QuickBooks 2018 Updates and Enhancements

QuickBooks 2018: Changes You See and Updates You Can’t See

QuickBooks 2018 has been released, and there are a number of beneficial enhancements and changes to the application that many will find very useful.  Sometimes it is the little things – like a past-due stamp that can be printed on invoices when they are re-sent to a customer – that can make getting the work done just a bit easier. Being able to search the chart of accounts is another thing that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but becomes one when you just can’t remember the account number you’re looking for. Frequently having to scroll through the list of accounts is taking more of your time than you’d think it would.

For the most part, it looks like there are some nice and needed changes that come with QuickBooks 2018. These changes address some functionality and usability issues (like supporting multiple monitors) and are visible to the user.  There are also other important changes that come with QB 2018 editions that aren’t quite as visible.

All editions (Pro, Premier and Enterprise) in the US, Canada and UK got some common updates, including:

  • Multiple monitor support
  • Search in the Chart of Accounts
  • Cash/Accrual toggle on reports
  • Past Due Stamp
  • Keyboard shortcuts for copy/paste lines in transactions
  • Secure Webmail option

For folks using payroll, there are now useful reminders for payroll tax liabilities, and for accountant edition users there is now the ability to merge multiple vendor records.  An exciting feature for many users of QB Enterprise is improvement to the sales order fulfillment process, including support for mobile (un-tethered) barcode scanners.

The changes that remain less visible to the user are primarily component updates and security improvements.  Additional encryption for certain PII (personally identifiable information) fields, version updates of framework and database components, and reliance on Internet Explorer v11 are among the items addressed. While these are not visible changes that impact the program functionality directly, they are necessary to keep the product up to date with Windows platform and to modernize the security in the product. In particular, users should pay attention to the requirement for Internet Explorer v11.  While Microsoft continues to promote Edge as the power browser for Windows 10, it is Internet Explorer v11 that QuickBooks requires.

It is important to note that Intuit‘s support for 3rd party applications is sometimes impacted with QuickBooks updates, particularly when it comes to security, encryption and unattended access to QuickBooks data.  Changes made to how QuickBooks encrypts stored credentials (among other things) caused many 3rd party solutions to lose their ability to connect to and sync data with QuickBooks while unattended (like a middle of the night sync, when nobody else is working).  Many applications had to return to a user-attended sync process, where a user in QuickBooks had to manually initiate the sync which allows the application to connect to QuickBooks and run.  With the release of QuickBooks 2018 this issue remains, which means that you should check with your 3rd party software provider regarding any possible automation changes or additional configuration that might be required due to the update.

For those running QuickBooks in a server-based or hosted environment, there are a few additional considerations regarding some of the changes in QuickBooks 2018. Some of these items represent known technical limitations of working in a terminal server/RDS/hosted environment, and sometimes they’re limitations or restrictions based on the technology being used and how it is applied. It is in this area where the suggestion that hosted QuickBooks will work EXACTLY as the program does when locally installed is not entirely true.

Multiple monitor support, for example, may or may not be easily handled by your hosting provider or remote access solution.  In particular, if you access your hosted service as a Remote Desktop or Virtual Desktop, you may have only one actual Window (the remote desktop window) to work with.  Even if your hosted QuickBooks were to attempt to open multiple popup windows so you could move them to different monitors, you’ll still be limited to the dimensions of your remote desktop. If the remote desktop doesn’t span over multiple monitors, then the QuickBooks windows that open in the remote desktop window won’t either.

The option to keep a user logged in to QuickBooks is another item that may not be useful or workable in a hosted environment, and isn’t necessarily a great idea even if running QB on a local computer.  This option keeps the user logged in to the QB “instance” which can make working with lots of company files a bit faster and makes loading/unloading QB seem faster because it doesn’t really unload or shut down.  While it may be convenient to eliminate the wait times during these login processes, the offset in security risk and problematic application functionality may be higher.  Leaving a user connected to QB for a fast login means that an unattended PC becomes a vulnerability as someone could access the app and files without having to enter credentials every time.  In a hosted environment, the functionality tends to leave QuickBooks running in a user session, often causing the user to be unable to launch QuickBooks if they log off and back on to the host system (getting the message that QuickBooks is already running or the company file is already open).

Support for 3rd party integrations varies in hosting environments, too, but the granting of administrative permissions to users is largely consistent: users do not get administrative permissions. This means that some applications which require Windows administrator permissions to run cannot be easily handled in a hosted delivery.  Additionally, applications that run as services on the computer, and particularly those with controls accessible via the task manager, are difficult to manage in a hosted environment because users are generally not able to access the task manager on the machine to start or stop running services.

Among the most challenging items to support in a hosted environment are mobile and handheld scanning devices.  Mobile scanning devices have become essential tools for inventory and product management, providing users with the ability to rapidly access item information by simply scanning a barcode.  Manually keying in data increases the potential for errors, but also requires a machine with a keyboard be nearby. With mobile scanners, workers are able to input item information regardless of whether they have a computer nearby or not (which is often the case in a warehouse or out on the shop or store floor). The software sees the barcode scanner input as though the data were typed in, which eliminates input errors and failed lookups by ensuring the item number is correctly entered every time.

Where the challenge with a hosted solution comes to play is in communicating between the hosted software (QuickBooks in this case) and the scanner device.  Usually, a scanner must be able to “see” the computer running QuickBooks on the local network.  The scanning device, like a networked printer, is able to communicate directly with the PC on the network so it is able to work with the software running on the PC.  When the QuickBooks software is running on the hosting provider’s computers, the mobile scanners in your business location aren’t able to “see” the host computers on the local network so they may not be able to communicate.

The time for software upgrades is also the time to take a look at how you’re implementing the software to ensure that your business has the most effective and easy to manage system possible. Rather than simply installing the new version on top of the old, consider whether your systems and software might be handled in a more cost efficient and useful manner.

If you’re installing the new QuickBooks editions in-house, maybe it makes sense to take a look at doing a server-based approach, which reduces the number of software installs required, centralizes the access and applications which makes managing the system easier, and creates a single system to back up and administer.

If you’re looking to eliminate the burdens of installing and maintaining your software, backing up your systems and dealing with hardware issues, moving to a managed hosting solution may be the right answer.

Software upgrade time is the right time to explore these options, giving your business the opportunity to test out new delivery models and services without impacting the production system.  There is always some element of risk in updating applications, so it is important to make sure things are ready before starting the process. Make sure all systems are fully backed up, and make sure you have the tools necessary to re-install the old versions of your applications just in case there are changes you can’t work with or problems you didn’t expect. If you’re not sure the best way to approach upgrading your QuickBooks system, contact me and we’ll find the right answer together.

Make Sense?

J

QuickBooks Point of Sale and Hosting

QuickBooks Point of Sale in a Hosted Environment

Retail operators and multi-location store owners often face difficulties in attempting to bring cohesion to their accounting, financial, and operational data.  In so many situations, the retail location –  where inventory is sold and money is exchanged – is far-removed from the administrative location where the financial systems and business reporting exist.  It seems that the best case scenario is to create a means for the remote (retail) locations to operate with real-time access to centralized customer, inventory, and financial data from a primary source. Application hosting services can provide this centralization,  and a platform for standardization, of systems.  Further, the application hosting model can deliver security and managed service which ensures that the systems are available and performing as required.

Even though hosted applications and centralization of the systems and processes in a POS environment may appear to be the right answer, there are caveats and considerations that speak to the realities of today’s technologies.  These caveats should be strongly considered prior to undertaking any reformation of systems and processes relating to the retail locations.

The first fundamental reality which must be addressed is connectivity.

While a retail or store location may enjoy Internet or network connectivity, there should be great consideration given to the wisdom of connecting these locations only and exclusively via remote access systems.

Retail is a dynamic business, and the sale is made when the customer is ready and willing to buy.  Any retail location must be able to process this sale in order to meet the immediacy of customer demand.

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If the systems in use are exclusively accessed remotely, then the connectivity to those systems become of paramount importance in the ability to do business.  At the very minimum, any remotely-served retail location should have redundant connectivity options, with local personnel being familiar with the connection failover process.

A second strong consideration for a hosted or remotely-deployed POS or retail system is local device support.

Devices, such as card readers, scanners, cash drawers, receipt printers, etc. typically require local PC/computer drivers in order to function.  When served by a remote system, this connection between the host and the local devices may not function.  Limited device support for POS hardware can significantly impact the location’s accuracy and efficiency.

QuickBooks POS was designed for use on a single-user PC environment.  The application is not well-suited to a hosted deployment for multiple users, as the software only allows one instance of itself to run on each computer.  This alone eliminates the benefits of a server-based computing model for POS, whether onsite or hosted. The multi-lane option requires all stores to be connected via the same LAN, so remotely connecting multiple locations isn’t really do-able, either.  This is why there is a multi-store option, allowing the various stores to operate independently and send the daily data back to a master location via a store transfer or email process.

In many cases, the suitable answer is to keep the POS systems running on the local computers and network, and run the accounting applications on the host. The host system, whether it be an on-premises server or a location in the cloud, could also run the software which integrates the POS data with accounting.

integratedFor example, with an installation of QuickBooks accounting the point-of-sale “master location” on the host, the core financial data is able to be secured and protected in the virtual environment without risking lost productivity (and lost sales!) due to connectivity failures at the retail locations.  The end-of-day process at each location is to then copy the POS data to the host system where it is integrated with the accounting system. If the POS system is something other than QuickBooks POS, it simply means that there is another piece of software – the specific POS integration tool – required to transfer the POS data into the accounting software.  QuickBooks desktop accounting integrations are available for most popular POS systems including Micros, POSiTouch, Aloha and others. The integration software (often just a QuickBooks plug-in) would be installed on the computer running QuickBooks, enabling the entry of the POS data into the QuickBooks accounting system.

It makes a ton of sense to centrally manage the accounting and financial data for the business, in a secure location away from the retail storefront and frontline workers.  It’s just that the accounting is easier to host and makes more sense to run as a centrally-managed, hosted solution.  POS, on the other hand?  Not so much.

For a small market vendor or the largest of retail stores, point of sale needs to be up and running at all times, driving receipt printers and cash registers/drawers and barcode scanners. Run the POS system on-premises where the action happens, but keep accounting and finance safe and secure somewhere else.

jmbunnyfeetMake Sense?

J