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Best of breed add-ons
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Best of breed add-ons

How Add-ons Operate in Packs

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Nov 6th 2015
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Between appearances from Oprah Winfrey, Jessica Alba, and QuickBooks Online Trial Balance at QuickBooks Connect in San Jose, California, this week, Intuit unveiled Australian reporting tool Fathom as the latest Key App Partner for its online accounting system.

The Key App Partner program represents a kind of hall of fame for add-on developers in which Fathom joins Bill.com, T-Sheets, and Receipt Bank; each of which has been unveiled at trade shows during the past year. As part of the package, the key app developers are persuaded to offer their tools at favorable rates or with other incentives for QuickBooks Online ProAdvisors, including a free licence for life and discounts for clients.

Fathom is designed to present graphical management reports and interactive dashboards to illustrate the underlying financials, cash flows, and forecasts in ways that stimulate new insights and uncover underlying trends. Fathom works seamlessly with QuickBooks, but as well as being Intuit's preferred reporting tool, it also works with the rival Xero cloud accounting engine. The company claims it is currently used by 10,000 businesses around the world.

All of the Key App Partners are “thrilled with the progress they've made,” said Jim McGinnis, leader of Intuit's Accountant and Advisor Group. But the point of the program is also about benefiting ProAdvisors and their clients, he explained.

At the moment, the Apps.com online marketplace is filtered along pretty broad industry categories and it can take months for an  advisor to identify and assess the right add-ons for specific clients. According to McGinnis, Intuit's objective is to accelerate that process and to collect together bundles of apps for very specific customer scenarios â€“ for example, right down to an appropriate suite for barbershops.

“It gets onerous to spend your subscription money in dribs and drabs. We want to put together packages of apps in lower-price bundles to which the accountant can add value,” he said.

Intuit is also working on the prototype of an in-product discovery tool that will offer QuickBooks Online Accountant users suggestions based on the client's accounting data and business profile, McGinnis said.

Xero CEO Rod Drury indicated in June that his company, too, was keen to bring together recommended combinations of add-ons for specific scenarios.

At QuickBooks Connect, three of the Intuit Key App Partners â€“ Bill.com, T-Sheets, and Receipt Bank â€“ took part in a panel that delved more deeply into this trend.

Bill.com founder René Lacerte commented: “Best-of-breed apps are starting to show through as accountants look at the business and its needs and then match the right accounting software for that need.”

In some professional services sectors, for example, Bill.com, T-Sheets, and Receipt Bank are being deployed effectively as a suite, explained Receipt Bank North American Vice President Damien Greathead. “We're doing the heavy lifting. The data flows in while we sleep. We just have to get it over to the GL.” Using these cloud tools, firms were increasing their bookkeeper-to-client ratios from 1:15 to as high as 1:50, he said.

Lacerte expanded the scenario to include virtual CFO services. “The opportunity for us is to be your back office. Put four tools together and tell clients, ‘Pay $2,000 a year and we'll take care of it,'” he said. “That's something they might be paying two people $50,000 to $70,000 to manage. Once you've automated the processes, that's no longer your focus, It's how quickly you can sell and scale the service.”

Apps are bringing these capabilities to a much wider group of companies and democratising software functionality. Or, as Lacerte put it, “We're bringing power to the people.”

One test of the pack effect would be to study how many users are shared by the three developers in the manner described by Lacerte. “I bet we have got thousands of common sites especially with Bill.com, but not so much as a result of the QuickBooks app partner program,” said T-Sheets CEO Matt Rissell. â€œIt's evolved as each of the apps emerged as the best of breed in its field.”

The phrase “best of breed” conjures up memories of the 1990s enterprise resource planning boom, when specialist developers had to compete with industry giants offering monolithic suites that did everything. But plucky Canadian payroll developer Wagepoint is bucking the best-of-breed trend and working on extending its program to include a full set of HR capabilities.

Alerting AccountingWEB to the return of the best-of-breed versus suite debate, Wagepoint CEO Shrad Rao told AccountingWEB, “Everything goes round in cycles.”

Editor's note: John's coverage of this portion of the QuickBooks Connect event brings up a very good point in the accounting space, that some tech does indeed go in cycles (if you've been around long enough to see them). These days, much of the work you do and even in your daily lives is all about apps and it has even been said that the accountant/client relationship is evolving much like doctor/patient, in that rather than prescribing  medication or therapy to deal with a problem, accountants will be prescribing apps. As ever, we'd love to hear your thoughts on the issue.

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