Friday, June 13, 2014

Customer case study: Google Apps and Xero work together to drive efficiency

At InterlockIT.com, we're Google Apps Resellers with a CPA on staff who noticed that there was a distinct lack of integration between accounting software (specifically Xero) and the wonderful collaborative features built in to Google Spreadsheets. We wondered if there was a way to maybe get the two to work together...

We built our powerful Xero reporting engine called Blink Reports to give users a faster and easier way to produce financial spreadsheets and reports from their accounting data. What we've learned along the way is that we can do so much more with the new Google Spreadsheets and Xero than we ever imagined was possible.



TargetCW is a leading provider of contingent workforce services across the US and overseas. Their corporate Kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement applies to their accounting and financial processes too. Xero recommended that Ryan Anning at TargetCW test out our Blink Reports for Xero reporting engine to overcome the limited number of columns that are normally shown on the profit and loss statement. Ryan's goal was to produce a revenue and cost analysis by worker which requires a report with more than a few hundred columns! It turned out that his need was so unique that initially our Blink Reports engine would produce an error due to waiting too long to receive the data from Xero.

On a standard profit/loss report, it's unlikely that you'd need such a wide spreadsheet, and indeed Google Sheets has traditionally had a 256 column limit. Thankfully, with the new version of Google Sheets (now the default), this limit and a number of others no longer exist. Need to generate a huge 100% cloud-based spreadsheet, with up to 2 million cells and the share it securely in real time with others? Not a problem. Google Sheets will do it for you right from within your web browser.

The technical side of how we fixed Ryan's challenge is quite clever, but we won't go into too much detail here. Mainly, we're using Google App Engine to handle all the hard work between the user's Google Spreadsheet and their Xero accounting data. Due to the flexibility of Google App Engine we were able to adapt our code, test it live without impacting existing Blink Reports users, and then make it the production version with zero downtime.

The solution means that Ryan can now generate large reports like the one you see below (click to enlarge). Note the columns stretch all the way to KJ—representing nearly double the original column limit—and it will continue growing as needed.


Xero's built-in reporting engine has good functionality, but when you need to analyze the data in a spreadsheet you're forced to export the report to Excel or Google Sheets format. This leads to static financial data that becomes quickly out of date. To put it bluntly, Xero simply cannot generate reports to rival what we can do on the Google Cloud Platform with Google Sheets.

With Google Spreadsheets and Blink Reports, all of a sudden you can review this month's revenue and expenses by worker, then change two date fields and see a different month (or even year) for comparison.

Offloading the pain of financial reporting to Blink Reports from Interlockit.com means that Ryan at TargetCW can now work more quickly through his finances and focus on the things that matter: generating business instead of generating spreadsheets.