Thursday, 19 October 2017 12:10

Interview: Intuit's Alex Barnett talks AI, machine learning and more in Intuit's apps

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The director of Product Management at Intuit, Alex Barnett, attended the ATSA 2017 conference this week to talk machine learning, AI, apps, acconting and plenty more.

ATSA 2017 is the Accountants' Technology Showcase Australia, and while we everyday folk might wonder what's so exciting about bean counting, it turns out there's a heck of a lot of tech out there to take the numb out of number crunching.

This includes the wonders of AI — artificial intelligence — and, of course, the buzzword of the moment, machine learning, which is already benefitting consumers globally in a variety of ways, devices, developer kits and technologies.

Barnett was in town this week to speak at the ATSA conference, and I had the opportunity to conduct an audio interview with him, which I've embedded below in this article.

Barnett is leading the Developer Relations, Product Management and Partnership Solutions teams at Intuit, focusing on driving developer success and growing Intuit's third party apps ecosystem.

We also heard from Intuit Australia recently, when it announced it "wants to help foster prospering franchises", which you can read about here

So, before we get to the interview with Barnett, let's take a look at what he told us he'd be speaking about in his session. who’s coming over from the US to speak at the ATSA conference next week.

Intuit has 100 patents pending in AI and machine learning (ML), so the company is actively taking advantage of the AI and machine learning trend, with approximately 100 patents pending related to machine learning and artificial intelligence, and more than 30 machine learning systems in its products today.

Barnett shared a few examples of how Intuit's customers are already benefitting from machine learning:

Note – the QB in the product names below naturally stands for QuickBooks, the software for which Intuit is famous.

1. QBO Auto Categorisation "solves the pain point of categorising expenses – which is important yet tedious task for small business owners, with QBO now automatically categorising transactions when they import their spending activity from their bank accounts".

2. QBSE Expense Finder "helps self-employed keep track and differentiate between personal and business expenses by proactively uncovering business expenses by gathering and scanning bank accounts and credit card transactions".

In a survey Intuit conducted of bookkeepers and accountants in Australia, 85% of accountants said "one of the biggest challenges they face is when their clients mix personal and business expenses".

Given the average customer has "2000 transactions per year, of which 500 are business transactions, having smart technology take that task off the table saves time and gives piece of mind".

3. There's also the new "QB Assistant" which is an "AI-driven voice assistant which will help our customers trouble shoot in real time. We currently have 6000 customers using QB Assistant".

Naturally, Barnett states this type of technological innovation "is crucial to our strategy globally but also here in Australia, which we know as a tech-forward market. It’s one of the reasons we’ve experienced such great growth here…In just four years, we have already hit more than 100K subscribers in Australia!"

He noted that this represented "85% growth in last 12 months", with the comapny "proud to be the fastest growing accounting provider in Australia", and sending a warning shot across Xero and MYOB's bows by stating Intuit's intent "to be #1 in the Australian market in 5 years".

Here's my audio interview with Barnett – more details from his presentation, provided to iTWire, are below.

So, what other information did Barnett share with ATSA 2017 conference attendees?

Here's the text supplied to iTWIre:

In the context of how technology is advancing overall growth globally, Intuit is "excited to celebrate having more than 2.38 million paid subscribers worldwide on QuickBooks Online."

That’s 58% year over year growth, and for these customers, we want to deliver the following three key benefits:

  1. Getting and keeping more money in their pocket
  2. Giving them more time by creating efficiencies through technology and automation
  3. Providing complete confidence – and that includes that the apps integrated into QBO - will help ensure long-term success for those small business customers.

To truly do that, Intuit wants to be "the global platform of choice for all developers serving small businesses and accountants".

That is Intuit's vision for the Developer Group. With QuickBooks Online at the heart of the platform, Intuit wants to deliver "all the apps small businesses and accountants use every day to manage their business".

And Intuit is doing that by "enabling developers to integrate seamlessly with QuickBooks Online and solve all the important problems that small businesses face – because QuickBooks can’t do all of that alone".

Intuit and apps

In a study of global small businesses, Intuit found Aussie small businesses are tech savvy – more so than their global counterparts.

  • It found that 70% are using an average of 1-6 apps, and 30% of QBO users use Intuit’s mobile app at least once a week.
  • But finding the right apps can be a challenge for them, with 41% of small businesses feeling overwhelmed by the all options available and they aren’t sure which are best apps for them and their business.
  • On top of that, the research found 66% of small businesses said they are willing to hire someone to train and educate them on the right apps for their business.
  • Naturally, Intuit sees this as a huge opportunity for accountants and bookkeepers to become advisors in this space – to be become the “app experts” and help their clients choose the right apps and then on-board the apps.
  • The number of published apps has grown five-fold in three years to more than 500 published apps overall, 225 of which are available in Australia.
  • The number of customers using apps has grown tenfold in the last three years. Thirty percent of QBO customers in Australia are connected to at least one apps.

This presents a big opportunity for accountants and bookkeepers to play an important role in making sure their clients get the most out of apps and the QBO platform. To help advise them on how to navigate apps to help create more efficiency and to evolve from computation to consultation, and in the process, guide small business clients to future success.

Intuit and other product integration

Another way Intuit is harnessing technology is to create more seamless product experiences through deep product integrations i.e. building solutions within QBO into the workflow with the apps small businesses use regularly.

Intuit is working closely with developer partners to deliver truly seamless product experiences — end-to-end within QBO — that are intuitive and easy to use. This is especially so in cases where data is automatically integrated, so they don’t have to manually enter data.

Here’s an example:

Intuit recently announced a partnership with Google, because it learned many small businesses are using both of our solutions to run their businesses i.e. G Suite with Gmail, Google Sheets and Google Calendar. Intuit found 43% of QBO users have Google domains.

It meant these customers were likely to be entering data twice across products manually resulting in more time spent getting the right data in and increasing the chance of error.

So together, they built Bill My Time From Google Calendar "which allows SMBs to schedule client work and appointments with Google Calendar, and which makes these billable appointments available in QuickBooks for invoicing and managing finances".

"So Intuit has integrated Google calendar within QBO and also worked with Google to integrate QBO into Gmail so Gmail users can send a QBO invoice directly right from Gmail."

This was just an excerpt of Alex Barnett's presentation to the ATSA 2017 conference this week, and it certainly shows plenty of life in the accounting industry as it takes advantage of the latest technologies and disruptions – just like every other business out there today.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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