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With cloud based accounting systems like Xero, QuickBooks and MYOB data analysis and reporting is typically limited for that reason a variety of add-ons like Spotlight, Datadear and Futrli are available to make up for the limited options in the software itself. This becomes even more pressing when you need to combine the data in these systems with other data sources.
“Off The Shelf” Web Services
For requirements where users are looking for exactly what the web application offers, they can be a good choice. Particularly, when only better reporting and simple planning with summary accounting data are the key objectives and the required process matches the one offered in the app. What typically lacks in that context is flexibility and options for customization. As more or less closed web services are hard to adapt beyond the functionality they provide out of the box.
Acterys Extensible Architecture That Integrates Power BI, Excel and other frontends
As opposed to a closed, standard web application Acterys utilizes a standard database approach where all data from the source system (Xero, QuickBooks, Myob, HubSpot etc.) is loaded into the data warehouse from which the data can be accessed with the front end tool of choice: Web browser, Excel, Power BI, Tableau, etc.
The key benefits of this approach are:
Open: the standard database approach ensures you can access the data with nearly any tool and are not at the mercy of a single software vendor.
Scalability: the amounts of data and processing power can be infinitely increased to meet your needs. This includes number of companies added, users, data volumes and processing power.
Flexibility: the data model can be adapted and extended as needed. From their own mappings to adding other data sources as needed.
Backup: user have a full backup of all their data in the linked SaaS service. This helps in cases of emergency when the main system is not available but also when migrating their system onto another platform
Following we are comparing in detail, how the full data warehouse approach” differs from off the shelf web services in the analytics & planning space cloud-based accounting alongside applications like QuickBooks, Xero, MYOB and others.
Scalability and Large Number of Entities
Web applications are by nature limited when it comes to scale. As soon as there are multiple companies involved, data volumes get higher (at Acterys we have customers with 1.7m(!) journals per month) or data from other sources e.g. from CRM systems, marketing data (e.g. Google Analytics) and other web applications need to be integrated the web app approach reaches to its limits
Customization of typically closed off applications -without an API or an externally accessible data storage approach- is more often than not impossible.
Reporting web applications typically don’t offer control over your data. Users have to accept whatever storage type and location they offer (apart from download options into Excel which many offer) and typically don’t have access to the data, apart from through the web application itself. In contrast Acterys is using the market leading Azure cloud platform with the option for customers to completely “own their data”. They can control own their “own” tenant, can exactly decide where data is hosted e.g. in a data center in their country. Peace of mind is provided through likely the most advanced security mechanisms like multi-factor authentication (MFA), IP whitelisting (only users with specifically allowed IP addresses can access data), etc.
Data Model Orientated Approach
An “open data model” orientated approach typically addresses the challenges. Here data is loaded from ERP, accounting and other systems in a separate “data warehouse” that is optimized for analytics. This is typically done in a star schema where transaction tables (e.g. GL transactions, invoices, etc.) are combined with shared dimensions (e.g. calendar, products, customers, accounts, etc.).
This enables users to define the meta data once, for example how time periods or accounts should be organized and mapped and the resulting definitions and hierarchies can then be used with all transaction tables. The benefit of this approach is, that the user is not at the mercy of a vendor. A relational database e.g. Microsoft SQL Server can be used with nearly any client tool (Excel, Power BI, Qlik, etc., etc.) and also offers the opportunity to integrate the data into custom apps (e.g. with PowerApps and Microsoft Flow)
The open data model approach empower users to use the analytics solution of their choice and not be at the mercy of a particular vendor. The Acterys Power BI integration for example enables users to profit from -the at the moment most powerful analytics solution in the world- that is part of the unparalleled Microsoft ecosystem. This means you have everything from interactive dashboards, natural language query, advanced machine learning at your finger tips. Not to mention the seamless integration into Office productivity solution and new no-code workflows and app development options like Microsoft Flow and PowerApps.
What Are The Benefits?
In summary, the benefits of an open (i.e. editable by users not in a proprietary format in a closed web app) data model architecture are:
- Much improved performance and scalability as enterprise-ready platforms (e.g. Microsoft Azure) are used, with optimal data storage for analysis and simulation
- Unparalleled security options
- No limitations on the volume queried due to API call limits per day
- Data structures can be edited as required
- No limitation on adding other data sources (CRM, POS, Marketing, Inventory, etc. etc.)
- Flexible client options (e.g. data discovery tools like Power BI, Tableau, Qlik or Excel) not limited to one web application
- Planning & Workflows exactly configurable to requirements
Admittedly, this approach is not for everyone: Users will have to know how in the required tools (Power BI, Excel, data modelling) or require external expertise to set things up that divert from the standard or involve integration of other data sources.
In the following table, we have outlined the main players in SMB analytics and planning add-on solutions for cloud-based accounting and their architecture. We are admittedly not unbiased, should any of the information below need additions or be factually incorrect please let us know and we will revise.