Geraldine Cruz, Senior Director, Product Marketing
Apps can extend the value of your accounting software by delivering functionality unavailable with your backend system. Examples of apps currently available for the leading accounting systems include:
•A full-service, automated payment solution that leverages vendor and invoice data to help businesses pay bills electronically or with paper checks
•Document management capabilities that connect contracts, invoices,and proposals with customer and vendor data
•Customer relationship management functionality that transforms lead and proposal data into customer data and invoices upon successful contract execution
•Business intelligence features that analyze order processing, workflows, and other transactional data to measure business efficiencies
Leading accounting software vendors feature “App Storefronts” on their websites that makes it easy for customers to find new apps that fit their business needs. But the consumer, retail-like experience may belie the need to assess the business, technical, and security capabilities of the app developer with the same rigor as it did when it evaluated the purchase of the accounting system. Assuming you have already done your due diligence in evaluating the fit of an app to your business and technology needs, you should consider the following seven questions and be comfortable with the answers — before you purchase the app:
1.Does the vendor of the accounting system endorse the app? One indication that the accounting software vendor endorses the app is that it lists it on its “App Storefront.” But not all “App Storefronts” are created equally. The ease or difficulty in getting a vendor endorsement will vary. You should determine how the accounting software vendor evaluates apps. And read what reviewers say about the app, but do not limit your evaluation to just the reviewers on the “App Storefront”. Nothing beats talking to a variety of customers about their experiences with the app.
2.What challenges, if any, should I expect to integrate the app with my accounting system? Even if the app promises complete integration with your accounting system, you should ask the app developer and its customers about the difficulty of the first integration between the two applications. You should expect some challenges if you have customized the accounting system or are using the system or the data fields differently than the way customers traditionally use them.
3.Where is the app and the data it generates hosted? The app may be hosted on the same server as your accounting system and data, or it may be hosted separately on the app developer’s servers — or a company that hosts the app and the data. In the former scenario, initial integration may be easier, even for accounting systems that have been customized. If the app is hosted on a different server, you may need to use and pay for integration services from the app developer. You should also assess whether the app developer — or the company hosting the app — can support the volumes you anticipate, particularly during your peak periods.
4.How does the app developer address updates to the accounting system? Cloud-based accounting systems will inevitably be updated, and the apps that integrate with them may need to be updated. Customizations to the accounting system may result in more challenging upgrades. Validate how the app developer intends to align its roadmap with the roadmap of your accounting software vendor.
5.At what point in your workflow will you need to sync the accounting system and the app? You should consider how and when the syncs between the two applications will need to be performed. When users need to sync data, will it occur naturally, as part of their workflow? Or are there required steps that delay, interrupt, or change the workflow? You may need to redesign your process and/or train users. Or you may decide that using the app requires too many detrimental changes to your workflow.
6.What data is being synced between the accounting system and the app, and is the sync bi-directional or uni-directional? You should know what data (or fields) are taken from the accounting system and what are passed back. This will help you determine if all data fields are updated bi-directionally, or if one system contains more updated data.
Moreover, if the app is updating only one module in the accounting system (e.g., vendor and payments) but syncs many more fields than that (e.g., vendor, payments, customer, and customer invoices), you may want to ask the app provider to sync only the necessary data to get the app to work. And if the app developer cannot do that, you should assess if users have inadvertent access to data they should not, requiring a change in data access and controls.
7.How will the app scale with your business needs? Business needs change. Will the app accommodate your changing business needs? For example, as your business grows, will the app support those transaction volumes or support new features that you will need? If you anticipate upgrading to an accounting system that supports larger organizations, will the app support the new accounting system you are likely to adopt? Does the app have the same sync capabilities and features with the new accounting system?
A trial of an app can provide some of the answers to these questions. You can see how the sync works; confirm which syncs are uni-directional and which are bi-directional; and validate that the app workflows and syncs align with your users’ current workflows. But it may be difficult, impossible, or not advisable to replicate the scenarios to test the app vendors’ capacity to support growing or changing business needs. Digging into these seven questions with the application developer and representative customers will help to flesh out what to expect in these scenarios.