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Finding the Right QuickBooks Add-on

Column: The QuickBooks Advisor

From the July 2009 Issue

QuickBooks, as versatile it is, cannot do absolutely everything, nor can it
satisfy all business needs for all types of industries. End users in a variety
of industries often keep some detailed industry-specific information outside
of QuickBooks, and then re-enter summary or detail information into QuickBooks
for the purposes of preparing financials.

Many of these programs perform functions that are vital to specific industries
or business processes, while eliminating the need for the end user to change
to a custom or industry-specific accounting package. This allows the end user
to track more data and produce better reporting than QuickBooks alone provides,
while staying with the familiar, comfortable and user-friendly QuickBooks program.

A perfect example of the need for add-on
solutions is the case of inventory tracking. While QuickBooks does track inventory,
the inventory module has its limitations and falls short of the full functionality
that many end users need. For example, QuickBooks can only employ average cost
inventory, and users cannot choose another costing method such as FIFO (First
In, First Out) or LIFO (Last In, First Out), which are more appropriate for
many businesses.

Other inventory limitations include the fact that QuickBooks cannot automatically
track serial numbers, bin locations, lot numbers, bar coding, multiple warehousing,
warranty periods or expiration dates. So to handle these types of tracking needs,
you could use QuickBooks for inventory, but you would need to track the additional
information in a separate program such as a spreadsheet. However, this duplicate
entry of information would quickly become unworkable as the amount of data increased.

To address these issues, Intuit formed the Intuit Developer Network (IDN) to
enable third-party developers to develop and offer products that integrate with
QuickBooks. The developers in the IDN make use of the Software Development Kit
(SDK), which is provided at no charge to them by Intuit. The ideology of the
SDK is “Never Enter Data Twice” (NED2) and to facilitate the sharing
of information both ways behind the scenes between QuickBooks and the add-on

When an add-on is used properly, it expands the power of QuickBooks without
creating extra work.

Prior to the release of the SDK, IIF (Intuit Interchange Format) files were
used to import lists (and, to a limited extent, transactions) into QuickBooks.
IIF files are specially formatted tab-delimited text files that can be opened
and edited in Excel. Although the IIF method still can be used with the current
versions of QuickBooks, I highly discourage any system that relies on IIF imports.
Intuit also discourages the use of IIF for anything other than the most basic
of list imports.

Here are some of the limitations of the IIF method:

  • Import files are very difficult to create properly, especially for files
    containing transactions as opposed to just lists.
  • There is no error checking or log file of IIF imports.
  • There are no safeguards against duplicate imports of IIF files, and multiple
    imports will create duplicate transactions in QuickBooks.
  • There are no safeguards against accidental overwriting of existing list
  • Erroneous IIF files can create unintended list entries in QuickBooks, such
    as a new bank account or new service item.
  • Two-way transaction synchronization is not possible using IIF files. You
    can import IIF, but you cannot export transactions to IIF files.
  • The integration is not seamless; it requires separate file preparation,
    single-user mode, and being signed in as the Admin user in QuickBooks. It
    also requires the user to specifically choose a menu item to import the IIF
    file, and the user must search the windows directory to select the correct
    file to be imported.

The IDN was created to encourage the development of third-party add-on products
to enhance QuickBooks. This resulted in the creation of the QuickBooks “Marketplace”
— the first place to go to find dependable, tested software that integrates
with QuickBooks.

Useful websites for consultants interested in third-party add-ons include
the following:

The Marketplace can be searched by industry or by business need, and both search
parameters can be further refined by QuickBooks Product Compatibility (for example,
Pro 2009, Enterprise v7, Online Edition, or the Canadian or UK versions of QuickBooks).
If a country is not mentioned in the name of a particular product on the version
list, then it is a U.S. version of QuickBooks. Only non-U.S. versions specify
the country in the version name.

An add-on product’s listing on the Marketplace provides information
regarding the product’s functionality, links to the developer’s
website, a trial download, QuickBooks version compatibility, as well as other

Since each client has unique needs, there is no guarantee that a product listed
on the Marketplace will be the appropriate choice for your client’s situation.
Therefore, as a consultant, you must research each add-on product to make sure
it’s a match for your client. Research the developer’s website and
the product by arranging for a trial version, aproduct download and a demonstration.
Look at product ratings, case studies and ProAdvisor testimonials published
on the Marketplace and any information from the developer’s website or
elsewhere. Speak to the developer, as well. Find out what the return policy
is. Test out the product and competing products. Compare products on features,
user-friendliness, documentation, technical support, price and customer ratings.

Check out the community response to queries about this developer and product
The Sleeter Group Consultants Network also has a members-only forum where you
can seek guidance from over 600 QuickBooks consultants on nearly every solution
in the market.

Each November in this column, I recognize some of the top QuickBooks add-ons
with my annual Awesome QuickBooks Add-on Awards. For the list of the 2009 winners,

Keep in mind that these add-ons are developed by members of the IDN, who are
independent developers not affiliated with Intuit in any other way. This means
that Intuit does not recommend, guarantee, troubleshoot or provide any support
whatsoever with regards to these applications. For issues regarding installation,
use and integration, the user must deal solely with the developer.

product listed on the Marketplace will feature a Gold or Silver Developer logo,
as seen here.

The gold and silver logos indicate that an independent company has put a particular
package through a “QuickBooks Technical Review” to ensure that it
integrates and exchanges data with QuickBooks and is compatible with a particular
QuickBooks version. If a package is listed on the Marketplace, it must have
passed this review process. Gold developers’ products have passed a customer
survey conducted by a third party, as well. Some gold packages have been reviewed
by ProAdvisors at Intuit’s request.
However, having a gold or silver logo does not necessarily mean that the product
will perform exactly as expected, or that it works with all versions of QuickBooks.
If the product does not work as desired, or is not to your satisfaction, there
is no recourse through Intuit; all communications must be with the third-party
software developer.

These product surprises may also include compatibility with your computer’s
operating system or network settings. These logos also do not mean that the
review process is as comprehensive as you would like. The details of the technical
review can be found at

In addition to features of the add-on, it is critical to assess the ease-of-use
of the product. Make sure you spend some time evaluating everything from basic
screen designs, to product stability and the user documentation. Even the most
powerful add-on will most likely fail with your clients if it’s hard to
use or lacks quality online Help or user documentation. Also, make sure your
clients understand the type, amount and cost of technical support.

SDK design limitations also exist. For example, a computer with more than
one country’s version of QuickBooks installed on it may cause a third-party
add-on to not work. This is because the SDK used by the add-on is “confused”
as to which version of the SDK it should communicate with. In this situation,
it is best to keep each country’s version of QuickBooks on a separate

Another constraint of the SDK is that it does not support all QuickBooks fields
and transactions. For example, add-on applications cannot access the details
of payroll transactions, and cannot create paycheck transactions. Every new
version of the SDK is aimed at improving functionality and reducing its limitations,
so “stay tuned” for improvements in future versions as they become
available. The following limitations are among those that currently exist in
the SDK:

  • Customers’ multiple Ship To addresses cannot be accessed.
  • Online banking is not available (by design due to the sensitive nature
    of the information).
  • Accessing payroll transactions is not available.
  • Units of measure are not available.

all the searching, you may not find a ready-made solution that solves your problem.
If that is the case, locating a custom developer might be in order.

Custom Developers can be found on the Marketplace by selecting the Find Custom
Developers link. As with any developer or third-party listing, this is only
an introduction to the software company. It is not a guarantee of future success.

There are several “best practices” that should be used anytime you
are testing, installing or using a third-party add-on.

Any add-on, no matter how reputable, must be tested out to assess its applicability
and compatibility with a particular situation. Be sure to back up the QuickBooks
data file on external media prior to initiating the installation and integration
of the add-on. Be aware that in addition to the QuickBooks data file and any
related QuickBooks files (such as the *.tlg and *.nd files and the Images directory),
there will most likely be a separate database for the add-on program. It is
important to know the precise name and location of this database file.

Furthermore, ensure that any third-party database file is adequately and regularly
(i.e. daily) backed up and that anyone accessing this database file has sufficient
network security privileges to do so. The database for the third-party add-on
can be just as valuable to the end user as the QuickBooks data file, so treat
both with respect and care.

Most add-on products will have their own sets of user names and associated permissions,
so you should not assume that a QuickBooks user’s name and permission
level will automatically carry over to the third-party add-on. These user names
and permission levels must be independently created in the new software.

One useful practice is to create a user in QuickBooks named after the third-party
add-on (e.g. “Fishbowl” in the case of Fishbowl Inventory). This
user name should have permission to access all areas of QuickBooks, and when
the add-on connects to QuickBooks it should “log in” to QuickBooks
under this user name. With this practice, the audit trail in QuickBooks will
identify all transactions that have been entered and/or modified by the add-on

The steps for creating the special user in QuickBooks are
as follows:

Step 1: Select Company, then Set Up Users and Passwords, then Set Up

Step 2: Click Add User.

Step 3: Enter the new user name that matches the third-party
add-on (e.g. Fishbowl).

Step 4: Enter and confirm the password for this new user.

Step 5: Click Next.

Step 6: In the Access for User window, check All areas of

Step 7: Click Next.

Step 8: In the Warning window, click Yes to confirm access
to all areas.

Step 9: The final window will show a matrix of areas and
access levels, showing only Y’s and n/a’s. Click Finish.

Often, the third-party add-on will have a Server component and a Client component
(as is the case with QuickBooks). The installation instructions of each individual
software package should be followed. However, in general, it’s best to
install the Server software on the network server where the third-party data
(and the QuickBooks data file) resides. The Client software for the add-on is
installed on each workstation as is the case with the QuickBooks client software.
Each Client will connect to the Server through the network.

To provide the best performance, the connection between the add-on and QuickBooks
should occur between the add-on’s Server component and QuickBooks on the
server computer instead of through a network connection. Check the documentation
from the add-on developer for specific setup recommendations.


See inside July 2009 issue

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