Intuit Looks Toward A Lightweight Future - InformationWeek

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Intuit Looks Toward A Lightweight Future

CTO Kris Halvorsen is stocking the tax and finance software company with more engineers to help build fresher online and mobile applications.

Tax preparation and financial software maker Intuit is gearing up for the next phase of its product offerings -- one that may include lightweight widget-like applications.

According to company chief technology officer, Kris Halvorsen, the goal for the short term involves making the company's software more ubiquitous and more convenient for users.

"Technology has moved so rapidly in the last few years. You have to keep your eye on integrating new solutions," Halvorsen tells InformationWeek.

To do that, Halvorsen says he'll go on a hiring spree this year to find engineers who can develop rich online applications to augment the company's marquee products: QuickBooks, Quicken, and TurboTax for small businesses and home users; ProSeries and Lacerte for accountants and tax preparers. Halvorsen says he is motivated by the company's partnership last year with Google. The collaboration means the search giant's AdWords campaign management and other Google-related features are directly integrated into the workflow of QuickBooks.

"Hybrid solutions give you the benefit of the desktop and online connectivity. We are using more and more of these design paradigms that move us into that realm," he says.

Intuit has seen a couple of sea changes in its business model since it was founded back in 1983. Once only available on small floppy disks, the company has managed to change with the times. Today, you're more than likely to find Intuit's products bundled with your favorite operating system. However, the company still has a robust shrink-wrapped business model as well as an online component that syncs with your desktop application.

The company's technology future now lies in the hands of Halvorsen, who has served as acting CTO since September. The company announced his full-time assignment last Wednesday.

At 55, the former professor and researcher with Xerox PARC and HP Labs says he is focused on five pillars to place the company on -- collaboration, user contribution, mobility, data as an advantage, and new interaction technologies.

Collaboration is already a core feature in products such as Intuit's Turbo Tax Personal Pro. The software integrates an instant messaging client that may include video conferencing as an interactive product between a customer and a tax specialist online.

Mobility centers on the various form factors in which customers can either submit or monitor their business activities. "You can file your taxes in Norway using a GSM phone with SMS [Short Message Service], but their tax forms are a lot easier than ours here in the U.S.," Halvorsen quips.

User contributions are coming in the form of online support groups. The company's JumpUp Business Search -- formerly JackRabbit -- is a social networking site that taps into the directory of Google Custom Search Engines and is used by small to medium-sized businesses, tax filers, and tax preparers.

Intuit also is tapping into other Web 2.0 technologies. The company's TaxAlmanac is modeled after Wikipedia and is subjected to a strict peer review of tax professionals.

As for the future, Halvorsen says the company is focused on simple software for people to use in conducting their day-to-day personal financial life. "One that is very ubiquitous," he says.

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