Many businesses who love their online accounting software still use desktop software for their job management. This is often the case with industry-vertical systems which provide very specific functionality and are therefore very hard to replace.

This may be because incumbent systems in niche markets have less competitive pressure to go cloud or because they have a lot of legacy code to change.

Businesses sometimes think that they can’t use online accounting software. Or if they do they have to use it in isolation from their core system and manually enter all their invoices or in batches.

The latter approach means missing out on great functions such as bank reconciliation, debtor tracking and email statements.

The whole notion of ‘cloud integration’ could make you think that only cloud applications can talk to each other.

Why the Patchy Cloud Cover?

The Xero marketplace is a little lopsided. In the general categories there are 23 add-on programs in Accounting, 26 in Reporting and 28 in CRM.

The industry categories are much leaner. There’s only one in Agriculture, two in Automotive, three in Education and four for Hospitality. Few of these programs are made by the established desktop software leaders in those industries.

‘Where are the categories for childcare centres, pharmacies and petrol stations?’

It may relate to the pricing of cloud software. Low monthly subscription fees are good for software developers targeting a mass market. Generic solutions that can sell to anyone, anywhere.

But when you look at a niche market, with fewer potential customers and limited potential for global expansion, it is hard to charge a low price.

Coupled with the fact that competition is less fierce in niche categories which have higher barriers for entry for newcomers. This is why there are still many industry-specific applications that are still desktop (and even DOS).

Bridging the Cloud to the Office

There are many ways to automate the flow of data from desktop software to the cloud. Let’s look at a scenario of a chain of restaurants that is quite happily using a desktop point of sale (POS) system. It has a lot of excellent functionality and they love the software vendor. Really, there is no good reason to change.

They also use Xero with some add-ons for time and attendance, expense entry and consolidated reporting.

‘How can they automate the flow of data from their point of sale into Xero?’

Here are some options for sending invoices from the core system to the accounting program as this is the most common scenario but it could work the other way too.

Direct integration

This is the most elegant option and how most add-on software integrate. In this case, the software developers would add scripts to the POS software to send information to Xero through its software interface, also known as an application programming interface or API. (API “calls” can be initiated by cloud or desktop applications.)

The POS could for example tell Xero to create an invoice or update a customer’s details.

You can sometimes write another program that regularly reads new data from the POS database and sends the API requests on its behalf to Xero. It all depends on the programming language used to write the POS software.

Scheduled Export/Import

Many systems have a scheduler that regularly creates and emails a report. You can set up a process that will automatically capture an email or (file saved to a predefined location), process it and push the data to Xero via the API.

This gives you a very convenient solution without causing much drama in the source system.

Manual Export/Import

This is a very common DIY solution. Run a regular report or export function in the desktop system, manipulate the data into a compatible format (for example by using an Excel macro), and import to Xero.

Sometimes the developers of your desktop solution will develop an export option for you that prepares the information in a format that is ready to import to Xero.

If you are going to create an automated process make sure you research the best way to record the data in Xero.

Xero has some guidelines on common scenarios, such as how to integrate your POS or inventory system. If there isn’t one that is right for you have a chat to someone who has already developed several integrations to make sure you cover all bases.

‘What was the solution for the restaurants and their desktop POS?’

A quick look around their desktop POS revealed an export report function for MYOB which could be scheduled and emailed automatically.

We set all locations to send the MYOB report daily. Another process captures the email, extracts the attachment, converts it from MYOB to Xero format, and pushes into Xero through API.

Simple, non-intrusive and works!

This article was first published in DigitalFirst