Intuit Failures

At some time, on November 14, 2011, Intuit performed system maintenance across their online-service systems. And then something went horribly wrong. The systems didn’t work as they were supposed to. Online invoicing stopped working, as did their merchant-services payment processing system. Intuit quickly responded via Twitter and their Facebook page, telling everyone that they were aware of the problem, and that they were working on it. At some time between 8:00 & 9:00 PM (EST) that night, they updated their pages as follows:

“QuickBooks Online is back up and running. We apologize for today’s service disruptions and for letting you down. Improving service reliability is a top company priority right now.”

But this morning, things were still not working properly. As of this writing, it’s still not working. At about 11:00 AM (EST), they posted this follow up message:

As part of our efforts to improve service and increase uptime, we did maintenance work over the weekend which caused issues with several of our systems on Monday, November 14. We are experiencing the same issues today and in order to fix it have decided to take QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Online Payroll, QuickBooks Connected Services, QuickBooks payments processing, GoPayment and all other payment processing services offline until at least 12:00 p.m. PST. No data has been lost. More info: http://bit.ly/tx620f

We’ll have to wait and see.

Now, for me, this is largely an inconvenience. It’s not hugely disruptive of my business efforts. But there are folks out there who use these services for their day-to-day operations. People who have stores that take credit cards are the ones who have been hit hardest. Imagine having to explain to your customers that you can’t take their payment right now. There’s talk of a class-action suit, which I could easily see happening. The natives are not just getting restless, they’re getting mutinous.

Businesses often have to perform maintenance or updates on mission-critical systems. These are typically scheduled during off-hours, so as to minimize impact on their customers. And Intuit did that. But for a mission-critical system, you typically try to have backups; possibly even backups to the backups, so that in the event that something goes horribly wrong, you can get something back into place, quickly, in order to minimize the impact on the users. This, it would seem, Intuit did not do – at least not very well.

This leads me to one of two conclusions:

  1. They didn’t do their jobs properly.
  2. They don’t consider these online systems as “mission-critical.”

If it’s the latter, that’s a major problem. Their customers are small businesses, and these systems, while perhaps not entirely mission-critical to Intuit, are definitely so for their customers! Under normal circumstances, my reaction would be something along the lines of, “If they aren’t that concerned for our business, maybe they shouldn’t have it.”

The problem, in this case, is one of monopoly. Intuit enjoys a fairly monopolistic hold on the small business financial software market. There is simply no other product out there that does the job QuickBooks does, with as much flexibility and power, and for as low a cost. There are many competitive products out there, mind you, but QuickBooks is the standard to which they are all measured, and there aren’t many that measure up very well, especially for the price. In the U.S., some 95%+ of small businesses use QuickBooks. So they’ve got us small business people essentially over a barrel.

Products like FreshBooks are great for some simple needs, but not nearly as powerful. And products like Peach Tree have a lot of power, but you really need to understand the underlying accounting principles to use it. And most small-business accountants out there love the ability to just take a copy (or Accountant’s Copy) of the file, and work with it on their own, without messing up anything live. Where are you going to find that sort of functionality and presence?

So we’re pretty much stuck. Any thoughts?