apps get seriousBy now, everyone knows what apps are. You’re probably exchanging Words With Friends right now. Most people, however, just use apps for fun. And why not? The accessibility of games, music, and media is a fantastic thing. That love of apps, however, doesn’t always seep into people’s professional lives, let alone their QuickBooks use. If you aren’t using QuickBooks apps, you’re probably spending time performing data entry tasks, missing out on financial insights, and dealing with decreased productivity.

Here’s something to think about. According to a recent study, 72% of small businesses use mobile apps, and about a third say they “couldn’t survive” without the use of mobile apps.  The benefits of apps are obvious: they’re designed with the sole intent of saving you time (which then saves you money), providing convenience, and connecting you to QuickBooks in new ways. Plus, apps are just nifty. What’s not to love?

So, maybe you’re vaguely interested in using QuickBooks apps. You’ve gotten as far as saying,   I’d love to use an App for QB, but where do you start? How do you find the right QB app for you? With so many choices, how do you decide?

The key is to think about what you really need.  What is your pain point?  Start by thinking of all the things you do in QuickBooks  and which of them you dislike, or the ones that seem to take up a lot of time—time that could be used doing more important work.  Let’s take expense reporting as an example. There are two aspects of expense reporting: the person incurring the expenses, and the person approving those expenses and putting them into QuickBooks. The person filling the expense report has the following problems: receipts get lost, filling out expense reports is time consuming, boring, and most importantly, filling out expenses reports takes time that could used doing much more important work that actually impacts the success of your business. The person putting those expenses into QuickBooks has some of the same problems: the work is time consuming, boring, and not core to your business.  The time spent tracking down the one typo in an expense report with 100 expenses could be much better spent doing other more important work.

Expense reporting is a menial, repetitive, boring and time consuming task.  This is the perfect opportunity to step into the future and use technology! You’ve identified the problem. Now, find the solution.

In this case, the solution is to use an expense tracking app. Most apps have receipt reading features, which address the problem of data entry being time-consuming and subject to error. Also, apps save time by offering a mobile app: you can file, categorize, and send these expenses to QuickBooks right from your phone, at your convenience. By using these apps to file expenses as they happen, you’re saving time and maybe even enjoying the task!

If you want to find these apps, the place to go is Intuit’s App Center. Because App Center is run by Intuit, you can be sure that the apps within it are tailored specifically for Quickbooks users. Just run a search for what you need, in this case “Expense Reporting.” Compare the results, and pick an app.

The only real way to start getting the benefits of apps is just to dive in and start using them. When you download an app, make sure to use it at least once a week. If you want help setting up, contact the app’s support team (they’re there to support you). The biggest challenge when using apps is changing your every day actions. Once you make that change, though, you’ll wonder how you ever got by before. So go! Off to App Center with you!

Amber Pike blogs for ProOnGo Expense, which just so happens to be the best expense tracking app out there! She also runs customer support and helps out with marketing work. She oftentimes finds herself talking about QuickBooks in social situations; none of her friends know what she’s talking about.

Some things in business improve over time, and others seem stuck.

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell tested the first working telephone with the words, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.”

If he had instead said, “Mr. Watson, come here. The answer is found!” then Watson would have replied, “The answer is sound? Yes, I hear it!” And Bell would have said, “No, no! Found! Found! F as in Frank!”

Which is what people still say in 2010 when they talk on the phone. You place an order over the phone. The rep asks you, “Is that F as in Frank?” “No, it’s S as in Sam”. “F” and “S” sounds are hard to differentiate over the phone even today.

You would think that after more than a century and billions of implementations, the telecommunication industry would have figured out how to make us intelligible to one another. But no. Smartphones are amazingly powerful, but how about some clear speech for our business phone calls?

Today there are a few centuries-old business practices/hassles that just might have taken a turn for the better with QuickBooks 2010:

* Filing documents. QuickBooks 2010 has an optional digital document management option. Scan and shred instead of file and store. There are 3rd party solutions for this too. Not only do you save storage space, but the digitized documents (invoices, for example) can be accessed within QuickBooks. That saves a lot of time on the retrieval side later on.

* Going to the bank to make deposits. The online check deposit option lets you scan and upload your checks for deposit instead of having to make a run to the bank. Saves time, gas, hassle. Brilliant!

* Making copies and taking them offsite. I have no idea how bookkeepers 100 years ago would deal with the possibility of the company books being destroyed by fire, etc. Maybe they would periodically make hand copies and take them offsite? Maybe not. In 2010, the online backup service offered by Intuit and 3rd party vendors makes it easy and efficient to safeguard the books in case something goes wrong.

The Intuit Workplace App Center adds even more problem-solving options to QuickBooks 2010.

Do you think QB 2010 makes a significant jump in office productivity? Are there other longstanding business problems you can think of that QuickBooks is addressing now?

QuickBooks 2010 introduced something new: a suite of optional products/services that integrate into QuickBooks. There have been 3rd party solutions available for QuickBooks for years, but the difference here is that these new products/services live on the web.

They are accessible directly within the QuickBooks application, by clicking on the App Center button. You’ll see the Intuit Workplace App Center.

Almost all of these solutions are available to try for free for a limited time. Then there is a monthly subscription fee if you choose to continue using them.

There are currently three main categories of apps:

1. Professional Services apps. These include document, fax, and expense managers and other efficiency-enhancers for professional offices.

2. Financial Services apps. Add-ins for accountants, tax practioners and financial advisors.

3. Field Service apps. Route and vehicle tracking and more.

There are also project management apps, marketing and CRM apps, management reporting apps, and a nice inventory analysis app.

The suite of available solutions is growing all the time and with it, the possibility of making millions of offices more productive.

I spoke with Brian Sweat of Alterity, Inc. about developing products for the Intuit Workplace App Center. The App Center connects QuickBooks users with a variety of optional software products.

Brian, tell me a little about your background and your company.

I’m the Product Manager at Alterity and have been working on the ACCTivate! product line for the last 9 years.  ACCTivate! is a full-featured inventory and distribution management system designed for QuickBooks® users.  We joined the Intuit Developer Network in 2003 and were in the first group of Gold Developers in 2006.

Alterity just released EZ Analytics for Inventory as a solution within QuickBooks’ App Center. Tell us how that product came to be and what business problems it aims to solve.

The Intuit Partner Platform was launched in late 2008 as a part of Intuit’s  “Connected Services” strategy.  We recognized this was a great opportunity for both Alterity and Intuit.

Advanced inventory management is a common need for many QuickBooks users.  We realize that many users don’t want to switch to a mid-market system for better inventory management.  EZ Analytics for Inventory provides simple tools to better understand their inventory without any changes to their business process.

Your inventory solution is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). And that seems to be a trend for QuickBooks add-ons starting with the new QuickBooks 2010 versions…user data moving into “the cloud”. What do you think the users’ experience will be like compared to using desktop software?

The experience is great!  You can sign up with just a few clicks using your Intuit account.  Intuit handles the entire sign-up and billing process.   Of course, there’s no software to install and updates are automatic.  The user interface is much more robust than traditional desktop software.

What technical issues did you run into in developing a web-based product that interfaces with QuickBooks? And what is it like supporting a web-based product?

There were a few major changes for us.  First, it required a new set of development tools (ie Adobe Flex Builder).  We also switched from using Microsoft SQL Server to the online Intuit Data Services.  There was definitely a transition for our development team, but we’re really happy with the changes.

Providing end user support is very different as well.  Intuit is responsible for synchronizing and storing the QuickBooks data.  EZ Analytics for Inventory is pretty easy to use, so we really haven’t had much additional support.

On a closing note, it seems to me that for both financial and technological reasons, the App Center approach could be a win-win-win for 3rd party developers, Intuit, and end users. Any final thoughts, Brian, about the QuickBooks App Center?

We completely agree!  We are very excited to see more users and developers discover the Intuit Workplace App Center.  EZ Analytics for Inventory is our first Workplace App and we have big plans for the future.  I really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you.

Thank you, Brian!