QuickBooks Online Banking – Interview and Updates

| March 17, 2009

OK, I hope that this is my last blog posting specifically on the QuickBooks Online Banking feature for awhile.  Two items today – a discussion with Greg Wright of Intuit on how they are dealing with the problems of this feature, and a preview of some of the changes coming out in the next update.

In my February posting How to deal with QuickBooks Online Banking I mentioned that I was trying to get an interview with someone at Intuit. Not long after that post I was put in touch with Greg Wright, the Director of Product Management for QuickBooks. We talked about the problems with the new Online Banking feature released in the 2009 version of QuickBooks, and I’ll summarize our discussion here. This is a mixture of my opinion and Greg’s comments.

SPECIAL NOTE – on March 23 Intuit released the R7 version of QuickBooks – see this article on the changes that affect Online Banking: http://qbblog.ccrsoftware.info/2009/03/quickbooks-2009-release-r7/

There Will Always Be Changes…

Intuit strives to improve QuickBooks by both adding new functionality and enhancing existing features. Sometimes these changes resolve business problems or expand the usefulness of QuickBooks (such as the addition of multiple currency support), but on occasion these changes can be very controversial. In the 2009 release Intuit overhauled the online banking feature, and this created a huge outcry in the QuickBooks community.

Interview with Greg Wright

Greg Wright is a part of the team that makes decisions on the future development of QuickBooks. In a telephone interview I asked Greg several questions. I’m summarizing his responses here. We did not talk about specific product features or technical problems, instead we focused on the overall problem from a management standpoint. I’ll note that in my experience it is very rare to have this kind of open discussion with anyone from Intuit.

  • People have commented that this appears to be a very different user interface than what they are used to. Is this new feature an indication of what we will see in future additions? Greg commented that QuickBooks is a 20 year old product, with a mixture of UI (user interface) features. Newer functions will sometimes vary from what we have seen before – but the online banking feature is not necessarily an indication of how things are going to change. In the initial release some UI features were left out (tabbing to fields, hotkeys and so forth) but the UI of this feature will be brought into line with other QB functions.
  • There was a lot of talk in the forums about the “beta test” of the product. Several people have noted that they were beta testers, and that they noted the problems with the online banking feature. Why were the beta tests ignored? For Intuit, the “beta” test is the final stage, where they hope to get people to use what should be the finished product in an actual production environment. Traditionally this comes very late in the development cycle at Intuit. Before this stage there is a lot of “customer engagement” (Greg’s phrase) in the development process, but this does not put actual functioning software in user’s hands outside of the “lab” until this last field test phase. Greg stated that it is his intention to change the field testing process for future major releases. He wants to move the product out of the “lab” and get input from users much earlier in the cycle, if possible.
  • Why not roll back the feature to 2008? Greg said that the decision to not roll back to the prior version of this feature was considered very seriously. However, it is a complicated situation. You can’t just flip the switch to put the old code back, particularly when you consider that other major and wide ranging changes were implemented at the same time (such as multiple currencies). It would have taken considerable effort to “roll back” the feature, and, if they did, they would have lost some features that they believe are significant additions – such as managing renaming rules. People liked some of the new features – by moving forward to fix the new program they felt that they could not only get the corrections out more quickly, they would also preserve the new features.
  • Why not sell the 2008 product as a stop-gap product? Again, you would be losing features such as the Company Snapshot, multiple currencies and more. Greg stated that Intuit is not in the business of selling multiple versions, and there would be significant supply chain issues that would be very difficult to overcome. Again, Greg pointed out Intuit’s commitment to fixing the problems and moving forward.
  • What about the sunset of QB 2006 in May (tentatively), which would force some users to upgrade to a version that they don’t want to use? Greg feels that the major problems with the program will be fixed before that time comes, particularly with the upcoming March release.

In a subsequent comment Greg said that he wants everyone to know that he “owns” the issue and is  focused on fixing the issue. He is not making excuses – Intuit holds themselves to a very high standard for their customers and he does not believe that they are meeting that right now (with regards to this issue), but they are working hard to get there.

The March “R7” Release

Later in March there will be another release, R7, that will address a number of the problems that people have complained about. Intuit posted a You Tube video  that highlights some of the changes. Greg had said that he believes that this will go a long way towards solving problems, but that this is not the last step – more will be coming.

My Thoughts On This

It is clear that Intuit has to change their product testing procedures. When they make a major change they need to run it by actual users in the field much earlier in the process. Currently they do early testing in “lab” situations, controlled environments. The field (beta) testing comes too close to the targeted release date. Greg Wright states that this will change – we’ll see if that happens.

This is not an isolated case where Intuit has had failures in rolling out product updates – I can point out problems with their developer’s toolkit, the Intuit Community forum, and other products. Their approach to testing and releasing products is broken and fails to protect their users. It needs to change on a company-wide basis.

I understand and agree with their decision to move forward with this updated feature rather than going back to the prior version. Many people are not happy with that and won’t agree with my opinion. However, features like this are not little plug-in modules that can easily be swapped in and out, and this year they made a number of other very significant changes. It would most likely have taken just as long to fix the problem by rolling things back as it has to move forward as they are doing. Also, while people are not happy about the time that it is taking for them to fix it, I think that it is wise to not rush out quick fixes that could just make matters worse. They are taking time to get the fixes out – people are impatient, but it is better to have them actually fix the problems rather than push out buggy patches.

I’m not sure that I agree with all of the marketing decisions that were made in relation to how this was handled. I work in a different kind of software environment – smaller companies, smaller products, and I don’t run a publicly traded company – and there are different rules there.

The good news is that Intuit has recognized that there is a problem and is working on resolving it, both with this feature and hopefully for the entire product line in the future. Intuit will hopefully change their testing procedures to avoid this happening again, and Intuit seems to realize that they need to engage their users publicly to keep them informed as to what is going on.

Tags: ,

Category: Program Updates, QuickBooks 2009

About the Author (Author Profile)

Charlie Russell is the founder of CCRSoftware. He’s been involved with the small business software industry since the mid 70’s, focusing on inventory and accounting software for small businesses. Charlie is a Certified Advanced QuickBooks ProAdvisor. Look for Charlie’s articles in the Accountex Report blog, as well as his California Wildflower Hikes blog.

Comments (16)

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  1. Charlie says:

    An addendum: Intuit just announced to the ProAdvisors that the tentative release date for R7 is March 23 for manual updates (automatic updates would follow on March 26). Again, these are tentative dates.

  2. Rustler says:

    Interesting discussion you had, I can understand his reluctance to roll back the code too. I don’t use it so it really makes no difference to me.

    I wish I could get to talk him and ask about the known bugs in Quickbooks, and why they weren’t being fixed. That would be entertaining if nothing else.

    Nice write up.
    Jim

  3. Fretley says:

    It would be interesting if Intuit polled their product users in some way – via forum would seem logical to get their opinion on users testing new releases, etc. Many software companies do this and I believe it’s extremely beneficial for obvious QA purposes. They should take a look at Fishbowl forum sites. Much more interaction and feedback on their forum sites than Intuit. I realize that these are probably paid positions but Intuit really should think about the users more than they do,especially considering this latest update.

    Thanks for your posts!
    Fretley

  4. Jo King says:

    Hi Charlie,

    I don’t really know who you are but I am so impressed with the articles I receive.

    I was one of the first guinea pigs for the Advanced Certification test when it wasn’t even passable. We worked with several of the individuals who were in charge of the test and they did change the test. Still not that great in my opinion but I passed it so at least this one is passable.

    It is so kind of you to offer these very informative QuickBooks articles. I thank you for all your time and effort that goes into this site.

    Jo King

  5. William Delpino says:

    Charlie, I commend you on your efforts to keep us informed and in a small way, hold Intuit accountable. Unfortunately I can’t believe a word Greg Wright says until he shows us some proof. There’s something very wrong in a company’s culture when they can release such a disastrous “upgrade” and still continue to call it an improvement. Forget “Labs” and “Procedures” and “Beta-testers”. What happened to common sense? Anyone who ever used online banking before immediately knew the new version was a disaster the first time they tried it. How could Intuit not know? Please… It’s the arrogance of knowing they have a lock on the market and don’t care what we think or how it affects us as long as they push out their yearly “upgrade” on time. Intuit’s obviously not the only big corporation cheating. God knows we have a lot.
    Charlie, please don’t condone this by portraying Greg as a poor guy who just got stuck with a bad situation. Greg’s feeding us the “party line” while they clean up the mess. I don’t doubt he’s honest in his efforts to fix the problems now, but he’s guilty for letting his company do this in the first place.
    He reminds me of that saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, cheat, repeat until caught, then lie!”

    • Charlie says:

      William: The best I can say at this time is, we’ll see if things change. I’ve been unhappy with their field testing policies for years, although this was the first year that I’ve actually been included as a beta tester. And during the beta test, I had serious reservations about their process. It clearly has to change. If it doesn’t, things won’t get better.

      They seem to be “cleaning up the mess”, we’ll see if they clean it up well enough. I’ve talked to one person who has seen the upcoming release, and that person feels that it will go a long way towards fixing the problem (not completely, but significantly better). I’ve not see the upcoming release so I can’t comment much about it.

      I do tend to be an optimist. I do expect that they will change their procedures. I hope that they will make significant enough changes to actually prevent this kind of thing from happening again. I will also note that I’ve seen a number of changes on a corporate-wide level in the past several months that are encouraging – they are more open to discussing problems and to engaging in conversations than they ever have been in the past (in my experience), so that is a good sign.

      But it only benefits us if they really do make substantial changes. If they don’t, we’ll all scream, and/or move on to some other product.

  6. William Delpino says:

    Well Charlie, R7 is out now and although you haven’t tried it as you mentioned in the forum, I’m sure you’ve read the other comments.
    Not much changed from what I can see. You can now open other windows while running the OLB module and it did seem a bit quicker, but that’s about it. All the other problems are pretty much still there.
    I know you want to believe, but it’s just not happening. What’s going on is beyond amateur, beyond ineptitude. It’s like they’re paralyzed.
    What blows the mind is that they seem completely unable to implement simple functionality features to something they’re desperately trying to defend.
    They failed at the initial implementation and they continue to fail miserably in it’s defense by promising and not delivering the necessary results.

    • Charlie says:

      William, in my article on the R7 release I have a link to a PDF from Kathy Ivens. Have you had a chance to look at that? Kathy has a number of articles about the online banking feature. In her evaluation she believes, as I understand it, that the R7 release helps improve things by quite a bit. I’ll defer to her, she is the online banking expert. It isn’t a feature that I use myself.

      I look at this from two different standpoints: Online Banking and Future Development. The whole New Online Banking feature is a disaster from beginning to end. Poorly designed, poorly implemented. If I were using online banking extensively for my own company, I’d most likely be using a third party product to handle that chore. However, my real interest and concern with this is Future Development. I am hoping that they not only learn from this experience, I hope that they implement actual changes so that this never happens again. For me personally, that is a far more important issue (again, as online banking is not a core feature for my business, so the impact of that feature on me is very small).

      That is a self centered view, I know. However, from things that I’m seeing as a third-party addon developer, Intuit has some big changes that they are playing with that could affect lots of things down the line, and it is important that this kind of debacle doesn’t happen again.

  7. laurie says:

    Charlie,

    Kathy Ivens’ evaluation seems to be at huge odds with the discussion going on the Intuit Community forum. (See http://community.intuit.com/post/detail/cjBihctECqllvkab8P4pmk?page=6 for a peek into the hundreds of messages in this thread.) People there are irate. Some are beyond irate. These users had a feature (the online banking interfact) that worked just fine in a product they liked (QB2008), and now they are extremely frustrated and seem to have no recourse and no reasonable response from anyone at Intuit.

    I, for one, and seriously considering my options, because I don’t know if I’ll ever trust Intuit again.

    -laurie

    • Charlie says:

      Laurie, there are many ways to look at the issue. Those of us who are ProAdvisors, who have clients using the product, have to find a way to help our clients. Kathy’s description shows how you can make it work. And she has been very clear that feature was broken. If you have to use the new online banking feature, Kathy’s article is a good description of what you have to do to use it properly.

      Some of the users in the Intuit Community aren’t interested in trying the new approach, they just want the old approach back. I can’t say that I blame them. No matter how much the new feature is changed, no matter if it ends up being better than the old approach (I’m not saying it is there now), they won’t be satisfied.

      Intuit representatives have been pretty clear – their approach is going to be to fix what they have now, and to not go back to the older method. I’m not sure what you think a “reasonable response” is, but if you are set on wanting the old version, I’d say that you will probably be disappointed (at least based on what I’m seeing from Intuit). And I don’t see them offering rebates, refunds or methods of converting data back to the older product, which others think would be a “reasonable response”. If a “reasonable response” to you is that they are committed to fixing the problem and coming up with a workable program feature, then I’d say that you’ll probably get that.

      This is all just opinion. I am not a big user of the online banking feature, and few of my clients actually use it. I can’t say that I have a typical client base or not. For those of my clients who rely on online banking heavily, most of them (who are using the 2009 product) are now using a third party solution.

      Thanks for your comment…

  8. Kathy Ivens says:

    My article isn’t at odds with the general opinion, and I’ve been unwaveringly critical of the changes in online banking. What disturbs me is that, except for accountants, nobody is pointing out that the biggest problem isn’t the confusing new interface, it’s that if you used online banking before R7, you faced a serious risk of ending up with bad accounting figures (see my earlier articles on the subject on the Troubleshooting QuickBooks section of the cpa911 website). My article on R7 says that now that Intuit finally figured out how to unlock the program so you can get to menu items, you can use online banking (it was totally and absolutely unusable before they took that step). My article also advises you to ignore all the transaction entry screens available in the Online Banking window and use the regular QB transaction windows to add transactions. In other words, I believe that the new interface and its transaction functions are not just slow, annoying, and badly designed; they are also dangerous to the accuracy of your accounting records. For those who upgraded and found it difficult to roll back to their previous version of QB, at least R7 provides a way to manage Online Banking accurately.

  9. Peter Smith says:

    I am a long time user of QuickBooks, and have employed it for my company’s accounting records since 1992. I have read this thread and others with interest, because I am convinced that QuickBooks 2009 is by far the worst version of QuickBooks ever released, and agree with Kathy Ivens that it is potentially dangerous to accounting accuracy.

    For what it is worth, I have taught accounting at the graduate level in two universities, and can be considered at least highly proficient, if not expert, on Vista and most common business software. Talking to the people at Intuit’s Help Desks about any technical problems is like doing a litigation deposition in a foreign language. They are literally there NOT to help, but to make you think you simply don’t know how to use the program, or to encourage you to wait for the next fix. R7, the latest version of kick the can down the road, DOES NOT fix the problems.

    Monopolists or market dominators are not evil people, but their myopia can make even the most loyal customers dizzy with frustration. I can’t stand QB2009, and feel stupid for buying it, but will now wait until QB2011 before upgrading, and in the meantime, look for a substitute.

  10. LeRoy says:

    Software companies with a cash cow often suffer from hubris and Intuit is no exception. Like many other users I’ve seen Quickbooks evolve over many years to its apex and am watching it now decline. Their inability to listen to their customer base will be their own undoing. Hopefully the market will provide a suitable alternative. If a responsive vendor provides a way to transfer accounting data out of Quickbooks into a less bloated application they could garner a huge market share. We need to encourage these alternatives with our dollars. That is the only thing those arrogant SOBs at Intuit will really understand.

  11. Diane Offutt says:

    R7 has not fixed the online banking unrecognized characters issue. It is unacceptable to me that 2009 is such a mess. I have been a QB ProAdvisor since 2003 and I have always upgraded my company file. I absolutely refuse to update from 08 to 09. Yet my 06 clients had no choice and now they are having problems.

    If Intuit does not fix this problem soon they will lose so much business. I can see clients moving to Peachtree over this issue.

  12. I switched to Peachtree