There are more than 400 applications listed on Intuit's Marketplace with countless others that work with QuickBooks, but the developer did not join the IDN (Intuit Developer Network). We try to keep up with the add-ons that have broad appeal to the QuickBooks Professional directly or their client base. Below is a sampling of what we have used with our own clients. This list is designed to provide examples of what is available, it is not intended to be a comprehensive list. If you don't see an add-on you are considering, don't hesitate to contact us and we will let you know if we have experiences to share. Also, if you discover an add-on that works well for you, we would love to hear about that too.
PS There are lots of choices, so if you need a jump start on choosing an appropriate add-on, we are available to consult with you, or provide a needs analysis service with add-on recommendations.
How Add-Ons and Utilities Work
Many of the add-on products available have been programmed to allow the import and export function to occur easily between their software and QuickBooks. The QuickBooks Professional Advisors Program provides additional information to their members that may be useful to those who wish to attempt to import transactional data. It does, however, require a significant amount of programming experience to accomplish.
Many third party software packages, especially those developed for specific industry use (for example medical billing, more comprehensive time and billing, collision shop management, etc) have developed a “bridge” program to permit using their product for the specific task, and QuickBooks for the general ledger and additional functions. By creating an export file from the other software that QuickBooks can import they can provide great value to the small business.
In February, 2001, Intuit announced the Intuit Developer Network to increase the solutions available for the small business community that interface with QuickBooks. At that point the SDK (Software Development Kit) and QODBC tools were released to facilitate the development of add-on solutions. Since that time the number of solutions has exploded exponentially. In addition, many developers have the ability (for a reasonable fee) to customize their program if it does not fit the needs of the client specifically.
This process of performing the needs analysis that includes a “must have” versus “wish list” and finding the right add-on to match (or working with the developer to customize an existing solution) can provide a challenging and lucrative business for the QuickBooks consultant. These services can even be expanded to include managing the project between the client and the developer, installing the solution and training the client on its use. The perceived value to the client is high because of the time, cost, and aggravation that can be eliminated as a result of the increased efficiency and information an add-on can deliver. As a consultant, you probably already know what the client needs; add-ons just provide an opportunity to solve the issue. Typically the client does not feel they have the time or expertise to find a solution “from scratch” so they appreciate the suggestions the consultant can bring to the table. The challenge for the client is that they often don’t speak the same language as a developer and the developer does not have the accounting knowledge to understand what the client truly needs. The consultant is a perfect way to facilitate the communication between them.
TRICK: Many Add-ons work with only specific QuickBooks products and versions. Future upgrades may be dictated by the need to keep the add-on and the QuickBooks software compatible and working together. Keep this in mind when evaluating costs, training, and future expenditures.
TRICK: The most significant issue to know before using an add-on is if the QuickBooks data file should be open or not. With most it is open, but with some it is not. And most all require setting the integrated application preference to permit access to the data file, and potentially the social security numbers and other sensitive information.
Add-ons from Intuit typically fall into one of three categories:
Built In – the solution may be a “built in” add-on service available directly from Intuit. Examples include payroll services, deluxe billing services, online bill payments, merchant services, online back up service, remote access, etc. With these options, information is retrieved and automatically updates QuickBooks. This is the easiest way to get started because the add-on looks and feels like QuickBooks.
Integrated Software – the solution may be a true add-on provided by Intuit that attaches to QuickBooks such as the Financial Statement Reporter or the Fixed Asset Manager. These alternatives add an option to the pull down menu, but when chosen automatically launch a completely separate software program that uses information from within the QuickBooks data file.
Stand Alone Software – the solution may be a program that can function with QuickBooks or independently. For most of these solutions, the SDK is used so the data flows directly into the QuickBooks data file. Examples include the Client Manager, Customer Manager, and Point of Sale Programs. The QBTimer, a free time tracking program included on the QuickBooks software CD is an example of the old technology of using an IIF format that was then manually imported into QuickBooks.
Third Party Developer Examples
For third party developers, there are primarily three different types of interface:
Bridge Program – this type of interface typically creates an IIF file from information entered into a third party software package to be imported into QuickBooks. Examples include the Yahoo store export, bank account downloads, etc.
Excel Add-In – this program attaches to Excel including adding another pull down menu within the program itself. These can be “off the shelf” or custom programs. There are primarily three formats:
1. Reports are generated in QuickBooks then exported for manipulation such as with Smart Reports or WIP Reports.
2. Reports are generated by the add-in from QuickBooks reports that have been exported then information is available to be imported into QuickBooks such as the QuickBooks transaction copier.
3. The others the add-in can actually extract the data needed from the open QuickBooks data file automatically such as the QReport Grabber.
Integrated QuickBooks Add-On – with this solution the information is extracted from QuickBooks directly, or may update the QuickBooks data file directly. Some programs require mapping of information so the interface is bi-directional. Others simply extract the information as needed. These are available in one of two formats:
1. Off the Shelf Program – standard packages mass marketed that are usually very cost effective and feature rich solutions. Examples include BillQuick, Expert Analysis Upgrade, Aatrix, ReportWiz, Customer Payment Analyzer, and countless others.
2. Off the Shelf Tools – standard packages that provide flexible solutions. These typically fall into the category of data base or report generating products. Examples include Alpha 5, Adagio FX, and QODBC. These products may be a little more complex to use in the beginning but the flexibility they provide can make the investment in training well worth it in the long run.
3. Custom – this may begin with an off-the-shelf solution that is then modified based on the specific client need. Other times it may be a completely custom solution. The cost is usually a little higher because the programmer works specifically on solving a client need with a solution that cannot be readily sold to another customer. A perfect example of this is the QData Viewer, several reports are available off the shelf, but countless reports are possible with a little custom programming.
IIF versus qbXML Interface
IIF (Intuit Interchange Format) and the qbXML version of XML (eXtensible Markup Language) are two different ways that data file can be updated. List IIF files can be created and manipulated relatively easily. Transactional IIF files and use of qbXML typically requires programming skills and knowledge.
Information coming from Intuit is that the IIF format is being phased out. This process will take some time to happen completely, but developers are (or at least should be) keeping it in mind as they move forward on projects.
As a consultant, it is not necessary that you become fluent in XML or know all the programming and technical jargon. Talk with a programmer about the needed function and how you suggest it be accomplished. Then sit back and listen as they describe if that is feasible or not based on the access Intuit has permitted, what their product was designed to do, the depth of their knowledge in a particular area, etc.
On to the products...