Head of Insight AccountingWEB UK
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In search of accounting add-ons
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In search of accounting add-ons
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The Great App Hunt Starts Here

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May 21st 2015
Head of Insight AccountingWEB UK
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The trade shows running through the spring and early summer give AccountingWEB an opportunity to catch up with some old friends. But what we're really interested in this year are the new kids on the block, most of whom will be touting add-on apps that run in tandem with QuickBooks Online (QBO), Xero – or both.

Mark Gilbert, who claims his firm, Mark's Bookkeeping Services, is the biggest independent bookkeeper in New York, came to the New York Accounting Technology Show & Conference in late April with the same agenda. He is big into Xero and add-on apps: “I look everywhere for apps,” he said, but was a little disappointed with what he found at the show.

The most prominent add-on exhibitor at that event was Expensify, the expenses reporting tool that integrates with QBO, Xero, and several other cloud systems. Damien Greathead, the US chief of Expensify's big rival, Receipt Bank, also circulated around the room talking to all comers about Receipt Bank's excursion into practice management with the new Practice Platform suite.

To be more accurate, Practice Platform isn't an app, Greathead explained, but a collection of apps that address the friction points in running a bookkeeping operation. In its embryonic form, the Practice Platform includes a bookkeeping dashboard displaying the volume of work outstanding for each client; a client tasks rating system that ranks them according to urgency; and a client efficiency measurement, showing how well they are performing the bookkeeping process. Another report within the tool will report on both Receipt Bank and Xero data to signal when transactions are reconciled and when supporting documents needed to complete the books are uploaded.

Receipt Bank's ambitious plan is to pre-package a lot of key management tools into a ready-made package for accountants and bookkeeping managers. It's a model that appeals to Mark Gilbert.

“Apps do give you as much as 80 percent of the functionality of desktop tools, but are more nimble. As the technology changes, they keep taking advantage of new features as they appear,” Gilbert said.

He also endorsed a comment that is regularly mentioned on conference podiums and exhibition stands: "Apps are cutting down my workload. By saving me time, they're helping me move away from hourly rates to spend more time as a trusted advisor.”

This is how Erik Asgeirsson, CEO of CPA.com, put it: “If you're building out unique cloud solutions to deliver your outsourced client services, the opportunity is bright. You don't want to compete against the $20- to $25-an-hour bookkeepers. The software is getting better and better, so you need to think about leveraging the software to improve your practice.”

Listening to Asgeirsson was Edwin Monteiro, from Axis CPA Group in Waterbury, Connecticut. As someone who did a combined accountancy/computer science degree, he is in the first wave of cloud adopters. While the firm is still young, Monteiro is traveling down the same road as Mark's Bookkeeping Services by relying on Xero, Workflow Manager, and Receipt Bank. Post-busy season, he is testing Hubdoc for capturing tax data and is on the lookout for an app that will help him allocate staff resources to client jobs ahead of next year's workload peak.

The traditional way to rate cloud accounting engines is to ask how many users the system has. After nearly 15 years in the market, QBO is way out in the lead with somewhere north of 840,000 users, of whom more than half a million are located in North America. Next up is Xero with 370,000-plus worldwide – but with less than 10 percent of those based in the United States.

These figures were provided by Dutch developer Exact, which claims to be global No. 3, with 185,000 users.

According to Exact CEO Erik van der Meijden, one of the key requirements for any global cloud accounting application is to have a big ecosystem of associated third-party software developers to broaden its reach.

The number of cloud users will always be a matter for debate, but here's an alternative way to compare cloud ledger systems: How many add-ons do they support? Here's what we found on a quick tour of the app marketplaces:

The revamped QuickBooks Apps.com marketplace includes 190-plus add-ons that connect to QBO.

Xero, meanwhile, claims to have 380-plus add-ons in its worldwide stable. The last time AccountingWEB counted, more than 300 were listed on its US add-on marketplace.

Like Intuit, Sage has a legion of third-party programs to support its desktop accounting tools, of which 40 are now available for Sage One on its UK add-on page, but this looks to be one of the areas where Sage has not yet exported this facility to North America.

Exact, meanwhile, connects to a portfolio of around 250.

As a challenge to the growing fixation with accounting apps, van der Meijden challenged the app-counting metric in conversation with AccountingWEB.

“The basis of our portfolio is different,” said van der Meijden. “If you're a small business, you don't want to take 10 apps and glue them together. We have a solution for wholesale companies that can be complemented with one to two apps to make it really effective for that business.

“Other systems focusing on accounting have got to complement it with seven to eight apps to cater for that business," he added. "As an entrepreneur, you want to use software that's tailor-made for your business that you can use seamlessly out of the cloud.”

Are you planning to conduct your own great app hunt this summer? AccountingWEB.com will be hitting the road to Denver for Xerocon (2-4 June), then New Orleans for Scaling New Heights (21-24 June) and back to New Orleans again for the Sage Summit (27-30 July). Let us know if you're going to these or any other events, and if you discover any interesting new cloud accounting apps on your travels.

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