.

DeGroot said that while Intuit "may have moved more upmarket than other vendors," it's products are still mostly purchased by corporate users at the workgroup level, rather than implemented by central IT. That may allow it to fit in a niche between Microsoft's Office Live and the offerings of Web start-ups, which are designed for smaller firms, and Microsoft's SharePoint and InfoPath, which are designed for big companies and "require buy-in from the entire organization and take a lot of work to manage," said DeGroot.

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