As I’ve been predicting for a while, Microsoft and Intuit have joined forces around Quickbooks and Azure: Microsoft and Intuit announced that Intuit would name Microsoft’s Windows Azure as the preferred platform for cloud app development on its Intuit Partner Platform. This is an eminently logical partnership. MSDN developers, are a critical channel for reaching the small business with applications, Azure is evolving to be well-suited to that community, and Intuit’s Quickbooks is a key anchor application for the small business. Think of this partnership as the equivalent of Force.com for the small business; arguably, Quickbooks is an even more compelling anchor application for a PaaS ecosystem than CRM is.
A lot of non-IT companies are thinking about cloud strategies these days. I get a great deal of inquiry from companies seeking to target the small business with cloud offerings, and the question that I keep having to ask is, “What natural value does your existing business bring when extended to the cloud?” An astounding number of strategy people at miscellaneous companies seem to believe that they ought to be cloud IaaS providers, or resellers of other people’s SaaS solutions for small businesses — without being natural places for small businesses to turn for either infrastructure or software.
Whatever your business is, if you want to create a cloud ecosystem, you need an anchor service. Take something that you do today, and leverage cloud precepts. Consider doing something like creating a data service around it, opening up an API, and the like. (Gartner clients: My colleague Eric Knipp has written a useful research note on this topic entitled Open RESTful APIs are Big Business.) Use that as the centerpiece for an ecosystem of related services from partners, and the community of users.