Xavier comes into focus at Xeroconby
Forecasting platform Xavier Analytics is making its public debut at Xerocon 2019.
Specialist 'virtual finance' accounting firm FD Works partnered with one of its clients to create an accounting data toolkit called Xavier Analytics. AccountingWEB spoke with Xavier co-founder and FD Works director Jonathan Gaunt to find out more about it.
The start of Xavier
During a meeting with client Hatch Apps a while back, Gaunt confessed, “I wish I could code.” “When they asked what I would code, I thought about an idealised forecasting tool I decided to call Magic Brian.”
“They built it with me, but it didn’t work because the underlying data wasn’t right,” Gaunt told AccountingWEB. “You’ve got to get the data right to tell the story.”
The issue of incorrect data came up again and again, and ultimately led to a conceptual breakthrough that goes back to the old IT adage, “garbage in, garbage out”.
The forecasting issues stemmed from poor quality data coming through the Xero API from undiagnosed flaws in the accounting ledgers of the organisation running the tool. For example, suppliers coming through from a data capture app might be recognised as ‘Wild Daudience’ on one invoice and ‘Wild Audience’ in another, leading to duplicate records for the same client.
Magic Brian was given a new role in life to clear up accounting data before it hit management reports and statutory accounts, and Xavier was born.
Using a series of data validity checks, Xavier seeks out things like duplicated contacts and raise alerts for the accountant. Compiling these into a client overview screen, the software uses a traffic light warning system to highlight data quality issues, client insights and internal activity.
A healthy score
The Xavier data health score is “a benchmark you can look at across all of your customers to see exactly the quality of that data and then show users what they need to do in order to improve that data”, Gaunt said. One early customer will now only tackle a client’s year-end accounts if they have achieved an 80% data health score, leading to a speedier and accurate workflow.
The Xavier tools can be used in all sorts of situations, so to make them more relevant to practitioners the developer worked with early customers to create a set of basic routines, known as “cards” to lay down consistent workflows. These are now collected in a section of the program called Focus. This section will go live on 1 November with templates for bookkeeping, management accounting and VAT returns.
“These basic templates are fully customisable and can be shuffled like a deck of cards into any process you want, so you can ensure consistency across the practice,” Gaunt said.
Focus allows full history and completion to be tracked, noting who completes a task as marked and having the ability to record the length of time the card was active. It has the potential to replace timesheets, being a more accurate record of time, and with the additional option of recording the tasks completed with time stamps.
The VAT return process
Gaunt said MTD has had a huge impact on accountants, forcing them to collect and track data more efficiently.
“We know HMRC is crawling all over our data, so why don’t we start building some logic into our tool and start checking in advance?” he asked. To answer this question, Xavier Analytics asked its test users what checks they used and compiled their suggestions into a pre-filing VAT return check.
To position his product in the accounting app marketplace, Gaunt said Xavier was “not necessarily a practice management tool. We’re a practice tool - we’re not going to tell you when to do the job. We’ll tell you how to do the job and where to focus.”
Xavier is also not a reporting or forecasting program, but is “a great pre-requisite to Futrli, Fathom, Float and Spotlight Reporting”, he added. “We are solving a problem that people have walked past and now we’re starting to shine a light on it. People start to see what the issues are and how they can tidy the data."
Xavier Analytics cost starts from £5 per month per Xero organisation and currently has 150 paying customers.
Looking to the future, Gaunt and his team are already scoping out a benchmarking capability based on amalgamating the underlying datasets and comparing clients against the average in their industry sectors.
“For smaller businesses, there’s not much data available out there. The more businesses use the platform, the more data we can get, the more insight we can get,” he said.
Before they can get to that point, however, Xavier Analytics needs to build up its customer base and is heading to Xerocon in London on 13-14 November to spread the word among the Xero community.
The company has already signed up a top 10 firm and was talking with “some significant players in the Xero partner space”, Gaunt said.
“Xerocon is going to be great to meet the users and get to know them and see how they’re using it. Plus there are a few people we really want to show what it can do and turn them into believers.”