'We believe in customer-driven innovation'

Intuit is a 30 year old company with 7,900 employees and a revenue of $4.7 billion. Best known for QuickBooks financial management software for small businesses, it is one of the few software companies to have survived, as it evolves with customer expectations. It has done this by creating a culture of customer driven innovation and employee entrepreneurship. BW CIO met Atticus Tysen, SVP and CIO, Intuit on the side lines of the Nasscom India Leadership Forum last month, in Mumbai. Tysen spoke about the company’s two core competencies: Customer driven innovation & Design for delight.

Photo Credit : Brian Pereira,

Atticus Tysen, SVP and CIO, Intuit

Q. Can you tell us about your Design for Delight philosophy and how does it help in developing products that are more specific to customer needs?

Design for Delight is our internal name and we developed it over the years. There are three pillars:

1.       Deep customer empathy
2.       Go Broad to Go Narrow
3.       Rapid experiments with customers

Deep Customer Empathy: We collect data on how customers are using all our products, like what features they use and don't use, and if they are having any problems using our products. We understand the problems they are trying to solve and what they need.

Go Broad to Go Narrow: This is the second pillar where we host brainstorming sessions, conduct design sessions, we come together and come up with a bunch of ideas to solve a problem. Our founder Scott Cook encourages us to go as broad as we can for as long as we can -- and then we go uncomfortable narrow and try to pick the one or two things, and do rapid prototyping on those things. We do sketches and simple things. Once we do that, we go broad again, and then narrow.  

Rapid experiments with customers: It is about the team using data and customer insights to guide your decisions, as opposed to the highest paid person on the rolls trying to tell you the answer. It's really about the team discovering the right solution for the customer.

A video explaining this is available here: http://www.intuitlabs.com/about/

Q. Technology is continuously evolving. How do you keep up with developments and modernize your products on a continuous basis?

Our CTO, Tayloe Stansbury has worked out (a schedule) where every product team puts in 20 percent of its resources towards staying current with technology. So we have a motto that you always have to be investing to stay current with your technology, while you are also doing new things. Many companies invest in new technology all the time, and they end up with a tech stack. This is one of the things we guard against.

We had separate products that were monoliths as older architecture. We turned those monolithic products into services, and had those services exposed on the developer portal, so that everyone could use those. One example is, we had four different Tax products and we consolidated it into one.

Q. Large companies find it extremely difficult to transform. What should they be doing to accelerate their transformation journeys? Intuit has come a long way and has transformed itself from a products only company (software on floppy disk) to one offering services off the cloud. Can you share experiences?

The biggest hindrances to this kind of change can sometimes be success. The advantage we have had as a company is serving our customers. The other advantage is that we have a culture of life-long learning.

We are always looking outside the company for inspiration, and where we need to change. When you are a larger company you can look internally.

The other thing that has happened is that we have the luxury of worthy competitors, which keeps us on our toes.

We believe that bad news should travel fast, so that we learn from it. We have a culture where people are encouraged to speak about a problem, and they band together to solve it.

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