Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

or - That was then, but this is now...

It constantly amazes me, seeing the number of conversations, forums, talkbacks, emails, etc. flurrying about the Internet that are focused on finding the way to "win" against Microsoft and Intuit - both companies, in certain circles, being referred to as "big brother". Well, the 800lb gorillas, anyway.

There are the Linux community members, very appropriately using TCO (total cost of ownership) and security messages to get the attention of the market... you've got the Mac devotees who believe that computers can and should have good fashion sense... and then there are the Windows users who use it, but complain nonetheless.

With Intuit, you have a clear market-share leader in smb accounting. As for the other market segments - it's anybody's guess who wins there. It's arguable.

But what do these two companies have in common? In a word - success.

Let's face it. Without them, there wouldn't be a world of computer users representing a potential customer base for new products. Walk with me - let's talk.

Computers were once quite expensive, unintuitive, and basically unavailable for most businesses. Then PCs emerged, Microsoft hit the market - and Windows opened across the world. First, businesses broadly became computer users. Then consumers became computer users. Then everyone became a computer user. And let's remember - accounting and finance was the first primary application of general computing technology (the BETTER adding machine).

Changes in the accounting industry were also occurring at this point. Professional accounting practices began to move away from business bookkeeping, being a low-margin and labor intensive task. Intuit hit the market with QuickBooks, marketing based on the concept that "if you can write a check, you can do your own books". While this was in direct opposition to the professional accountants' belief that businesses need professional assistance with their accounting, it solved the dilemma of doing the books directly. So, many accounting practices at this point actually became focused on selling and supporting accounting software - looking at the technology as both a means to avoid direct bookkeeping as well as introducing additional revenue-earning services for the practice.

Both Microsoft and Intuit recognized a need in the market, and filled that need quite nicely. They earned their market share largely based on useability and the concept of empowerment. This is what it took to build the size of market we see today. And let's face it. They did it very well.

Today's computer user is more savvy - more aware of the options and choices. But choice often seems like complexity. With Microsoft and Intuit being viewed by many as the defacto standards for small businesses, the choice seemed like it was already made and therefore the complexity of making the right purchasing decision was removed. This is not as true today as it once was.

There are other options available. Will they gain the same levels of adoption that their predecessors did? Doubt it. The concept of "one size fits all" isn't true any more. People want tools that are specific to their requirements. Businesses want their computing platform and applications to do more for them than simply maintain status quo.

But we must always remember how we got here. Kudos to the big guys who built the market for the rest of us. We should revere these companies, and acknowledge the great thing they did - they created potential customers for all of us. Lots of 'em.
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