by Sam Wood
Be wary of integration overload.
The rise of the open API as a standard component of cloud business application has brought with it significant possibilities for collaboration across systems and the promise of automation and improvement of most of an SME’s core functions.
There are now over 500 applications add-on’s in the Xero ‘app store’ so where do you begin when you dip your toes into the integrations market? The overwhelming number of companies now exploiting the Xero API only grows larger when you look past the Xero approved roster and take in people’s ‘build it at home’ API exploits.
However, I think that in this new multi-connected, open landscape there is one thing that is crucial to know:
Just because you CAN integrate does not always mean that you SHOULD.
This may sound counter intuitive and against type, but hear me out. On the Xero app store, much like on its larger Apple cousin (which first introduced many of us to the notion of application integrations) only a very small percentage of the integrations are worth your time and your £££.
Also worth considering, is that many ‘Xero App’s’ shouldn’t be labelled as such and the moniker ‘sister system’ (or something similar) is much more appropriate. The term ‘app’ has been programmed into our minds to be a free/69p throw away experience. This mindset often results in shock and disgust at the thought that an ‘app’ may cost more than the core product. In Xero’ s case, some members or its marketplace can be multiples of 10 times more expensive per month than the core system.
A secondary issue with the API driven Xero app ecosystem is that the term ‘integration’ is a very binary term. The app integrates with Xero, the app does not integrate with Xero. Very black and white. However, if you stop for a second and take a peak behind the details of the ‘integration’, the presumed function almost always fails to deliver everything you want just how you want them.
The Xero API is a complex beast, full of great push and pull capability but the amount that the developer choses to utilise will vary app by app. Is it fair to say an app that simply pulls contact data from Xero is integrated in the same way that an app which auto reconciles sales information is? Maybe, but it’s important to understand what you are hoping for from the integration, and check out the exact extent of the functionality before going all in. Not all integrations are made equal.
A great example of this binary ‘integrations’ term in operation is the marketing of the integration of payment providers such Stripe/GoCardless/iZettle/Paypal etc with Xero. The integrations are fully thought through and work very well in some circumstances, but sadly, remain out of reach for many. The key issue here is the binary nature of ‘integration’ as a term.
When a business uses the payment provider first before thinking about Xero, or where the sales work flow does not include the use of Xero’s invoicing functionality, then the integrations run into trouble.
The marketing needs to be clearer so as to avoid disappointment: ‘Stripe can auto fetch transactions data and auto rec in Xero IF YOU USE XERO’S INVOICING AS THE DRIVER FOR PAYMENTS’, if not, you’re out of luck.
Setting expectations upfront is critical. Newcomers to the cloud sold on high promises can become sceptical quickly when their first experiences of the promised integration nirvana are spoiled by a series of ifs and buts. After all, first impressions count.
There is also the possibility of a growing lack of control of your data. Often, the temptation to utilise the ubiquitous 14-day free trial can result in the ‘gotta try em all’ syndrome. Xero’s monitoring system allows the accountant to see the apps being used across the full list of practice clients resulting in the above ‘syndrome’ being best demonstrated by a client with over 140 connections (practice average is 4). When asked, the client replied that they signed up for every free trial available and had forgotten that half existed. Given the rise of the big data hack and importance of privacy this quickly becomes scary. I’m not even going to mention GDPR…
So I shouldn’t integrate?
So, should you integrate, or just not bother? Of course, you should!
I’m not saying don’t utilise these add-on experiences, I am saying do so with a plan and a strategy to get the most from them.
There are some incredible experiences available through the eco system and some genuinely paradigm shifting experiences available for the SME… if you are willing to research and implement effectively. But please do so with restraint and understand the implication of you actions before pressing ‘Go’.
The best advice I have is to do your homework. Understand what you WANT before diving in. Remember, just because you want a specific feature and there is an app that operates in that field which ‘integrates’, the function may very well not work as you want/expect.
Do not let the software vendors blind sight you, they are after your £££ after all.
You know what your business needs, find an app that solves that problem, investigate, test and implement. When you have solved the issues you know you have, look at the rest of the ecosystem for solutions to problems that you didn’t know you had, or never imagined could be solved. There is a lot available that will amaze you but be wise to the fact that there may be just as much that will disappoint.
As always, the easiest way to get the best start is to ask people that know. Blu Sky specialise in cloud ecosystem building and supporting high growth businesses. Start small and build from there; I suggest a staff expenses module as a starter. Please ask us if you need help!
P.S. Here are some of the apps that we do LOVE and would certainly recommend being worth the time and effort of implementation: