By Srinath Srinivasan
CRM companies that are cloud-first today are naturally venturing into book keeping and accounting automation. But a company such as Intuit, which did not start as a CRM company, is making big leaps in terms of product development, AI and online services. What’s noteworthy is the role of Indian engineers in the development of the products and services. This has been possible through a number of initiatives that the company has taken. “Intuit India is a true microcosm of global Intuit. We develop tech and products for the world,” says Sanket Atal, managing director, Intuit India.
Giving an insight into one of the integral parts of product development, Atal describes the process of making these ventures as a learning that has been developed since the time of DOS operating system, spanning over nearly 40 years. “While the methodologies we follow aren’t new to the industry, it has not been in use for the most part. We call them FMH (follow me home), CDI (customer-driven innovation), D4D (design for delight),” says Atal. What the methodologies entail is having Intuit experts working closely with the customer base where use cases actually get generated. “This is the better approach. If we ask the customers, they may tell us only what they find challenging. But when we plant ourselves among them, we will come across larger problems that would be the root cause of all the smaller problems that they face,” he explains.
The use of cloud technology has helped businesses scale and democratise AI. For Intuit, this phase is implemented through an AI platform which helps in running machine learning models. “We also have something called the Knowledge Engine,” says Atal. “This has the capability to take a look at the rules expressed in language and convert it into something that the machine understands,” he adds.
For instance, Turbotax, an offering from Intuit to manage and file taxes, uses this engine. The product is supposed to follow the rules laid out by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the USA. “The tax code in the US is 80,000 pages long. Tax code gets revised every year on a particular date and we have to immediately launch the latest version for tax filers to use. To encode these many pages, we will require an army of engineers. Knowledge Engine takes this and converts to machine understandable form. Today, it doesn’t stop here, the engine generates its own code based on what it takes in,” says Atal. This also takes the form of a knowledge graph inside the product. With these graphs, Intuit is able to update newer versions of the product with new business logic, based on the ever changing customer financial data.
The onset of Covid-19 pandemic has given a new set of problems to solve for the US market, from India. “We rolled out the Intuit Aid Assist which is a free estimator that helps small businesses in the USA to get government relief as well as estimate the portion of PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan forgiveness, and estimate the amount they may be able to get from new tax credits like Employee Retention Credit (ERC) and paid leave,” says Atal.
Similarly, the QuickBooks team created an easy way for small business owners, self-employed individuals, and other eligible applicants to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan. The program is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which offers government-backed loans to help pay employees and cover certain operating expenses.
The Intuit ecosystem allows for developers and smaller companies to create features for the Intuit products. While this is not a completely open source system, Intuit believes that it will help create opportunity for developers to create meaningful products.
As far as the startup ecosystem in India is concerned, Intuit has been working with nearly 2,500 tech startups through its Intuit Circles community over the last one year. These are the ones found mostly via FMH sessions, and these startups have been using Intuit’s products. The Intuit Circles also has chartered accountants, whom Intuit considers as influencers. Incubators, accelerators, VCs and co-working spaces are the other routes via which Intuit connects with startups. With the pandemic at its peak, Intuit has taken IntuitCircles online to a portal for the startups to converse, connect, access content and collaborate.
“Recently we had a 4-week coding experience called Project Ingage that united coders who want to work together on their own ideas and projects a few hours a week.
All in all, we had 7 independent and collaborative projects out of India,” says Atal. All these help in the larger goal of product development and increasing the value that the end user receives. “India is a value driven market. For us, the main focus today is to maximise and showcase the values we bring to the market. We are driven by how we can improve our product portfolio,” he summarises.