Cloud Accounting Xero

Xero Product Updates from Xerocon Denver

Written by Greg Lam

This June, I flew into Denver for Xero‘s second U.S. Xerocon. While a lot happened, I’m going to focus primarily—as I always do—on the product itself. So here’s what’s new with Xero, and what’s coming up in the next few months.

Business Performance Dashboard

Xero has always had a dashboard screen, and for a while now it’s had a widget-like design with two columns that allows you to reposition different modules, like your bank accounts, sales, and bills.

Released and out right now is the ability to add the following business performance widgets to the dashboard:

  • Current Ratio
  • Gross Profit %
  • Debt Equity Ratio
  • Working Capital to Assets %
  • Debt Ratio
  • Net Profit on Net Sales %
  • Fixed Assets to net worth ratio
  • Current Liabilities to Net Worth

If you want to set it up, it’s pretty easy. Go to Reports > Business Performance.

Xero Product Updates

From there, add a star to whichever reports you want to see on the Dashboard page.

Xero Dashboard

When you go back to the Dashboard page, they will be there. And if you need to move them around, click on the Edit Dashboard link on the bottom of the page.

Xero Edit Dashboard

Future Releases

There were a lot of releases in Xero, and if you attended the last Xerocon about a year and a half ago in San Francisco, you’ll know that there were items talked about (cough … inventory … cough) that didn’t materialize for over a year. And everybody knows that payroll still hasn’t been rolled out to the majority of states in the U.S.

That said, here are the upcoming features introduced at the 2015 Denver Xerocon. I’ve been assured that all these items have planned release dates within the next 3 months (by end of August 2015). I think I believe them, but I’ll really believe it when I see it for myself in Xero.

iOS

iOS will have push notification, letting you know when you have new transactions. You will be able to turn the feature on and off by account, so if you’re not into constant notifications from your smart devices, don’t worry.

Something else coming to iOS is a sign-up workflow. Xero wants a new mobile user to be able to start using the app in a matter of minutes. If you’ve gone through the sign-up process on the web app, you know it’s the most detailed and involved among all the small business online accounting software providers. The multi-step web app sign-up process is great, especially for accounting professionals, but I’ve no doubt that it must be intimidating for the average small business owner.

Due to this complexity, there was no sign-up process available in the iOS app. This meant that if a potential new user downloaded the mobile app, they wouldn’t be able to do anything with it. An upcoming update to the iOS app will provide a streamlined business creation process that can be done by a small business owner in a matter of minutes.

Is this scary for accounting professionals? Are you going to encounter a whole bunch of potential new clients that are messed up? QuickBooks Online has had a similar easy setup process on their web app for a while, so perhaps QBO accounting professionals can weigh in with their experiences.

There was also “one more thing”—Xero announced it will work with Apple to make mobile great. How so? I’m honestly not too sure, but they’re excited about it, that I can tell you!

Billable Expenses

This highly-requested feature is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You mark a bill or spend money transaction as billable, and associate one or many of the line items as billable to a customer. When you then go to invoice the client, you’re able to add those expenses. Can you add markups or make them part of jobs and projects? Nope. You can adjust the amount of the billable expense on the invoice, but it’s basic functionality. Hey, provided it works as advertised, I’ll be a happy camper. And don’t fret, Xero does have plans to expand beyond the basic billable expense functionality release, but please don’t ask if it’ll be in two months or two years (I have no clue).

Global Search

A few seconds after the Find and Recode feature was released, Xero users immediately made a ruckus about a very long-standing request—global search. While there was a lot of praise for Find and Recode, it wasn’t global search.

Well, rejoice all you vociferous Xero users. Xero’s CTO (Craig Walker) demoed a magnifying icon (found in the blue menu bar) that you can click on and search everything and anything. The implementation looked slick and I’ll be excited to check it out once it’s live.

Payroll

So the news here is both good and bad, depending on your perspective. On the one hand, Xero will be pausing the rollout of states in order to tweak the payroll rolled out to its existing states (California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Utah, Florida, Texas, Colorado). That pause will be a month or so.

On the other hand, the good news is that five new states will be added after that, as follows:

  • Indiana
  • Tennessee
  • Maryland
  • Illinois
  • New Hampshire

Cash Coding

The cash coding feature will get a bit of a boost. The three main new features I remember are:

  • Table that is responsive (the audience really liked this), so that the data takes up the whole width of the browser.
  • Ability to show/hide matched transactions.
  • Ability to apply an unrelated rule to many transactions at once. For example, a restaurant rule used to code expenses to a meals and entertainment account could be applied to 10 different restaurants at the same time.

Reports

Last year, Xero built out a new reporting engine and promised great things to come. While the new reports have been a breath of fresh air, and a definite improvement over the previous (old) reports, the functionality to date has been fairly limited.

Having gotten a peek at what’s in store for reports, I’m starting to better understand the significance of Xero’s new reporting engine.

In the works are all of the following: more filtering, more customizations, the ability to save multiple customized reports, and a unified reports page (no more new reports as a menu item). That’s all good stuff that ensures Xero’s reports will no longer be considered a downside of using the software.

But what really seemed cool to me is the ability to use report codes. Report codes are a way to map any client’s chart of accounts to a standard set on the advisor side. What exactly does that mean? Well, it means that if an advisor has 100 clients, each of those client’s accounts can be matched to a single chart of accounts that the advisor has. By doing this, the advisor can create a single set of report templates and run them on all 100 clients with ease. That’s pretty powerful. Furthermore, the advisor can push individual reports/groups of reports over to individual client files so they can run the reports themselves. Report codes is a feature that can really save time.

Avalara Sales Tax Integration

Dealing with U.S. sales taxes in Xero has not worked out so well for businesses that  deal with collecting taxes for multitude tax jurisdictions. With the upcoming direct Avalara Sales Tax integration, it will allow for rate lookups and online filing of sales taxes.

Contacts

Contacts will be spruced up, with a new activity tab, related transactions, and the ability to pull in emails directly from gmail. In essence, it can act as a very basic CRM tool.

Wrap-Up

All in all, I don’t think I saw any blockbuster planned feature release that would set Xero head and shoulders above its competitors. At this point in time, its chief rival, QuickBooks Online, has a fairly similar feature set. A lot of the recent and upcoming releases from Xero are ones that QuickBooks Online already has (like inventory, billable expenses, global search, and payroll).

Anyone who attended Xerocon and heard Rod Drury (the CEO of Xero) speak, would have heard him say, “Now that we’re done with the boring stuff…” (I must have heard it at least five times). I translate that as follows: Xero has (or will have over the course of this year) the basic feature set that most desktop users think cloud software has been lacking.

While it’s true that cloud accounting software still isn’t as feature-rich as desktop in certain areas, it’s certainly much better in others (collaboration, ease of access, and add-ons). And I doubt whether it will ever be as deep as QuickBooks Desktop in certain areas (inventory, for example), because the deep functionality will be left to the add-on developers to provide. Business niches will also be addressed through add-ons (like retails stores, e-commerce businesses, and construction businesses each having their own stack of add-ons that work with Xero to provide appropriate functionality).

Anyways, while news of all these Xero updates is great—in that they bring the feature set more up to par with desktop software—what I’m eager to see is what happens next, now that the “boring” stuff is done. I think I caught some glimpses of that future, for example how Xero is able to seamlessly integrate with multiple apps—such as Xero, Vend POS, and Deputy—and what it’ll be able to do with the reporting engine to automate and standardize the process. I also heard about plans to make bank reconciliation even smarter, and about enhancements to the in-app communications (the ability, as I understand it, to discuss any item found in Xero with clients, customers, and staff). And let’s not forget that Xero really wants to make mobile accounting and business management a way of life, given their new relationship with Apple.

Xero’s been fairly consistently broadcasting the message that they want to become a true small business platform—with Xero’s general ledger at the centre of it all—rather than simply an accounting platform. There’s no doubt that Xero has the vision to get there, but the question I find myself asking is: Can they do it in the U.S., especially with that 800-pound gorilla (or big elephant) in the corner with the initials QBO tattooed on it? I sure hope so, because I think the surest way for all the cloud accounting software to get to the next level is to continue to have competition between several viable alternatives, as we do right now.

About the author

Greg Lam

Greg Lam is a passionate small business guy who loves technology and automation. He holds a BBA from Simon Fraser University, Canada. He's a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, Certified Xero Partner, and Kashoo MVP. His business interests are focused on online accounting and how it can be used to streamline and automate a company’s accounting processes. He currently lives in Tokyo, Japan.

Greg operates the Small Biz Doer website, an "Entrepreneur's Guide to Small Biz Bookkeeping." He is the author of Online Accounting Software: Finding the Right Match, published by The Sleeter Group.

Connect with Greg on Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

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