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Evaluating QuickBooks Integration Applications

May 21, 2012 | By | 9 Replies More

As a consultant, you quickly realize that while QuickBooks is a robust accounting solution, it is packaged software and there are many different reasons why it may not be quite enough to meet the client’s needs. Intuit realized that they could have more, happy customers if they could leverage the resources of developers to fill in the gaps. In this article I’ll discuss the types of client needs that integrated applications can fill, how to evaluate a developer and their products, and how to get started expanding your practice by leveraging these solutions.

To learn more about the depth and breadth of integrated applications you can begin by visiting http://marketplace.intuit.com/. There are over 500 applications listed on the site that are available from developers who participate in the Intuit Developer Network (a group of trusted, independent developers and industry experts) and, as such, are using Intuit approved tools to create, read, edit, and/or delete transactional and list data in the QuickBooks Company file. There are several ways to search for applications, but for now let’s look at a high level of the types of applications which might be important to a small business.

The need might be something very specific for an industry such as a Country Club or an Automobile Dealer; or it might be something specific for a particular business need, such as a robust time and billing solution. There are also tools included on the website for functionality such as transferring transactions from one QuickBooks file to another, removing transactions from a file, or importing transactions from a web store or Microsoft Excel.

The applications are organized by industry: Intuit Marketplace categories

Or by business need:Intuit Marketplace Business Needs

Developer Overview

As you search for an integrated application (a business process “chunk,” as Doug Sleeter puts it), it is helpful to understand more about software developers. This includes understanding HOW they access QuickBooks data, WHO you will be working with on these projects, and WHAT they do to the QuickBooks data.

Intuit organizes the developers into three designations. The majority of the applications are designed to work with the desktop QuickBooks products, but there are applications for QuickBooks Online as well. QuickBooks for the Mac is not supported at this time.

All of the developers have undergone a testing and approval process prior to being listed on the Intuit developer sites.

QuickBooks SDK Apps

Many applications use the QuickBooks SDK (software development kit) to connect QuickBooks data to desktop applications. If the application is web-enabled, there will be a tool which resides on the desktop to allow synchronization between the app and QuickBooks. To be listed by Intuit the app must be tested by an independent testing company. The purpose of the QuickBooks Technical Review Program is to verify that 3rd party applications appropriately integrate, exchange data, and are compatible with the QuickBooks platform. Note that this process is performed at a technical level. It is not an accounting or best-practices in business management review. While this certification program is very useful in evaluating solutions, it is only one part of the overall evaluation you should conduct.

QuickBooks Integration via SDK

Here are the different “levels” of certification that a QuickBooks integrated application can receive from the technical review:

Intuit Developer Network SilverSilver: To achieve Silver certification, the product must pass the QuickBooks Technical Review. This is the minimal level of integration an application must have with QuickBooks in order to be certified by Intuit.

 

Intuit Developer Network GoldGold: To reach Gold certification, an application must pass the same level of scrutiny as the Silver Developers, plus achieve a passing score on an extensive customer satisfaction survey, submit customer case studies, and more.

Intuit Workplace Apps

clip_image015These are SaaS and Mobile applications that utilize the Intuit Sync Manager (a component of the QuickBooks installation) to synchronize data with QuickBooks (desktop or online edition). Applications synchronize data using the Intuit Partner Platform or Intuit Anywhere to securely connect with the QuickBooks data. This streamlines the process of using multiple integrated applications with the same QuickBooks data file because it provides one integration point (called Intuit Data Services) that allows multiple applications to work with a cloud copy of the QuickBooks (Desktop or Online) data. As with the SDK, these applications are evaluated before they can be listed on the Intuit web site.

QuickBooks Integration via Intuit Partner Platform

IIF

IIF is the old method of integrating applications with QuickBooks. IIF stands for Intuit Interchange Format, and is a special type of text file. I mention it here so you know it exists, but in most cases, you would not want to choose an application that uses this method to integrate with QuickBooks. Intuit has publicly stated that this is not a supported method, and applications that use this method will not pass the Intuit testing process. From a practical perspective, it is not recommended since there is:

  • No useful error messaging
  • No error log
  • A possibility that using IIF imports can create data corruption issues
  • A tendency to be unreliable and produce inconsistent results in the data file.

There are certain situations where it is the only option, for example, with QuickBooks for Mac. But in general, I would recommend avoiding this type of integration.

Who They Are

In addition to confirming that Intuit has placed their stamp of approval on the developer, you will need to do your due diligence too. Here are some things to consider:

  • How long has the product been available? How many versions has the product had? How often are maintenance updates released? How often are new product/versions released?
  • What is the size of the company who develops the application? How many employees? What is the break down between developers, sales, etc.? How many customers?
  • How easy are they to contact? How easy are they to work with?
  • Do you know of other clients or accountants who have worked with this application? What has been their experience? What can they share both positive and negative about the company and the product? Also consider partnering with the other consultants to assist with implementation and training. This is a great way to help ensure a successful implementation while providing a hands-on learning experience for you.
  • If you do not have first-hand experience of someone who has worked with the company and the product, consider posting a request for information on a message board and/or contact references from the developer.

What Is Integrated?

Once you have determined “How” the data will be integrated from a technical perspective, the next step is to understand “What” is going to be integrated. To determine if the integrated application will meet the client’s needs consider the following:

  1. Will information be “pulled” from QuickBooks into the integrated application for additional manipulation, such as with reporting applications? Or will the information be “pushed” into QuickBooks, such as importing tools? Or will there be a combination of “push” and “pull” which may be called syncing or a bi-directional sync? Do you have control over what will be integrated and when?
  2. What types of list and transaction data will change as the result of using the integrated application? Most importantly, will pushed information arrive in QuickBooks in the same format as if a user had entered it manually? For example, if you are integrating invoices, will they be recorded as journal entries? If so, that means the General Ledger will be accurate, but QuickBooks will not be able to produce sales reports by item or sales tax liability reports. Or, as another example, consider eCommerce activity, maybe the transactions are recorded as a batch, which again, will result in an accurate General Ledger and reduce the number size of the file based on summary transactions and customer information, but QuickBooks will not be able to produce detail reports. Depending on the needs of the business, one approach or another may be preferable. Make sure to take the time to understand exactly how the data will appear in QuickBooks and to consider the pros and cons of this decision.
  3. It is critical that you do adequate testing of the application with several transactions representing a cross section of the types of data. Use a backup of the live data file at first, so you don’t risk polluting the file with errors if you discover them during testing. Test processes from beginning to end to ensure that the results are as expected. There is nothing more frustrating than going live with a new integrated application and then discovering bugs several weeks or months down the road. Some clients just want to take your word for it that everything will work fine. If that is the case, you will need to do the testing, but I strongly encourage you to involve your clients during testing so they learn about their new business processes and are available to give feedback on each step of the new integration. There are often details clients forgot to tell you before you started, or “exceptions” they forgot (or assumed you knew), so testing the integration together is a good way to flush out that information. I usually stress to the client that this “billable” time is cheap insurance to keep from making a much more costly mistake. If they are willing to do the testing themselves, all the better, but, in my opinion, under no circumstances, should testing be skipped.
  4. Finally, before going live, after the transactions have been processed, review the activity in QuickBooks with a critical eye. Run some reports, reconcile balance sheet accounts, and verify that data is populating correctly to facilitate full reporting in QuickBooks. Remember that the software is developed by a Programmer, typically not an Accountant, and usually not a QuickBooks ProAdvisor. While we would like to believe that the accounting is just right, that is not an assumption you can afford to make. Think about the exceptions to the general rules for this client. Think about how the data might be entered incorrectly. Think about how you will need to enter corrections. And, think about the accounting ramifications of each transaction. Look especially at sales tax, inventory, Balance Sheet accounts, etc. What type of reports will you get from the integrated application or the source documents for the transactions? What are your checks and balances to make sure everything is being recorded completely and correctly in QuickBooks?

The Next Steps

While there is a lot to think about when considering an integrated application, the benefits of providing a more well-rounded solution makes for a better client experience. This directly translates into making you a more valuable consultant which contributes to your practice growth and profitability. As you become more comfortable with building solutions, you are expanding the scope of the projects. This approach is definitely in line with Doug’s phrase of “Chunkification” or the concept of splitting up the separate parts of the overall business process system into discrete parts. The iPhone and iPad have popularized this concept of having a specific “app for that” where the app does what it does well, but does not try to be all things.

As I mentioned in my last post, I truly believe the best way to learn about and evaluate integrated applications is to pick a few applications that you can use in your business. I would love to hear about the experiences you have had with different developers, which applications you have been using, and any other tips and tricks you would like to share about getting up and running with an integrated application.

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Category: Bonnie's Integration Insights, Expert's Corner, For Consultants/Accountants, QuickBooks Tips/Tricks, Technology/Trends, Working with QuickBooks

About the Author ()

Bonnie J Nagayama, CPA has been focused on supporting other professionals and their QuickBooks® Accounting Software clients with practical solutions for financial and day-to-day operational issues since 1992. Her Controller background and CPA experience are a perfect blend to bridge the gap between what the client wants and what the Accountant needs. She understands both sides and can effectively use QuickBooks to provide a solution that works for each party which often includes QuickBooks and integrated applications. Bonnie has been a member of the QuickBooks Professional Advisor Program and an Intuit Solutions Provider since each program began, as well as a member of the Intuit Trainers & Writers Network. She has worked with the Sleeter Group since 1995 and has actively participated in the Awesome Add-On process for the last several years. For QuickBooks tips and tricks, visit her website at http://www.accountingsoftwaresecrets.com and blog at http://www.accountingsoftwaresecrets.com/blog/

Comments (9)

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  1. Mike Branch says:

    Bonnie – This is a great overview of how to work with applications on the Intuit Marketplace. But I think a few points require clarification.

    First, I’m not aware of any Intuit certification program for developers. Applications (but not developers) are reviewed prior to being listed on the Marketplace with Silver status. And it’s worth noting that the developer must pay $1050 to the reviewing organization for this privilege. As a result, there are some good applications out there that are not listed in the Marketplace and have not been reviewed.

    Second, this only applies to off-the-shelf applications. Developers such as myself, who focus on building custom applications for our clients, typically would not go through this process. It doesn’t make sense to pay $1050 to review an application that will only be used by one client. So again, there are lots of good applications (and developers!) who have not gone through the review process.

    In the end, it’s all about the results that are realized by the customer, and in this regard your comments about understanding the integration and testing the application are right on. “Works with QuickBooks” can mean a lot of different things, so it’s important to understand exactly how an application works with QuickBooks before going to a lot of time and expense implementing it.

    It’s interesting that you mentioned iPhone apps. I think we’re headed in that direction with desktop computing as well. It doesn’t make sense to buy a $5000 manufacturing add-on product if all you want is a special report that QB doesn’t provide out of the box. I hope we’ll start to see more lower-priced “chunks” in the QB market soon!

    • Thanks to Nancy and Mike for taking the time for such a thorough response! I love that the blog has sparked discussion.

      Mike, you are correct, it is the application that receives the certification, not the developer. A developer may have mutliple applications which have undergone the certification process, or, as you mentioned, a very good developer may not have any applications that are certified due to a variety of business reasons. My main point here, is that if a ProAdvisor is just getting started, the Intuit Marketplace is a good place to start for packaged software. Just like ProAdvisors, there are great certified individuals and really incompetent ones, and the same is true for Custom Developers and applications that may or may not be certified. However, it is at least a starting point to ensure they are committed enough for packaged software to have an Intuit commitment.

      I believe we are going to see more “iPhone-type” apps in the future as you suggest. Doug has definitely been evangelizing the concept of “chunkification” and I think developers are moving in that direction as well. While the IPP definitely has some more growing pains to endure, the concept is a good one: specific apps that solve a specific need but leverage the community of working together. I am anxious to see how the process evolves and the awesome, cost effective solutions we can provide to the client in the future.

  2. Nancy Smyth says:

    Bonnie, overall a very good article. I’d just like to clarify a few things and I’ll apologize up front for the length of this comment.

    Many developers have been around since well before Intuit released the SDK in 2001 for use with QuickBooks 2002 and newer versions, with many of them having used QuickBooks in their own business, seeing it’s limitations, and the need for the creation of add-on programs that would solve their own needs and the needs of others. These developers used other methods/tools to extract data from QuickBooks – one such product that comes to mind is called OfficeQ Pro – which actually provided read-only or “pulled” information from the data file – the only drawback to that product was that QuickBooks could not be running when a product built with OfficeQ Pro was being used.

    IDN implemented the Silver & Gold level application requirement in 2006 – prior to that a Developer paid for specific membership levels in order to be listed on the Marketplace.

    In order for a Developer to have their products listed on the Intuit Marketplace after 2006 they must submit their software programs and all supporting documentation for testing. I just want to make it clear that the developer themselves are not tested – the programs (and software code) that they write are tested by an independent third party testing company that was hired by Intuit called Intertek. The Technical Review process became a requirement in 2006, and costs the developer of the product $1,050.00 per product. Each Technical Review is good for 3 years after which it costs the developer another $1,050.00 per product. Once a third party application passes this review, the application becomes a Silver Application and the Developer becomes a Silver level Developer.

    If a developer wants to have his application become a Gold Application they must submit their customer list for a Customer Satisfaction Survey, which is handled by a company called Decipher, Inc. and achieve a score of at least 6.0 out of 10.0. Once the Customer Satisfaction Survey has been completed a Developer may then submit Customer Case Studies, which are then available on their Marketplace listing. Once the developer has submitted a Customer Case Study, the final component of becoming a Gold Developer is to have a the software program and all supporting documentation/training aids submitted for a ProAdvisor Review – this costs the Developer $1,500.00 per program or review. The ProAdvisors who perform the reviews are chosen by Intuit. The application is then awarded the Gold Application level and the Developer becomes a Gold Developer and the ProAdvisor review becomes a part of the product listing.

    While it is true that the Technical Review is not an accounting or best-practices in business management review – you fail to mention that the actual SDK itself enforces all the QuickBooks business rules no matter what the third-party application does (some of you may be interested in this article that I published on the QuickBooks SDK – it is a little more technical – http://www.sunburstsoftwaresolutions.com/quickbooks-sdk.htm).

    While I agree with some of your due diligence suggestions I personally feel that the size of the developer’s company is pretty irrelevant – after all many ProAdvisors/Accounting Professionals run a one person operation very successfully.

    I somewhat disagree with your suggestion to seek assistance/partner with other consultants for setup assistance. The absolute best source for help with a 3rd party application is the Developer themselves – there is NO ONE more qualified to provide support and/or assistance with the program or product than they are – after all they built it, they know what it can or cannot do, and they also have the ability to tweak it (if possible) to make it work in a specific situation. Yes, they may sound disgruntled (myself included) on the other end of the phone if you are asking a basic question that is covered on their website – that doesn’t mean that if their is a problem or question that they are unwilling to help/provide support for the product that they have invested years of work in.

    I apologize if this sounds harsh – but there have been a good many times that a ProAdvisor has not recommended our software because they failed to pick up the phone and ask for assistance directly from us and relied on others who did not have the correct answers.

    • To Nancy’s point about developers being around since before the IDN, I definitely, whole heartedly agree! I have been working with QuickBooks since the early 1990s and with developers well before the IDN. However, I was thrilled when Intuit provided a mechanism to improve the integration options as well as providing a venue where we, as ProAdvisors could more easily find the applications that could provide solutions to our clients that a blind internet search.

      I agree that the SDK does enforce business rules, however, just as a QuickBooks user can enter information which is not correct from an accounting perspective, use features in a way which does not best serve the business reporting needs, etc. integrated applications can do the same. The integrated application cannot “push” data into QuickBooks in a way it could not be entered manually, however, that does not mean that it is done in such as way as to support best practices. For example, an invoicing application can push a journal entry which will correctly record the Accounts Receivable and sales amounts, but that method eliminates the ability for the end user to use the sales reports in QuickBooks. While this might be ok, and the reports can be created via the third party application, it might be a deal breaker due to sales tax implications, internal reporting requirements, etc. This is an important point to understand and to take into consideration before implementing the solution.

      The size comment in my post is not meant to rule out small developers, it is important however, to understand with whom you are working. I have extremely small developers who are more responsive than larger companies, but there is also a bandwidth issue for some small developers which results in delays in bug fixes, new features, etc. That said, the larger companies also have longer development cycles, more difficulty in getting the issue documented and through the appropriate channels, etc. I have had a personal experience where there was a big organization, a beautiful four color brochure, a presence in all the “right” places, and a solution that seemed to be a good fit for my client, only to find out that my client would be the third paying customer (yes that is a “3”). This did not rule out the application for that reason alone, but it did change the scope of the negotiations and it did mean that I needed to manage client expectations. For all these reasons, it is just another criteria to take into consideration, not a judgment in and of itself.

      And finally, I agree that it is important to have a relationship with the developer for all the reasons Nancy mentioned. It really depends on the individual situation and the type of application. There are more straight forward applications (of which Nancy has a great one) that do not require much set up and implementation when I whole heartedly agree that the developer is the best point of contact if there is an issue. There are, however, more complex implementations, POS, CRM, time and billing, or inventory come to mind, when there is an on-site, business process, more extensive training, and/or consulting element where working with someone who is able to come to the client location and work with the ProAdvisor and the client through the process is much more efficient than having the ProAdvisor fumble through and/or work with the developer remotely. Some developers offer that type of service, in which case that can work out well, other times, having someone with “real world” experience who has performed the implementation dozens of times before, may be more beneficial (i.e. Intuit tech support vs. QuickBooks ProAdvisors). As with the rest of the original posting, I am not saying there is a one size fits all solution, or a singular best practice, but rather the situation needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis based on the application, the ProAdvisor skills set, the developer resources, etc.

      I guess the bottom line is that working with developers can provide a whole new dimension to a consulting practice and the real key is to understand that there are many different ways to do it successfully. But no matter how you decide to expand your offerings with integrated applications, there is due diligence that needs to be part of the process from the first call with the client to begin to understand their needs, through the research and testing process, on through the implementation and follow up phase.

  3. Nancy Smyth says:

    Good discussion Bonnie :-)

    I think the entire bottom line here could be as simple as this….

    Developers create 3rd party programs to alleviate customer pain points and streamline processes when running their businesses
    AND
    Advisors/Consultants look for ways to help customers eliminate duplicate data entry, transposition errors, and ways in which to streamline critical processes.

    Both sides of the equation are focused on the good of the customer.

  4. I’d like to add a few comments of my own (and I’m a QuickBooks SDK developer myself):

    -My apologies to Bonnie – as editor of the blog I did make a few edits to her article before publishing. I dropped the reference to “Intertek”, for example, which she named in her original article.

    -As a developer of custom applications, I agree with Mike’s comments that the article really only refers to packaged or off-the-shelf apps. Custom apps aren’t addressed in this article. I’ll note that the SDK lends itself to custom apps, as you can create your custom app without approval of Intuit (that approval would require the fee, which is too high for a custom app). In the IPP/Intuit Anywhere development system AT THIS TIME, unfortunately, there isn’t a good process for developing custom apps. It isn’t set up for this, as the development cycle and fee structure really isn’t set up for custom apps. I hope that this changes in the future.

    -One correction to Nancy’s comment, if I understand what you are saying. The “ProAdvisor Review” (at an additional cost of $1500) is not required as a part of the Gold level. It is an option, you can achieve Gold level without that. You only require Silver status, the case study, and the customer satisfaction survey.

    -As for “size of the company” issues – well, that is interesting. I’m an example of a company that is very small. I think, though, that it is a valid issue to consider. It also depends, I think, on the kind of application. If you have a small utility, it is less important. If you are going use a major application that is going to be the keystone to your entire business, you have to be more cautious. While it may not be the final deciding point, and while the fact that a company is small may be a consideration, it is not the final defining factor. It is one thing to consider when making a decision. One of the things that you can consider to offset size is how long the company has been around, how good is the reputation. A small company that has been around for many years, and that has a stellar reputation such as Sunburst Software or Karl Irvin or Baystate Consulting, is one that you can have confidence in.

    I’ll note that several of the products that I’ve reviewed (favorably) in the blog in the past are smaller companies, but they are all ones that have outstanding reputations and that have been in business for a long time.

    • Mike Branch says:

      Yes, company size is a tricky issue, whether it’s a Marketplace app or a custom solution. I’m a small company like Charlie (something I’m trying to change today, if I can get away from blogs, LinkedIn, and FB!) and am often asked about this. For me, the answer is to look at all the variations that may occur in the way an app is used in the normal course of the client’s business, and in the next 1-2 years, and make sure that user-accessible options or settings are built in to the tool so they don’t have to call me every time something changes.

      A large company not dedicated to QB can also suffer small company issues. I once helped a client with a shopping cart solution from a very large company. They had acquired another business whose product integrated with QB and QBPOS, and apparently the people with QB expertise jumped ship. So the acquiring company had this great integrated shopping cart product that they couldn’t support or update! (I think their product is even in the Intuit Marketplace.)

      If you are working with a developer on a custom solution, and you find yourself having to call them for a lot of little things, you should insist that they change the application so that you can handle the issue yourself without needing their help.

      Documentation is also important, as is thorough testing up front by the end users, so you have confidence that you can get by on your own if the developer decides to move to Kathmandu.

      For custom development, your agreement with the developer should include access to source code, either at the end of the project, or perhaps through some kind of escrow arrangement where you get the source code if the developer goes out of business. There may be an additional cost for this, but it’s worth it.

      Great discussion – I love to get other people’s opinions on this stuff!

  5. Karen Magno says:

    Thanks Bonnie for writing this article. We get many questions on the different platforms, what is involved in the various developer statuses etc so this will be an article I will be sure to share with others. I also appreciate everyone’s opinions on this. I definitely agree that there needs to be a dialog between developer, consultant and client and each plays a very valuable role.

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