One of the shortcomings that you hear when people discuss QuickBooks Online, and perhaps any of the online accounting products, is the lack of flexible tools for creating custom reports. There are several special purpose tools available that can create excellent reports for the topics that they cover, but what if you want a report that covers information that these tools don’t provide? In this article I’ll take a look at a product that lets you get to a wide range of QuickBooks Online data, QODBC.
If you want to get down and dirty with the QuickBooks Online database and use some Windows desktop reporting tools that you may be familiar with, QODBC provides a driver that can do the job.
Databases, ODBC and QODBC
First, a little background discussion.
QuickBooks Online stores its data in a database that can only be accessed by reporting programs in one specific way – through the QuickBooks API. You have to be a programmer to use this API, and that isn’t something that most users or accounting professionals are going to try. It is complicated!
Every database has its own way of communicating with programs such as reporting tools, and there is a huge variation in how they work. It would be very difficult for a reporting tool to work with all the disparate database API’s that exist. To help resolve this for Windows programs, Microsoft developed the ODBC specification to provide a standard database programming language that people can use to access all these databases in a standard way. An “ODBC driver” will be created as a translation layer between the database and the programming tool, so that the programmer doesn’t have to learn the intricacies of the specific programming interface for each product.
If you have an ODBC-compliant tool then you should be able to work with any database that has an ODBC driver that you can connect to. Some commonly used ODBC compliant tools are Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access and Crystal Reports, and there are many others.
So, QODBC is an ODBC driver that works with QuickBooks. FLEXquarters has several versions, some that work with the desktop versions of QuickBooks as well as the new version for QuickBooks Online. The original desktop version was released by FLEXquarters in 2002. In 2003 Intuit decided to include a copy of the QODBC driver in QuickBooks Enterprise, and it is still included to this day. Note that the bundled product is a read-only version, you can purchase a read/write version from FLEXquarters. In addition, the purchased version can work with QuickBooks Pro, Premier or Enterprise.
FLEXquarters introduced the new QODBC driver for QuickBooks Online in August of 2014. This product lets you connect any ODBC-compliant desktop reporting tool to your QuickBooks Online database.
Let’s take a quick look at how this works. This is not a tutorial, I’m just providing you with a quick overview.
Connecting QODBC with QuickBooks Online
Installation is fairly simple, you download and run an installer on your Windows computer. This will install a number of components in your system.
The complicated part is connecting your QODBC driver with your QuickBooks Online database. It took me a number of tries, and I found that I needed help from the FLEXquarters support staff. I did find them to be very responsive, and all of the issues did work out. I will note that I test a lot of software in my computer system, so it is fairly “dirty” with the remains of different products scattered about. I often get comments from software companies that say that they’ve not seen people have as much trouble with setup as I do (it’s easier to blame my computer than it is to blame myself).
A big part of the problem seemed to be with Intuit themselves. At one point I was getting errors that indicated that the QuickBooks API services from Intuit were not responding quickly enough, and the connection process timed out. This is something that I’ve heard from some software developers, that periodically there seem to be connection issues. In my case the problem eventually cleared up without my changing anything on my system, which leads me to believe that the issues were on Intuit’s side of things.
To connect QODBC with your QuickBooks Online company you start by running a desktop application. There are quite a few options here for fine-tuning the setup, but for basic use all you need to do here is to click the Test Connection to QuickBooks Online button.
This opens a browser window that provides you with some instructions on what to do, and what to look out for. You need to allow popup windows, which is pointed out in the instructions. Once you have enabled this you get a popup window with the standard Intuit login window that is needed for all QuickBooks add-on applications. Enter your login credentials for your QuickBooks Online account.
The next step is another place where things might get tricky, and again this isn’t QODBC’s fault. You may find that you have multiple QuickBooks Online accounts associated with your login. I’m a QuickBooks ProAdvisor, and this is the screen that was presented to me.
This is strange – why did this particular set of companies show up?
- My Company – when I log in to my QuickBooks Online Accountant account I see a “My Company” link (I’m still on the older QBOA) and that is what I use to access my company data. However, in THIS case, you do NOT select this option. It is an empty file. Why does it get listed here by Intuit?
- CCR Sales and Service – this is where my company data resides, it is the one I want to pick.
- parent – what is this and why does it show? Well, this is a company file that is normally hidden, it was created when I enrolled in the QuickBooks Online wholesale pricing program as I’ve talked about before, and it shouldn’t be listed.
- Vandy International – a cancelled subscription, so why does it show up?
Keep in mind that this confusion is due to Intuit and how they handle this authorization feature, not the application that uses it.
Crazy. I wish Intuit would clean this up.