Throughout 2015 cloud accounting software suppliers continued to dazzle us with the delivery a plethora of new features and functions. We saw both new modules being delivered and the enhancement and extension of existing functionality. Some releases helped close the gap between one product and its competitors and others gave a product a competitive advantage over its rivals.
Interestingly a review of what was delivered by the different vendors identified several common features highlighting the importance of mobile apps and providing continuous improvement especially with regards to automation of non-value add and business-sensitive activities. Features that I found across several products included:
- Refinement of the functionality associated with bank feed data.
- Delivery of mobile apps.
- Options to facilitate customer payment of invoices.
- Capturing of on-billable time and/or expenses.
In a world of continuous updates it can sometimes be difficult to focus on the bigger picture, to understand both how individual products continue to innovate and how each compares to competitors. In this review I have identified by software product (in alphabetical order), the major new features and functions released in 2015. Subsequently I will both do a comparison and give an indication of what we may expect in 2016.
Hot on the heels of its successful ASX listing, MYOB has seriously delivered with MYOB Essentials in 2015. The product has always been lightweight in functionality when compared with Xero and QBO so this year has seen some solid investment in missing functionality including:
- ABA files for employee payroll payments
- SuperStream compliance in time for the July 1st deadline
- Customer online invoice tracking – send an online version and track when the customer opens it.
- Updated bank feed matching enabling faster allocation and better matching including matching partial payments – this was delivered over several months.
- Pay Direct, the mobile solution for customer invoicing
QuickBooks Online (QBO)
Intuit has positively bombarded us during the year with a plethora of updates or in the words of CEO Brad Smith ‘delivering awesome customer experience’. Much of what was delivered in 2015 has been tweaking or redesigning to improve the user experience rather than new functionality.
The Intuit business model especially in the US, is to market through accounting professionals, so Intuit always has one eye on its ‘ProAdvisors’ and one eye on the end customer. 2015 saw the release of QuickBooks Online Accountant (QBOA) which provides accountants with tools to facilitate working with multiple clients – somewhat akin to what Xero provides with My Xero. As well as delivering QBOA, Intuit announced at QuickBooks Connect 2015 – to much applause – the Adjusted Trial balance – a feature that can only ever excite accountants!
There were way too many features delivered during the year to list them all so I have cherry picked what I consider to be the most important in terms of their impact:
- Inventory items can now record a stock keeping unit (SKU) which is searchable in forms and can be Categorised (similar to header items).
- Additional customisation of customer invoices by exporting a template to a Word document and then importing back into QBO.
- Provision of the statutory Taxable Payments Annual Report (in time for FY 2015 year end) – a feature already in MYOB Essentials and Xero.
- Including a ‘Pay Now’ link on customer invoices enabling them to make online payments using PayPal, Visa, MasterCard or American Express.
- Ability to indicate if an expense is billable directly from bank feeds.
- Improvements to bank feeds including the ability to add an attachment while in bank feeds.
- More features available on the mobile app including multi currency, chart of accounts and products and services lists.
- New reports.
- Attachment folder (similar to Files in Xero).
In May this year Reckon One was re-released on the HTML platform. From a user perspective it was much the same as the previous version which had been built using the outdated Silverlight technology, which as well as becoming unsupported was not capable of delivering the flexibility required in today’s world necessitating a total rewrite of the product. Now that has been bedded down – we can start to see some new features being delivered.
The major deliverable since May has been the mobile and browser-based Time & Expense module which is probably the most comprehensive of all competitor products and very useful in businesses that charge customers on hourly rates and recharge expenses.
Disappointingly Payroll has still not made it into the product – it slipped off the calendar for 1st July 2015 so the big question is – will it make 1st July 2016? Although possibly the even bigger question is will Reckon One still be around in July 2016? Reckon has been plagued by rumours of an impending takeover for several months and it really looks as though the rumours have some strong foundations with MYOB or possibly Sage being tipped as the front runners. Neither Reckon One nor Reckon Accounts are the products that these vendors are chasing so it remains to be seen if they will quietly slip away in the takeover.
Always the odd one out in any list of cloud accounting software, it was the first product developed from scratch for the cloud and has a small niche market geared towards e-commerce businesses having a more robust Inventory module and integration with PayPal. It has had a customer base of around 20,000 in Australia for a few years without any sizeable increase. Saasu has shown no intention of embarking on a capital raising exercise to ramp up its R&D efforts and continues to meander peacefully along. A notable feature of Saasu is that unlike that of some of its competitors does make a profit – 8 years on Xero has yet to show signs that a profit is even imminent.
Whilst I admire Marc Lehmann’s quiet approach to positioning the product and his hands-on approach and whilst I am accredited with Saasu, I have never been a big fan of the product mainly because I find the user interface to be more challenging than that of similar products. However as Saasu continues to beaver away year on year – it is worthy of review although there isn’t a whole lot in the way of new features probably a reflection on the lower level of capitalisation.
The major deliverable this year was that finally Bank Rules and Fast Coding in Bank feeds came out of beta,
In December the new mobile app for Customer functions was released and hopefully we can expect other functions including bank feeds to be delivered on that platform fairly quickly now the model is in place.
Also delivered this year was the enabling of online payment of customer invoices direct from within Saasu using Braintree, eWay, Stripe and Westpac’s PayWay. The customer receives a receipt and the payment is instantly reconciled in Saasu.
And the scratching the bottom of the barrel a little – header accounts were delivered as well as improved Search functionality.
Whilst Australia already had arguably the most competitive cloud accounting software market in the world – nonetheless Sage – which has a strong UK presence, released Sage One in Australia in April this year – possibly following Intuit’s goal to be a truly global company. They haven’t had a whole lot of time to release new features but development is on a global basis so we have seen:
- Multi currency that was missing in the initial release is now available.
- A default GST code can now be added to a Supplier and Customer although not to a General Ledger account and only if you add the supplier and customer through the full Add option, not via the Quick Add from within a transaction.
- Sky Payroll is also now fully integrated with the product – this came out in between my review in April and the official release the following month.
- Time Tracking has been released in Beta so I won’t comment on that here as hopefully by the time it is in general release it will have been fleshed out a little more but it is a promising start on functionality that so far is only fully available in Reckon One.
- Customer invoices contain a link enabling customers to view and make payments on line using the Pay Now button that links to eWay and also view their account history.
Xero claimed that it was innovating faster than any other player in the industry and whilst that is a subjective claim, they did finally release their Inventory module in April – a major milestone.
There was a multitude of additional features released during the year and again I have picked out what I consider to be the main ones.
- Another long awaited feature – Quotes was delivered at the beginning of the year eliminating the work around of a Draft Invoice
- Invoice Reminders – this feature lets you automatically send clients a fully customizable email reminder about an unpaid invoice either before or after it is due and this can be set for repeated emailing whilst the invoice remains unpaid
- Find & Recode – a feature available only to advisers allows you to update up to 2000 line items in one go – this functionality has long been in QBO except it can’t always be used in Australia as unlike Xero it doesn’t allow for change of tax code
- Shortly before the end of the year, Xero released the powerful Xero Search functionality which searches both contacts and transactions from anywhere in Xero. Search also enables the addition of a new contact, invoice, bill, quote, or purchase order using shortcuts from inside the search bar.
- Business Performance dashboard was enhanced but it is still fairly limited – Reckon One has long excelled here
- Following security scares earlier in the year, Xero released an optional Two Step authentication process
- Billable Expenses is now available from bank feed transactions as well as from Supplier Bills
All in all, quite an amazing line up of new features across the board during the year – something that could never have happened in the desktop world and for sure will continue in 2016. It is becoming a little like the fireworks over Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve – the wow factor has to be even greater than that of previous years. So hopefully once the Christmas break is over – we will see some more excitement.