QuickBooks, as versatile it is, cannot do absolutely everything, nor can it satisfy all business needs for all types of industries. End users in a variety of industries often keep some detailed industry-specific information outside of their QuickBooks Financial Solutions product, and then re-enter summary or detail information into QuickBooks for the purposes of preparing financials. This is where third party add-ons can help.
Third party add-ons are software programs developed by companies independent of Intuit. These programs perform a variety of functions on their own, but also have the added feature of integrating with QuickBooks. Many of these programs perform functions that are considered vital in certain industries or business areas, while eliminating the need for the end user to change to a custom or industry-specific accounting package. This allows the end user to track more data and produce better reporting than QuickBooks alone provides, while staying with the familiar, comfortable and user-friendly QuickBooks program.
A perfect example of the need for add-on solutions is the case of inventory tracking. While QuickBooks does track inventory, the inventory module has its limitations and falls short of the full functionality that many end users need. For example, QuickBooks can only employ average cost inventory, and users cannot choose another costing method such as FIFO (First In, First Out) or LIFO (Last In, First Out), which are more appropriate for many businesses. Other inventory limitations include the fact that QuickBooks cannot automatically track serial numbers, bin locations, lot numbers, bar coding, multiple warehousing, warranty periods or expiry dates (note, some of these features are available in limited forms from Intuit in QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions if you add the Advanced Inventory feature for an additional fee). So to handle these types of tracking needs, you could use QuickBooks for inventory, but you would need to track the additional information in a separate program such as a spreadsheet. However, this duplicate entry of information would quickly become unworkable as the amount of data increased.
Another area where add-ons are needed is in Human Resource Administration. Since QuickBooks is primarily a financial and accounting product, its features are naturally somewhat limited in the area of Human Resource Administration. For example, tracking employee evaluations, employee scheduling, health insurance benefit plan enrollment, 401k plan administration, or any of countless other needs in the human resources area, something outside of QuickBooks has to be used.
To address these issues, a number of years ago Intuit formed the Intuit Developer Network (IDN) to enable third party developers to develop and offer products that integrate with QuickBooks.
The developers in the IDN make use of the Software Development Kit (SDK), provided at no charge to them by Intuit. The ideology of the SDK is “Never Enter Data Twice” (NED2) and to facilitate the sharing of information both ways behind the scenes between QuickBooks and the add-on product.
When an add-on is used properly, it expands the power of QuickBooks without creating extra work.
Life Before QuickBooks Add-ons
Prior to the release of the SDK you could use IIF (Intuit Interchange Format) files to import lists (and, to a limited extent, transactions) into QuickBooks. IIF files are specially formatted tab-delimited text files that can be opened and edited in Excel. Although the IIF method still can be used today, it is not recommended by Intuit for other than the most basic of list imports (and do not forget that QuickBooks also has an Excel list import function for customers, vendors, and items) by the most expert of users.
Here are some of the limitations of the IIF method:
- Import files are very difficult to create properly, especially for files containing transactions as opposed to just lists.
- No error checking or log file after the import.
- No safeguards against duplicate imports of transactions.
- No safeguards against accidental overwriting of previously existing list entries.
- Imports can create unintended odd list entries in QuickBooks, such as a new bank account or new service item.
- Two-way sharing of information is not possible using IIF files.
- The integration is not seamless; it requires separate file preparation, single-user mode, and being signed in as the Admin user in QuickBooks
The Intuit Marketplace
The Intuit Marketplace was created to encourage the development of third party add-on products to enhance QuickBooks. This was the best place to go to find dependable, tested software that integrates with QuickBooks.
While the Marketplace is an excellent starting point for searching for an add-on product, it is not the only way to find an add-on. There are add-on products that have not yet been listed on the Marketplace, so using Google or other search engines may also help you locate the right solution.
Add-on Evaluation Process
The Marketplace can be searched by Industry or by Business Need, and both search parameters can be further refined by QuickBooks Product Compatibility (for example, Pro, Enterprise, Online Edition, or the Canadian or UK versions of QuickBooks). If a country is not mentioned in the name of a particular product on the version list, then it is a US version of QuickBooks. Only non-US versions specify the country in the version name.
An add-on product’s listing on the Marketplace provides information regarding the product’s functionality, links to the developer’s website, a trial download, QuickBooks version compatibility, as well as other information.
Since everyone has unique needs, there is no guarantee that a product listed on the Marketplace will be the appropriate choice for your situation. Research the developer’s website and the product by arranging for a trial version, a product download, and a demonstration. Look at product ratings, case studies and ProAdvisor testimonials published on the Marketplace and any information from the developer’s website or elsewhere. Speak to the developer as well. Find out what the return policy is. Test out the product and competing products. Compare products on features, user-friendliness, documentation, technical support, price, and customer ratings.
Keep in mind that these add-ons are developed by independent developers not affiliated with Intuit in any other way. This means that Intuit does not recommend, guarantee, troubleshoot or provide any support whatsoever with regards to these applications. For issues regarding installation, use, and integration, the user must deal solely with the developer.
Each product listed on the Marketplace will feature a Gold or Silver Developer logo:
The gold and silver logos indicate that an independent company has put this particular program through a “QuickBooks Technical Review” to ensure that it integrates and exchanges data with QuickBooks and is compatible with a particular QuickBooks version. If a program is listed on the Marketplace, it must have passed this review process. Gold developers’ products have passed a customer survey conducted by a third party as well. Some gold packages have been reviewed by ProAdvisors at Intuit’s request.
However, having a gold or silver logo does not necessarily mean that the product will perform exactly as expected, or that it works with all versions of QuickBooks. If the product does not work as desired, or is not to your satisfaction, there is no recourse through Intuit; all communications must be with the third party software developer.
In addition, it is very important to assess how easy the add-on is to use, and how well it is documented. Even the most powerful add-on will have limited usefulness if it is not user-friendly or if there is a poor or non-existent Help menu or manual. It is advisable to discuss the type and amount of technical support that comes with the add-on and at what price. Often there is an annual cost for technical support, with different levels at different prices (e.g. phone support, e-mail support, etc.).
Custom Add-on Developers
After all the searching, you may not find a ready-made solution that solves your problem. If that is the case, locating a custom developer might be in order.
Custom Developers can be found on the Marketplace by selecting the Find Custom Developers link. As with any developer or 3rd party listing, this is only an introduction to the software company. It is not a guarantee of future success.
Add-on Best Practices
There are several “best practices” that should be used anytime you are testing, installing or using a third party add-on.
Testing Best Practices
Any add-on, no matter how reputable, must be tested out to assess its applicability and compatibility with a particular situation. Be sure to back up the QuickBooks data file on external media prior to initiating the installation and integration of the add-on. Be aware that in addition to the QuickBooks data file and any related QuickBooks files (such as the *.tlg and *.nd files and the Images directory), there will most likely be a separate database for the add-on program. It is important to know the precise name and location of this database file.
Furthermore, ensure that any third party database file is adequately and regularly backed up, and that anyone accessing this database file has sufficient network security privileges to do so. The database for the third party add-on can be just as valuable to the end-user as the QuickBooks data file, so treat both with respect and care.
User Names and Permissions Best Practices
Most add-on products may have their own sets of user names and associated permissions, so you should not assume that a QuickBooks user’s name and permission level will automatically carry over to the third party add-on. These user names and permission levels must be independently created in the new software.
One useful practice is to create a user in QuickBooks named after the third party add-on (e.g. “Fishbowl” in the case of Fishbowl Inventory). This user name should have permission access all necessary areas of QuickBooks, and when the add-on connects to QuickBooks it should “log in” to QuickBooks under this user name. With this practice, the audit trail in QuickBooks will identify all transactions that have been entered and/or modified by the add-on application.
The steps for creating the special user in QuickBooks are as follows (using Premier as our example):
- Select Company, then Set Up Users and Passwords, then Set Up Users.
- Click Add User.
- Enter the new user name that matches the third party add-on (e.g. Fishbowl).
- Enter and confirm the password for this new user.
- Click Next.
- In the Access for User window, check All areas of QuickBooks.
- Click Next.
- In the Warning window, click Yes to confirm access to all areas.
- The final window will show a matrix of areas and access levels, showing only Y’s and n/a’s. Click Finish.
Client Server Best Practices
Often, the third party add-on will have a Server component and a Client component (as is the case with QuickBooks). The installation instructions of each individual software package should be followed, however, in general it’s best to install the Server software on the network server where the third party data (and the QuickBooks data file) resides. The Client software for the add-on is installed on each workstation as is the case with the QuickBooks client software. Each Client will connect to the Server through the network. To provide the best performance, the connection between the add-on and QuickBooks should occur between the add-on’s Server component and QuickBooks on the server computer instead of through a network connection. Check the documentation from the add-on developer for specific setup recommendations.
Installing Add-ons and Connecting to QuickBooks
There is no “one size fits all” methodology for third party add-on installations and integrations with QuickBooks data. Each product has its own installation and integration instructions so consult the documentation for your specific add-on.
What is the IPP?
While this article focuses on add-ons that use the QuickBooks SDK, a few years ago Intuit added a new technology for developers of cloud applications.
The IPP platform allows cloud application developers to continue writing applications for the Internet, while also connecting that data to the QuickBooks desktop data, or to QuickBooks Online. The Intuit App Center (accessible from an Icon inside the QuickBooks application, or directly on the internet at http://appcenter.intuit.com) is an online application store where you can shop for and purchase IPP applications.
To connect data between the cloud and the desktop, Intuit provides the Intuit Sync Manager, a small application that is installed with QuickBooks Desktop software. As of this writing (September 2011), the IPP platform is only available for the US editions of QuickBooks, 2009 and later.
Intuit reviews all applications before they are published to the AppCenter to ensure that the applications follow the security and privacy policies set by Intuit.
Some QuickBooks Add-ons Worth Investigating
Here is a list of several QuickBooks Add-ons you might find useful in your business.
- Acctivate! (www.acctivate.com) – Comprehensive Distribution and Wholesale Management Solutions.
- Adagio FX (www.softrak.com) – Professional Financial Statements and Data Analysis tools.
- AvaTax Connect (www.avalara.com) – Web based Sales Tax Solution Linked to QuickBooks.
- BDTS (www.bdts.us) – File transfer service for accountants and clients.
- Bill.com (www.bill.com) – Online bill payment and accounts receivable management system with integrated document management.
- BillQuick (www.bqe.com) – Time, Billing and Project Management integrated with QuickBooks.
- CNG-Books and CNG-SAFE (www.cabinetng.com) – Paperless Document Management integrated with QuickBooks.
- Corecon 4.0 (www.corecon.com) – Web-based construction management system integrated with QuickBooks.
- Corrigo Worktrack Service Management (www.corrigo.com) – Mobile service and repair management integrated with QuickBooks.
- Count Me In (www.countmeinllc.com) – Timecard Monitor.
- Data Flow Manager (www.atandra.com) – Data import utility for QuickBooks.
- Data Transfer Utility by Karl Irvin (www.q2q.us) – Utilities to transfer data between QuickBooks files.
- DepositNow! (www.depositnow.com)– Remote Check Deposit service.
- Expensewatch (www.expensewatch.com) – Online expense management system integrated with QuickBooks.
- Fishbowl Inventory (www.fishbowlinventory.com) – Comprehensive Inventory for Light Manufacturers, Wholesalers and Distributors.
- GiftWorks (www.missionresearch.com)– Non-Profit Donor Management and Fundraising Software.
- InsynQ (e-Accounting) CPAASP (www.cpaasp.com) – QuickBooks hosting service.
- Legrand CRM (www.legrandcrm.com) – Customer Relationship Management for Small Businesses.
- Method Integration (www.methodintegration.com) – Create your own web applications integrated with QuickBooks.
- MISys SBM (www.misysinc.com) – Manufacturing inventory system and MRP for small manufacturers.
- PDG Commerce (www.pdgsoft.com) – Web store ecommerce solution.
- ProfitCents (www.profitcents.com) – Business Analysis Tools for small business.
- QODBC Driver (www.qodbc.com) – ODBC driver for accessing QuickBooks data from other programs.
- QQube (www.clearify.com) – Reporting and data analysis.
- Qvinci Financial Dashboard (www.qvinci.com) – Online financial dashboard integrated with QuickBooks.
- Results CRM (www.results-software.com) – Customer Relationship Management system integrated with QuickBooks.
- Right Networks ASP (www.rightnetworks.com) – QuickBooks hosting service.
- Sharefile (www.sharefile.com) – Online file sharing portal.
- ShipGear (www.vtechnologies.com) – FedEx, UPS, and US Postal Service shippers integrated with QuickBooks.
- SmartVault (www.smartvault.com) – Paperless solution for managing your documents and a document portal to share files easily and securely, integrated with QuickBooks and other applications.
- SourceLink (www.personable.com) – Paperless documents attached to QuickBooks transactions.
- Sunburst Certified Payroll Solution (www.sunburstsoftwaresolutions.com) – Certified Payroll reporting from QuickBooks payroll data.
- Transaction Pro Importer (www.baystateconsulting.com) – Transaction and list importing.
- TrueCommerce Transaction Manager (www.truecommerce.com) – EDI Integration for QuickBooks.
- SpringAhead (www.virtualsoftware.net) – Web-based Time and Expense management integrated with QuickBooks.
- ViewMyPaycheck (www.viewmypaycheck.com) – Employee portal for viewing paystubs, vacation balances, and W-2s.
- webKPI (www.webkpi.com) – Business Intelligence Reporting