December 16, 2010

Intuit tries open innovation via crowdsourcing

On Wednesday, Intuit announced a new crowdsourcing initiative it calls “Intuit Collaboratory.” (For non-US readers, Intuit of Mountain View, Calif. is the primary maker of personal finance and small business accounting software here, and also one of the major vendors of personal tax software.)

The initial emphasis of the collaboratory is a crowdsourcing initiative with a $10k maximum prize. The two initial challenges focus on paperless accounting records and receipts. The effort is being led by Jan Bosch, who has been with Intuit since 2007 but was recently appointed vice president of open innovation (so recently, his LinkedIn profile hasn’t been updated.)

In general, the approach is similar to that of other organizations using innovation contests to obtain external innovations, including P&G, NASA, or Netflix. The initial problems and the prize money suggest that this is more of a trial ballon for Intuit — as opposed to Netflix which paid $1 million to improve its core business.

Still, Intuit’s initiative implies that other Silicon Valley firms will also be following suit. With its Intuit Developer Network, Intuit had followed a more conventional platform-based ecosystem model — attracting third party developers first with its SDK and more recently with add-ons to its Software-as-a-Service. (Apparently if you let others extend your SaaS, according to the latest buzzwords it becomes PaaS: Platform as a Service).

The press release emphasizes Intuit’s interest in collaboration, open innovation, and crowdsourcing solutions to specific challenges. (As I’ve predicted in the past, they’re cutting out intermediaries and creating their own market from scratch.)

I’m not quite sure if the new open innovation interest is meant to complement or eventually replace the platform approach. Again, this is an issue of broader interest across Silicon Valley, and thus one I’ll update in the future as I have more information.

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