April 2017 Survey Results

Submitted by mathew on Thu, 25/05/2017 - 17:36

I rarely use formal surveys. But for second time since 2009 I decided I should gather some feedback which would help me work out where to concentrate my development efforts. The survey went out to 1,000 people and if you took the time to fill it in, thank you!

I collected 115 responses over a week and processed them to group common answers together.

I asked the rather open ended question "why do you use Easy Books?".

  • 66% - Ease of use / simplicity / plain speaking / user interface
  • 12% - Invoicing, keeping track of what customers owe
  • 22% - Other reasons (e.g. syncing, reporting)

When I asked for suggestions for what to work on, I had a much larger set of answers. Nothing really stood out as something important and lacking in the app as it stands, but I did find the following:

  • 8% - Addition of other platforms (Android, Windows)
  • 5% - Bank feeds
  • 4% - Improved search capability (searching within line items and split transactions)
  • 3% - Attach scans of documents and photos
  • 2% - Support for MTD (Making Tax Digital) in U.K.
  • 78% - Others/blank

I have omitted one thing from the list above. The most common theme was that I shouldn't add new features at the expense of making the app more complicated. Almost everyone agreed that the app's best feature was its ease of use, especially handy when getting started in business. Many people commented that they didn't want anything to change and I should be careful not to ruin a good thing.

So with that in mind, I have some thoughts about the most common suggestions.

Other Platforms

I've worked on many platforms over the years. For a long time I worked on embedded software and Windows applications. I enjoyed working on embedded systems, and for many projects I developed the hardware as well. But I wasn't ever very happy on Windows. I can't really put my finger on why, but I loved the Mac platform straight away. I moved to the Mac in 2008 and worked on iOS to begin with. I did invest about a month on learning the Android platform, but in the end I decided it wasn't where I wanted to take the app. Part of being an independent developer is about the freedom to choose what to work on. I am led by customers' opinions and suggestions, but I don't feel I would do my best work on a platform I didn't like using myself.

Bank Feeds

This was the second most common suggestion. Essentially this would be allowing the app to sign into your bank and download transactions directly into your books. This frightens me from a security point of view!

A couple of years ago I attended a conference where I met someone who works in this field. He explained how the system works, and the fact that it's not something the banks offer. I was surprised to find out the whole system of bank feeds is actually run by a few third party companies. You give the companies your login credentials and they run a process that signs in as you. From there, they interact with the site over an automated browser, scraping the HTML pages and clicking virtual buttons and links. They need to maintain code to interact with each bank's site separately, since no banks offer a common interface (or API) to get at the data.

I've contacted a company who provide data from bank feeds, but they never replied to me.

If there was a standard API that banks could agree on, which would guarantee to operate in read-only mode, I would be keen to develop this feature into the app. We are still left with the problem of how to recognise the transactions. For example, a purchase could be for an asset or an expense item and it's hard to guess. The existing CSV import in Easy Books for Mac guesses based on previous entries with the same text. Unrecognised transactions are linked to the suspense account to be sorted out manually.

Improved Search Capability (Searching the Details Field)

The app allows text search in the main description / invoice number field. For a long time I have resisted suggestions that the app should search within the details field. My reason for doing so is this affects performance, because each transaction may contain a number of line items, all of which need to be searched. I run a test system with around 50,000 transactions and my target for search is that it should list results in under a second.

I recently spent a couple of weeks working on other methods to speed up search and I'm pleased to say this is now a reality! The apps are due to be updated later today with new search capability and I know a lot of people are going to be very happy about that.

I've also added the option to search a list of transactions by date, or range of dates. To use this method of search, type a date using the format of your own region settings. For example, in the UK I would type "31/03/2017" to search for transactions on 31 March 2017. You can search by date range too, for example "01/03/2015 - 31/03/2015" would list all transactions in March 2015.

Making Tax Digital and Attaching Photos / Documents

MTD is being pushed by the U.K. tax authority HMRC. As I understand it, HMRC would like businesses to submit tax returns every 3 months instead of yearly. I've contacted them about where to find an API for submitting returns and I'm told they won't have an API for developers to start working with until 2019. So it's going to be a few years away.

I see the feature of attaching photos or other documents to transactions as a very useful addition to the app. This would mean all entries have a scan of an original receipt, which can be used to back up each entry where a receipt is available. We could also scan and attach bank statements to the reconciliation record in Easy Books, which provides evidence the entries have been made correctly.

The feature did exist in a form in Easy Books for iPhone, but I was never happy about the way I had implemented it. The photo viewer wasn't very capable, attached photos were only stored locally on the device and were not part of the backup file (for size reasons when emailing backups). If or when Easy Books is able to cross reference photos of receipts again, I plan to store them in the cloud, with copies on devices. They will therefore be backed up automatically.

Until we reach the point where Easy Books can do this, I still recommend using Evernote to store electronic copies of receipts and other paperwork.

Thank you again for providing your feedback!