Lands Down Under
Australia is shaking off its associations with kangaroos and koalas and emerging as a powerhouse for SMB software development. Small teams are producing productivity-boosting apps that plug into online accounting programs such as QuickBooks Online and Xero. There’s a good reason for this – 90 percent of businesses in Australia have less than 20 employees and a population of just 22 million. Entrepreneurs accordingly look to solve the problems of smaller businesses rather than build the next Facebook or Salesforce.
Aussies love technology. Australia has one of the highest penetrations of smartphone usage in the world and cloud software is following the same trend. At QuickBooks Connect last year Intuit revealed that the take-up of online accounting software was highest in Australia (6 percent), more than double the US (2 percent) and higher than the UK (4 percent).
Australia’s closest neighbor is very similar. New Zealand is even smaller (3 million population) and yet has also produced outstanding cloud software for SMBs. It’s a long-standing Australian tradition to claim New Zealand success stories as Australian (think Russell Crowe). Accordingly, several in this list are “honorary” Aussie apps.
Here are some of the standouts in the small business productivity ecosystem:
One of the least valued and most overlooked aspects of the accounting relationship is the annual letter of engagement to clients. An administrative hassle, it ties up support staff in a months-long barrage of correspondence with clients. Practice Ignition is a tool that automates this process in compliance-focused accounting firms. The app uses templates and product lists to quickly create a letter of engagement which is sent to the client online. Once an engagement letter is accepted the app turns it into an invoice which the client can then pay by credit card or bank transfer through Practice Ignition’s online payment gateway.
Practice Ignition’s greatest value is automatically pushing the services outlined in the engagement letter into a practice management system. Depending on the level of automation, a firm can assign types of tasks to individual staff members and attach due dates. This helps a firm monitor capacity and workflow. At this point Practice Ignition only integrates with Xero Practice Manager, although there are plans to connect to other practice management software.
AffinityLive started out as a sales and project management tool for a consultancy. It has since grown into a management suite that can run all sorts of businesses. In fact, some accounting firms have experimented in running their practice on it. Like most CRMs, AffinityLive tracks opportunities and conversions by collating emails, meeting and call notes. The project management module includes Gantt charts, milestones, reusable templates and budgeting and reporting tools.
AffinityLive can sync contacts with QuickBooks Online so you have a single view of work, invoices and payments. Emails between staff and clients are tracked in a central business hub.
AffinityLive has a couple of unusual additions for a CRM. It can handle contracts and retainers for ongoing services that rollover every year. It auto-generates invoices through QuickBooks and updates details between both sets of client records.
There is a common thread among most of these Aussie apps. Most are the result of business owners building a solution to solve a problem in their own business and then turning it into a product for others.
Deputy is another of those. It was developed by the CEO of an aviation ground services company to manage the staff roster. It tracks schedules and timesheets that send data directly to QuickBooks Online.
Deputy can watch things a lot of roster apps don’t, such as overtime, fatigue, tasks communication and staff KPIs. Even the weather and sales demand. Once a manager has set up a roster it will notify staff of their shifts via SMS, email or the Deputy mobile app.
The mobile app draws on features built into smartphones to create more accurate timesheets. Employees signal the beginning and end of the shift by pressing a button on the smartphone app which records their location – are they actually at work? – and users face detection to verify their identity.
Unleashed Software, Cin7 and Dear Systems
New Zealand has produced not one but two great programs for managing inventory.
Unleashed Software is a long-term member of the Xero ecosystem, literally growing up alongside Xero in New Zealand’s capital. Its long association has made it a popular choice for businesses looking to add inventory to Xero, which until recently had no inventory capability at all. The strength of Unleashed is in managing inventory for trades businesses and it has a feature set to match. It includes serial number tracking, costed purchase orders, bills of material (kitting), pick, pack and dispatch and back ordering.
Cin7, another Kiwi app, has its eyes slightly up the foodchain at mid-size retailers. It includes a point-of-sale (POS) app which deducts sales automatically from the inventory database.
Cin7 runs the supply chain from warehouse to point of sale, for either e-commerce or bricks-and-mortar retailers. Like Unleashed, Cin7 integrates with popular e-commerce programs such as WooCommerce, Magento and Shopify.
Dear Inventory is a more recent (Aussie) addition to the Xero and Intuit ecosystems. However, it has quickly won a strong following among smaller businesses. It also targets e-commerce and is the only one to add eBay to the list of integrations above.
It also connects to ShipStation, an app that prints shipping labels and packing slips in batch to help online retailers deliver orders from multiple sources. Dear can manage perishable inventories and has a feature that promotes aging items to reduce the volume of markdowns or disposal of expired foodstuffs.
Fathom and Spotlight Reporting
These two apps are very popular with Aussie accountants who like to play the advisory role with their clients.
Spotlight Reporting is a report presentation tool that turns drab spreadsheets or profit and loss statements into colorful reports. It uses pie charts and column graphs that help a business owner understand what’s happening in their business. Accountants tend to use Spotlight Reporting as a way to increase the impact of their advisory meetings across all their clients. Instead of a junior formatting graphs in Excel and pasting them into a Word document, Spotlight Reporting spits out a custom report with color charts from its 100-chart gallery in a fraction of the time.
Spotlight can import data from QuickBooks, Xero, Excel – even Google Analytics. It can consolidate data from up to 20 organizations for businesses using multiple trading entities. An auto-text executive summary pulls together highlights and aggregate data on KPIs which a business can serve up to their monthly or quarterly board meeting.
Fathom sits more in the business intelligence space and is a very powerful piece of software. Accountants can use Fathom to track the performance of a group of companies or play around with KPIs to see which will have the greatest impact on profit, revenue or other metric. The beauty of Fathom is that it does all this in a very appealing interface that is simple to use. It has several animated charts with sliders and toggles to use in endless what-if scenarios. You can use sliders to decrease cost of sale by 2 percent and increase price by 3 percent and watch as the chart recalculates the bottom line.
Again, you could do all this in Excel but it’s much faster and rewarding to use Fathom. Fathom can create dashboards for management teams to track their performance or produce regular reports for internal or external advisors.
Like Spotlight Reporting, Fathom can be used to consolidate reporting for franchises and multi-entity organizations. Its a great addition for accountants who want to turn reports from their accounting program into business intelligence reports or track cash flow, growth, profitability and other key numbers.
Editor's comment: We think you will agree the lands down under are providing a wealth of awesome Apps to bolster the on-line accounting environment. I don't know if it's due to their being more 'assuiestute' at the task of identifying our needs and responding with greater 'zealand' to getting those needs turned into useful products, but whatever it is, we can be thankful for 'their love of technology' that supplies us with so much 'neat stuff.'
We're also greatful and excited to have Sholto contributing to IA and giving us an international flavor to appeal to and expand our readership beyond the US shores.
About our International Bureau Author:
Sholto Macpherson is a business technology journalist specializing in cloud software. He lives and works in Sydney, Australia.
Sholto is also the author of "the Beginner's Guide to Online Accounting." "Be sure to check out this great resource that Sholto has written." (Murph)