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Xero backs generative AI to accelerate software shift to mobile

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Following the launch of its ‘Just Ask Xero’ generative AI assistant, Xero’s chief product officer tells AccountingWEB about the developer’s vision for the technology, and how large language models could push accounting software into the mobile era.

6th Mar 2024
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Xero used its inaugural Investor Day on Thursday to unveil its generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) assistant, dubbed ‘Just Ask Xero’ or JAX. Users will be able to interact with JAX via natural language prompts to start, add to or complete accounting-related tasks, and generate insights based on customer data.

JAX features trailed by the Kiwi cloud developer include:

  • GenAI support on Xero webpages and the expansion of the tool’s functionality to other “surfaces” (initially mobile apps, email and Whatsapp)
  • the automation or streamlining of repetitive and time-consuming tasks such as chasing overdue payments or following up on missing timesheets for payroll runs
  • the ability to anticipate tasks based on previous user actions in the form of a daily task list or contextual suggestions
  • the delivery of insights such as cashflow projections on request.

A video trailer for the assistant can be viewed on the JAX webpage, although a Xero disclaimer adds that while it demonstrates the company’s vision for JAX, “future product features may differ”.

Timings and testing focus

The JAX product is still in what developers call “sandbox model” – an isolated testing environment that enables users to run programs without affecting the application, system or platform on which it is built. JAX will be released to beta testers later this year, with no firm timetable yet available for its release. The initial beta will focus on payments and cashflow reporting, and expand based on user feedback and demand.

No details are available about whether JAX will be a chargeable service, such as Microsoft’s Copilot, or included as part of the Xero subscription fee. Both accounting and small business users will have access to the assistant.

The news follows a flurry of activity in the GenAI accounting arena, with fellow accounting platform Sage launching its Copilot tool and Intuit QuickBooks outlining its plans to weave the technology into its systems and products.

Reimagining accounting software as truly mobile

JAX will be accessible from Xero webpages, where users can just click the JAX button on the navigation bar and the chatbot opens. 

However, the developer also plans to extend the functionality to other surfaces such as the Xero mobile app, email and WhatsApp. Instead of booting up the laptop or accessing a mobile browser, users can email or WhatsApp chat JAX to request the GenAI assistant complete a task for them, such as amending a quote, paying a bill or generating a cashflow forecast.

It’s this extension that Xero’s chief product officer Diya Jolly believes could potentially put the accounting software world onto a different level for small businesses and their advisers. 

“Whether you’re an accountant, bookkeeper or small business, you’re not always tied to your desktop, so part of the aim with JAX is to bring information to where you are,” Jolly told AccountingWEB.

“If you look at accounting software compared to other types of programs, it’s not gone mobile,” she added. 

Part of the reason for this, according to Jolly, is that it still involves large amounts of manual data entry, processing and reconciliation, which are difficult, if not impossible, to manage at any scale on mobile devices.

“With the emergence of large language models (LLMs), we can finally think about reimagining accounting software as truly mobile,” she said. “You won’t necessarily be filing a tax return on your phone any time soon – the models are still at an early stage – but they’re adding value now and over time will keep adding more functionality as the technology and user behaviours mature.”

Existing GenAI capabilities

Jolly told AccountingWEB that JAX had been built using a combination of its own AI capabilities, together with external LLMs tested to make sure they are secure. 

Xero recently added a GenAI tool to its Xero Central support hub to answer customer questions about its software. According to stats provided by the vendor, early testing has seen a 40% decrease in average customer search time, with search sessions requiring additional customer service support decreasing by about 20%.

The developer has also introduced a GenAI onboarding setup guide, where new customers can interact with a chatbot to find out how to use the software and explore some of its functionality.

Replies (9)

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By FactChecker
06th Mar 2024 20:58

OMG ... have you tried doing anything accounting-like with bunches of figures (not just entering a single transaction) on the screen-space footprint of a mobile? And if you succeed, how much time was then spent in correcting 'finger trouble'?

I presume this wasn't deliberately 'released' today in the hope of no-one noticing during the Budget?

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By [email protected]
07th Mar 2024 10:20

I used to love Xero but I now detest it. I use Xero on a PC all day long and they are making it more and more difficult for us to use. They are gearing towards mobile use but real, day to day, bookkeepers and accountants are being neglected!
There are so many changes that destroy the existing functionality that advisors are up in arms about it and we're told 'request a product update' - to get us back to what we had that worked!
The new invoicing for example that they are forcing on us in September is, quite frankly, not fit for purpose!

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By listerramjet
07th Mar 2024 11:48

I know vendors like mobile because it looks cool in the advertising, but then vendors regularly demonstrate little understanding of the domain they are selling to. And this venture into AI looks like a disaster waiting to happen.

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Replying to listerramjet:
Dave Sellick
By David Sellick
08th Mar 2024 10:56

Amen

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By BBBri
07th Mar 2024 12:37

"early testing has seen a 40% decrease in average customer search time"

Simply testament to how awful their current support model performs.

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By Mr J Andrews
07th Mar 2024 14:37

Which century are they talking about.

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By carnmores
07th Mar 2024 18:24

Yes to all of the above. It's nonsense

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FD4Cast
By James Power
09th Mar 2024 01:35

Will Xero ever consider "Bulk Allocation" of transactions? It really, really, really p1sses me off to have to individually click every single transaction in order to allocate it according to the bank rule already set up.

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Replying to FD4Cast:
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By daniel_
11th Mar 2024 08:22

for 'cash' transactions, i.e. not via the AR/AP ledger you can use the Cash Coding which can post bulk transactions. If a bank rule matches it pre-fills it.

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