Avoid the Aftertaste| QuickBooks Desktop Hosting Comes in Many Flavors

Avoid the Aftertaste| QuickBooks Desktop Hosting Comes in Many Flavors

There is a lot of activity and interest around the hosting of desktop applications in the cloud, and it is no wonder that a great deal of the effort centers on the use of Intuit QuickBooks desktop editions.  QuickBooks is among the most popular software products used by small businesses, so it makes sense that service providers and hosting companies are taking advantage of that market share to reach prospective hosting customers.  After all, a hosting platform may be kind of neat, but it is not all that valuable unless there are applications and data living on it.

For the average small business, the applications of choice include Microsoft Office and QuickBooks.  Yes, there is an online edition of the QuickBooks product (called QuickBooks Online, of course).  However, the market share Intuit earned for QuickBooks wasn’t accomplished with an online application, it was done with the desktop applications which still own market share today.  Hosting service providers recognize this truth, and are taking steps to bring those QuickBooks desktop solutions into the cloud.  Now we have the ability to get QuickBooks Desktop editions online – which is not the name of a service but a description of what it offers – available from a variety of authorized hosting providers (and from many unauthorized ones).

I’ve said before that there is a fine art to hosting QuickBooks desktop for lots of users.  There are a great many different considerations and possible use cases, and not all providers will be able to meet every requirement.  There are also lots of different technology models and methodologies which may be applied to the hosting model, and each has some benefit or barrier depending on the specific need of the client.  Hosting companies may throw around terms like “cloud server” or “published application” or “remote desktop”, but at the end of the day, the systems are still Windows computers running QuickBooks software.  How those systems are wrapped up, how you connect to them, and how you operate with them often becomes the real difference in the service experience.

The specific technology a hosting provider applies to the service does not necessarily describe exactly how the service works.  Just because a provider may use Citrix doesn’t mean they have more capability to provide quality service than a provider using other technologies, or a host using VMWare is not necessarily creating better cloud servers than a host using Hyper-V or Parallels or some other virtualization strategy.  The technology may impact how the infrastructure is operated and can impress upon the customer experience, but the real differences in delivery often come down to the provider’s understanding of the software product, the customer need, and their ability to meet the need directly.

Does the experience of connecting to and using the service work for the users, and are people able to get their jobs done quickly using the service without a lot of support or frustration?  (**Please note that hosting services aren’t a solution for bad software and poor working processes.  If the software or processes aren’t workable now, they’re likely not going to become magically more workable if hosted).  Does the hosting service address issues like making the right data available to only the users who need it, and giving access to applications only when a user is permitted to use them?  What about “external” users like contractors or client businesses… does the host offer a way for them to also participate in the solution?

It’s important to consider all of the aspects of how the service will be used, and by whom and under what circumstances, to ensure that the delivery offered is the solution needed. The point of all this is to encourage users to concern themselves a little less with exactly what technology the host is using to deliver QuickBooks applications, and to evaluate the actual solution.  It won’t typically matter to an end-user what specific technology is being used to provide them with service as long as the service works well for them.

While some people do adopt a fondness for a particular “flavor” of technology or approach, the reality is that a quality user experience coupled with a useful and reliable system means much more to the business.  And knowing that there are future options for growing, expanding or simply changing the service is essential.  It’s not so much the flavor of technology users should be concerned with when shopping for QuickBooks hosting services, it’s avoiding that icky aftertaste that comes with selecting a QuickBooks hosting approach that just doesn’t meet the business need.

Make sense?

J

Accounting for Point of Sale

Accounting for Point of Sale

There are a lot of solutions available to help retail businesses get business done.  From touch screen technology to mobile credit card and payment processing, retailers have many choices when it comes to selecting the right technology for the establishment.  But even the best point of sale system can lack the critical element that makes it truly valuable for the business.  This critical element is integration to a trusted accounting and finance solution.  While the POS system may include a level of basic accounting functionality, the reality is that a dedicated financial application will perform better in the long run.

Just as specialized line of business applications are used to handle operational functions, the financial application should be considered to be the “line of business” solution for the accounting and finance department (even if it is a department of one). This system not only services essential processes like receivables management, bill payments and bank account reconciliation, it serves as the basis for payroll, financial, tax, performance and other reporting. Further, the financial systems are often the first and primary source of analytical data, illuminating KPIs and cash flows and ultimately the business value.

The point of sale application generally handles the selling of and payment processing for goods and services sold by the business.  Whether it is composed of registers and terminals connected to a host system, PCs running POS software, or mobile phones and tablets running mobile payment processing apps like Square or GoPayment, point of sale addresses the retailers need to capture and record sales and payment information, sometimes customer information, and often inventory information.

The data from the POS solution must make it to accounting in some manner, yet point of sale applications are too-often approached as a standalone business requirement, somehow disconnected from other aspects of the business including the back-office.  Sales and items may be recorded in the POS system, yet only summary sales data ends up being re-keyed into the accounting system.  Centralized inventory management is all but nonexistent in these cases, and gross sales total are often recorded rather than individual transactions and receipts being transmitted to the accounting system.  The process of re-keying information from the POS to accounting systems is not only an efficiency-killer, it is also introduces a great potential for errors.  When the business elects to conserve on data entry and post only summary information to the accounting system, valuable detailed sales and transaction data may be lost.

The right approach to bringing point of sale together with accounting is to automate the process of integrating POS data with accounting on a regular basis – with AUTOMATION being the key.  Rather than establishing a process that requires manual entry of information from either system, a data integration solution is the best approach, with an import/export solution running second. The point is the elimination of manual re-entry of information.

There are numerous tools available that can take formatted POS data and import it into products like QuickBooks, for example, where it can be properly accounted for.  While QuickBooks Point of Sale integrates with QuickBooks desktop products, other POS solutions can also connect with QuickBooks if the right integration tool is selected, and there are quite a few available.  Check with the POS vendor and ask about a direct integration with QuickBooks desktop or whatever financial system you use. If there isn’t a packaged integration solution available, then check out products like Transaction Pro Importer, which can automate a variety of data import processes and ease the burdens moving external data into QuickBooks.pointofsale

The other factor in getting point of sale data to accounting is actually getting it there… transporting the data from the POS location to where the accounting system lives.  In many situations it is not desirable to keep the accounting system on the same computers as the point of sale systems, and in some cases it isn’t even possible.  But there is generally a way to get the information in a form that makes it possible to transmit it in some manner.  Among the most popular approaches to solving the “getting the POS data from here to there” problem is to use a data sync solution like Dropbox.

If the point of sale data can be exported or output to a file on a PC hard drive, then it may be able to be stored in a Dropbox folder on that PC.  At the home office where the accounting system resides, the operator would access the sync’d files from the local PC Dropbox folder and import the data to QuickBooks.   For QuickBooks Point of Sale there is an option to create a “mailbag” of sorts from the POS data of a remote store, which QuickBooks POS at the home office would pick up from the Dropbox folder and push to the QuickBooks financial application.

For businesses using POS systems like Micros or POSitouch and others, there is likely a service or application that will produce the POS data for import to QuickBooks or other financial system, pulling POS data files placed in the Dropbox folders by the POS app or performing the function as a web service or SaaS integration.

While I am a big fan of application hosting services and running QuickBooks desktop editions in the cloud, I’m also a realist and recognize that many POS solutions either can’t or shouldn’t be hosted.  There are situations where a hosted point-of-sale makes a lot of sense, and then there are cases where no bandwidth or proprietary hardware-based solutions make hosting not even an option. That doesn’t mean that the financial systems shouldn’t be hosted, though, and there are numerous ways to get the sync’d POS exports to the hosted QuickBooks environment, for example.

The key for retailers is to make sure there is a solid process for getting detailed and accurate POS information into the accounting system on a regular basis.  Manual entry is never the best answer.  With all of the technology and tools available, manually re-entering sales information is a waste of time and is likely to produce errors.  The better answer is to use an approach that automates the regular collection of point-of-sale data from all sources, delivering the data in a regular and consistent manner to accounting, and providing the basis for end-to-end automation supporting the integration of the point of sale system data with the rest of the business accounting.

jmbunnyfeetMake Sense?

J