Minds blown by basic features

Like a stray puppy that finally finds a warm home, it’s fair to say we were ready to love almost anything. But it’s nice when you do better than that.

I’ve just walked out of a demonstration of WorkflowMax (WFM) using our own practice data. There’s a little more to do yet, but the idea was for us to get some of our management team together and see whether it was on the right track.

Naturally we’re reserving a thorough critique until we get in and use it. But initial impressions are quite simply…wow!

If you’re reading this but unfamiliar with the Xero architecture, WFM is the job/practice management module that integrates with Xero.

There were a total of five of us in the room and you could actually see smiles appearing on the faces of people as questions were answered and concerns eliminated. It was a great mix of the old and the new. We felt comfortable that we could get our data into WFM in a way that was familiar. But it was also quickly apparent that we could leverage that data in an entirely new, more powerful – and frankly better – way than ever before.

We’ve pledged to be as honest as possible in this story. We want to cut through the marketing hype and give a realistic assessment of what’s involved in transitioning an accounting practice to Xero, and whether it can deliver on the promises. I’ve sat through many software introductions over the years and I can honestly say that this is one of the first times I can remember where the experience has matched the pitch.

So far, of course. There’s a way to go yet. Today was somewhere between a demo and a first hand experience. It was a demonstration but it was using our data, and responding to our questions about what it could do with that data.

The most significant impact came when realising the number of separate systems that can now be replaced with a single – and integrated – solution. Sure, it does our invoices and then automatically posts them to our ledger for accounting purposes (our existing system doesn’t post them).

But it also can manage our leads and quotes. Previously we’ve used a makeshift spreadsheet for lead management and it doesn’t integrate with anything. We’ve always generated quotes using Word. Now we can generate a quote using our task list and when the time comes to turn that into a job, we can automatically convert the quote.

We can see all of our practice KPIs on a single report, generated automatically from live data in the system. Previously we have always had to generate special management reports on a monthly basis by manually inputting key data from our system reports.

Sure, we can measure that galaxy for you. If you want a customised debtors report though, it’s going to take a little longer…

And while we’re on the subject, just the ease at which we can customise and create reports was staggering! You mean we can just use a graphical interface and select fields? It currently takes a post-grad in astrophysics to even interpret our report writing system itself, let alone output anything meaningful from it.

We currently use a separate workflow management system which requires us to manage jobs separately from our practice management system. OK, so it’s nice to be able to see at a glance where everything in the practice is up to whenever we go into WFM. But even better, WFM can proactively remind us of progress dates and deadlines via RSS or by integrating with our Outlook calendars!

There is much more to say but that’s a good start. Perhaps at this point you’re thinking that none of that really sounds like a big deal. And you’d be right. We’ve become so accustomed to mediocrity that we’re too easily impressed. Almost all of the data that WFM will give us to truly manage our practice is in our existing system. On a day-to-day basis, our users won’t have to do much different to what they have always done. They enter their time each day, allocate it to a job/client, nominate a task, and hit enter. But it’s one thing to have data. It’s something else entirely to have information. We thought we already had a practice management system. It turns out all we have is an invoicing and debtors system – and not a great one at that.


10 thoughts on “Minds blown by basic features

  1. Love your blog! We are a small accounting firm on a similar path. We’ve been using Xero for about 2 years now for the practice financials & with clients (not quite a silver partner yet but close) and Workflow Max for about 6 months. They are a great combination and clients just love Xero! We have trialled using Xero to prepare the annual financial statements with a couple of clients and have had a few teething problems. The Report packs should help with that. It will be interesting to hear about your experiences and compare notes!

    • Thanks Tracy. One of our motivations in keeping this blog is to connect and collaborate with other practices that are on the Xero path, or thinking about it. So it’s encouraging to hear such great feedback from someone who’s further along than us. Our experience so far with the few clients we’re trialling it with has been much the same – they really seem to love it.

      Would love to hear some more about the teething problems you’ve had with your annual financial statements. Naturally we’re a bit nervous about that aspect, but haven’t had the opportunity to really get in and use it yet.

      • Hi John, it really is a different way of thinking about it. While in theory the annual financials are the same as the Xero file, in practice clients have personal bank accounts thrown in, the loan accounts and drawings don’t always agree, the initial purchase of the business (goodwill etc) wasn’t taken up to start with in the clients records (but are recorded in the financials) so needs to be journalled into Xero, that sort of thing. Also stock on hand isn’t handled well in Xero (as there is no ‘rollover’ at year end) and I’m still not sure of the right way to do trust distributions – by journal I guess. And any debtor and creditor adjustments have to be done via the invoicing system as you can’t put journals through to those accounts. Like I said, it’s a different way of thinking about things! Also there is no cash flow statement or directors report. Report packs should fix these two hopefully! Initially I was all set to switch to Xero ledger for my non xero clients, but am now thinking we’ll probably stick with our existing software for our non xero clients for another 12 months to make sure the bugs are all ironed out. Although with the efficiency gains from using spotlight workpapers its a tough call. I’m committed to this path though, it’s more a question of timing now and getting our heads around it all.

  2. Sorry, computer glitch means I posted twice – I thought the first post was gone for good! Can you please delete the second post? Thanks.

  3. That’s really interesting Tracy. Thanks for the information. We’ve been wondering how Xero will handle trust distributions too, since SME products like QuickBooks and MYOB generally don’t deal with these well from a reporting perspective, and at the end of the day that’s effectively what Xero is. Is it possible that the reporting packs might fix this too, in terms of making the beneficiary accounts and distributions and so on appear correctly?

    Interested too in whether you’ve done it all yourself so far (the Xero rollout) or engaged anyone to consult? We’ve found having someone to go to as an intermediary has made a huge difference for us. So to that end I’ll ask FGS about it at some point and maybe we’ll do a post about what we find.

    • I’m hoping the reporting packs will fix this but we’ll have to wait and see. Cross fingers! I’ve done it all myself. There weren’t any intermediary’s when I set off on this journey 2 years ago. It would be fantastic to have that guidance though! Looking forward to your future posts.

  4. Hi John and Tracey, my name is Frank Varapodio and I am a Director at clark & associates. John the blog is a great idea, well done. It’s great to collaborate and share stories about each of our individual journeys, whilst somewhat different, we are all trying to reach the same goal. We were certainly an early adopter of Xero and have experienced many of the teething issues such as the functionality of the Xero product and the reports its produces. I must say that our feedback to Xero is always well received and Xero are continuously striving to build a best practice product. We are a 100% Xero practice, we have converted all out clients to Xero internally regardless whether they use the product or not. It has paid huge dividends given it is a single ledger system for those clients who use Xero for their bookkeeping. We also use WFM as for practice management – what a great product, again introduced by FGS. With the development of such add on products as Spotlight and Fifo work papers greater efficiencies will be achieved. You both touched on report packs. I currently sit on the Xero Report Pack advisory board and you will be well pleased to hear that Xero are going at great lengths to produce a report pack which will build your yearend annual reports in minutes for all entity types. Currently we manually customise each report before it is sent to the client, so our efficiencies will only improve once the product is released. As a cloud based practice, we have moved our email to the cloud with Office365 thanks to HubOne which only leaves a couple of products left for us to completely transition with the main one being Tax Returns and lodgements. Hopefully some exciting news at Xerocon next month.

  5. Great blog series – good to see your first impressions of WorkflowMax to manage your practice and FGS as your Practice Management implementation partner are positive.

    @Tracy – you raise some good questions. Feel free to let us know if we can help some more on our Business Community site (http://community.xero.com/business) or email our support team directly (support@xero.com).

    To address your specific points:
    Trust Distributions – yes, this is a manual journal to the beneficiaries at year end. In time we’ll look at a way to automate this for unit and discretionary trusts but right now it’s not yet planned.
    Reporting Trust distributions to beneficiaries – yes, depending on how you want to report this it requires working with the current annual reporting solution to get this looking good. Report Packs will help with this significantly. If you’re coming to xerocon Australia you’ll get a good look at Report Packs ahead of its full release (conference details and registration here! http://www.xero.com/xerocon/).
    Directors Report – there’s a Director Declaration available now in our current Annual Accounts (http://help.xero.com/au/#Report_Management$BK_AnnualRep). Report Packs will offer more flexibility.
    Cashflow statement – we have a Cash Summary Report at the moment and a full cashflow statement is something we’re looking into. (http://help.xero.com/au/#Report_CashSummary)
    Stock on hand – currently with our inventory item management functionality, you need to journal to Stock, Opening Stock, Closing Stock and Cost of Goods Sold for whatever periods you work to – we show a journal example in our Help Centre (http://help.xero.com/au/#Q_CostGoodsSold). We’re looking to introduce a light stock module in future so that you can manage perpetual inventory to hold stock values as an asset automatically and also post Cost of Goods Sold values when stock is sold but this is a wee way off yet.

    Great to see this discussion and the questions you guys are asking during you adoption of Xero – thanks all!


  6. How about reversing stock entries closing year end rollover ! becoming opening etc…
    Beneficiary statement, showing opening, capital introduced, Drawing/(advances) etc. And profit posting. year end rolling over ? How about a report ( beneficiary report ) showing each beneficiaries movement , Mum + Dad Church etc

    I can can see Xero great for client applications, but a single ledger solution, not reporting as per XYZ is a bit of a concern and step back. Even if you use AE practice manager, Reporter etc.

    Went to my first Xero seminar in Perth this month, was great / but manual journals to do this is a step back… ( unless I am confused ) heaps of blogs asking for inventory integration, with Xero saying only doing a cut down version !!! so much confusion out there ! Gulp.

    For discretionary trusts for example, cant see how the report packs report on the beneficiaries movement, rather than a line total in the balance sheet.

    I really really want to be convinced to move to xero for our firms solution both external and internal, and jam AE practice manager ( MYOB )

    Great to see tax online system, however how about corp secretarial solutions, how are you guys running this, another database ?

    Thanks for the post, Im so for zero, but not sure how so many firms are using it as their internal ledger, unless I have the report pack issue wrong .

    Thanks all.


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