Xero showed off new mobile apps, key accounting features such as inventory and quotes, and tighter integration with banks to a record crowd of 900 attendees at the annual Xerocon partner and customer conference in Sydney.
Xero CEO Rod Drury led the event, followed by a string of product managers who showed screenshots and demos of new features.
Core accounting features in the accounting program promised to bring Xero closer to par with desktop programs, which it has long lagged. Other features showed the potential of a web-based app to integrate with other systems and provide more efficient workflow for business owners and their accounting partners.
BoxFreeIT has summarised the most interesting developments below.
Another long-awaited feature, the purchase order screen looked very similar to the invoice screen. Users will be able to select their postal or physical address for purchase-order deliveries, and from the purchase order screen add a one-off address or a new address, such as a depot or short-term location, Tokeley said.
A later version will let users add customer addresses for drop-shipping directly to the buyer. Users can create a copy bill of the purchase order and change it to reflect the items actually delivered.
Quotes are created in the sales dashboard but unlike invoices a user can personalise a quote with a title and summary. A drop-down menu adds terms and conditions to each quote; the Ts and Cs are added through templates so you can select conditions for different customers.
Users will only be able to send PDFs of quotes in the first release. A later release will add online quotes, similar to online invoices, which a customer can approve or decline by pushing a button. This will raise a notification within Xero and change the status of the quote.
Quotes gets its own dashboard, similar to sales.
This feature is a difficult one for Xero because it’s hard to know how much should be included in a basic inventory, Tokeley said. He compared the situation to Xero’s journey with payroll. The internal app, Payrun, was inadequate for the Australian market and so Xero acquired the Australian app Paycycle.
Xero doesn’t want to do a full inventory; it is aiming for ‘inventory lite’, said Andrew Tokeley, product development manager for Xero’s core business app. This would include asset tracking, codes and tags but not a full solution.
Users will be able to track quantity on hand, items to be sold or bought. The inventory will track preferred supplier, re-order levels, and can defer buying by adding it to an asset account.
Inventory would include graphs for sales performance and average profit from sale, according to a screenshot.
Stock adjustments included revaluation, increase or decrease price. A stocktake could be carried out on items selected by tag (eg. vendor, model) or stock not counted in the past few months.
Xero has overhauled its reporting engine. Tokeley used an aging report to demonstrate variables such as setting time of aging, adding contact groups, filtering for location or division, and the ability to save the settings as a template for other reports.
A new feature that drew applause was the ability to add files to Xero. Users could already upload a single document to invoices and receipts but this has been expanded to include contacts and transactions. Users will be able to upload documents in the reconciliation screen to spend money or receive money transactions.
The Files feature has its own inbox screen. Users can sort files by folder and will include basic image editing tools such as zoom, resize and rotate. Receipts were often scanned in the wrong orientation, Tokeley said.
Users will be able to email documents directly to the Xero account. This would remove the need to download files attached to emails and then upload them into Xero.
Payroll was an increasingly popular feature and an interesting metric given that Xero is used by smaller businesses with few employees. Xero processed 36,000 employees in 2012; it has processed 1 million in 2013 to date.
Employee history (audit) and “death of deaf invoice” was on the way. Two other promised features, notes for employees and time billing, were some way off, said Stuart McLeod, vice president of global payroll strategy.
Xero copped a lot of flack for the first version of payroll reports, McLeod said. It took eight weeks to fix them. The reporting would be updated as the upcoming core reporting engine was released, McLeod added.
Payroll’s development team were working on a redesign of the leave or vacation feature. The leave scheduling screen would automatically calculate the number of hours of leave requested and show whether the total exceeded the time available.
A bar calendar showed when employees were on leave, with the bar of time requested showing orange until it was approved.
The calendar would also display state and national holidays and used headshots from staff profiles to identify the leave time bars.
Two other neat tips – the employee contact form will use Google Maps to verify the address and leave accruals will be reported in the balance sheet.
Xero took a much more aggressive position on banks. “We recommend you tell your clients which banks they should use,” said Matt Vickers, product manager for banking and mobile integration. Customers should choose banks that provided feeds for a wide range of products which updated very frequently (ideally daily), Vickers said.
Accountants should also recommend banks which processed applications for bank feeds quickly, he added.
Xero promoted its Banking 2.0 concept. This included the ability to connect and approve feeds from within Xero without any paperwork with the bank involved. Two banks would release this function before the end of the year, Vickers said.
Another development would be direct notification of batch payments. Instead of exporting a batch payment file from Xero and importing it into an online bank account, users would be able to send the batch payment from within Xero.
Xero was also working on direct integrations with more banks. BankWest was the first bank in Australia to provide credit card feeds directly to Xero, Vickers said. (Financial data aggregator Yodlee usually supplied credit card feeds to web-based accounting programs.)
Banks were considering building portals for accountants to market their products directly to clients, Drury said. They have a virtually lifelong connection with the customer, could be used to do loan approvals, etc.
Xero was also exploring bank to bank transactions to cut out payment gateway providers, Drury said.
Xero had recently changed its strategy on mobile development, Vickers said. It was now investing in native development for Apple (iOS) and Android devices; the majority of Xero customers used iOS devices, while Android was the fastest growing overall mobile platform.
Vickers demonstrated a new mobile app with a reconciliation screen which would be released “in the next couple of months”.
McLeod also showed a screenshot of a payroll mobile app. The app looked like a standalone program for reviewing payroll details such as approving leave and pay.
Xero was overhauling and expanding its Xero Community forum, where users discussed issues and voted on new features. Xero was building a user directory that integrated with Xero Community called Profiles (Profiles.Xero.com).
Users could create profiles of themselves within their Xero account and choose to appear in the public user directory. Accounting partners could display their partner status (gold, silver, bronze) and their company.
Profiles helped Xero partners market themselves to potential clients by answering questions in Xero Community, said Sara Goepel, product manager for service delivery.
Profiles included gamification elements such as an achievements board (an example achievement was to be a “Xero Addict”).
Xero was adding a training dashboard to the partner (green Xero) version. The screen showed a bar graph showing the Xero certification status of all staff in an accounting firm and whether they were passing Xero’s online exams.
Xero continued to work on integrating its acquisitions into a single practice management system. Goepel showed a unified login for WorkflowMax, Spotlight Workpapers and Xero. Users selected the program from a dropdown menu in the top left of the Xero screen to view another app. The menu included a universal search across the three apps to find customers, for example.
The notifications flag in the top right of the screen was expanding. Instead of just carrying notes about updates and feature releases, it would include updates for invoices due and other system alerts.
Xero’s tax platform is probably its most awaited feature. The platform is already being trialled in pre-release by 14 firms which have used it to file over 300 forms. Product manager Oliver Furniss demonstrated sending a business activity statement in Xero Practice Manager (Workflow Max). The BAS form automatically filled with data from the Australian Taxation Office and then auto-populated the fields with information from Xero.
Furniss also demonstrated filling out a company return. Activity statements were going live from September 19 in Xero Workflow Max Practice Manager, Furniss said. The 2013 forms for company, individual, partner, trust and self-managed superannuation fund would be released by June 2014 (the forms would be updated annually).
Enterprise and government
Enterprises were building a portal for suppliers to reduce costs in processing invoices, Drury said. The large number of small businesses using Xero could send invoices directly to each other within Xero. The same concept could save enterprises a lot of money, Drury said.
Governments (assumed in Australia and New Zealand) were moving towards forms built by software companies such as Xero which aggregated large numbers of customers, Drury said.
The private sector was more efficient at developing tax forms and aggregators could become a communications channel for government agencies, he added.
“We are deeply involved in govt strategy for talking to customers,” Drury said.
Image credit: Xero