SaaS platforms have firmly established their position in our lives. We use cloud services not only in private life but in business as well. Even accounting – the most essential part of any business – has moved to the cloud. But moving sensitive financial information to someone else’s server is a tough choice. In order to gain a client’s trust, your accounting software has to fit every need.
So how can you build a SaaS accounting solution? The R&D starts with finding out why companies choose SaaS platforms instead of on-premise solutions.
There are several key benefits that any client wants to gain with SaaS accounting software. While mapping out the architecture and marketing strategy of your application, you should take into account these characteristics:
- Moderate pricing. A SaaS license has to be cheaper than on-premise software. Any traditional solution requires heavy expenses on software licenses, and critical updates. A low fee for software can be crucial for a startup or small company.
- Integration with other solutions. In a modern company, all IT solutions create a complex IT ecosystem. This being so, compatibility with other corporate software is a must for SaaS software. You should ensure that your software is well-matched with the most popular CRM, ERP, and supply-chain management (SCM) systems.
- Compatibility. One of the main advantages of SaaS technology is the possibility to access users’ data on any platform and device. That’s why you need to test your software’s compatibility with as many browsers and browser versions as you can. Also think about creating a mobile app or mobile web app for Android and iOS.
- Data security. Corporate financial information is perhaps the most valuable data in a company. Securing it is not an easy task. That’s why some companies prefer not to store sensitive data on someone else’s server. So before developing a SaaS accounting application, review industry security standards such as PCI DSS and NIST as well as general standards like GDPR. If your software complies with those standards, you can earn your client’s trust.
- Data accessibility. This is a benefit of the SaaS model itself. Data stored in a SaaS accounting app can be assessed from any desktop or mobile device. Anyone with access privileges can check any financial report online, but this access should be properly managed and monitored with advanced options for granular permissions.
Read also: Developing MVP for SaaS Startups
Before designing the capabilities of your app, it’s good practice to define your target audience and think about which features this audience requires. Implementing and maintaining unnecessary services is quite an expensive affair, while lacking some essential functions could mean the death of the product.
Let’s find out the features required for any accounting Software-as-a-Service:
Estimates. Templates allowing customers to easily fill in and send estimates are recommended. Multiple currencies should also be available. Bigger systems should also include multiple languages.
Invoices. Adding an invoice timeline enables clients to easily review open, overdue, and paid invoices. Giving clients the option to brand invoices with their own logos, set up recurring invoices, and customize automated late payment reminders are extra bonuses.
Expenses. Expense tracking (bank payments, out-of-pocket expenses, and receipt reconciliation) is fundamental. The ability to take pictures of receipts and upload them is also a common feature of accounting solutions. Some platforms give employees the ability to record their own expenses and request reimbursements.
Projects. A to-do list is vital to track projects within an accounting solution. It should be coupled with an hourly rate, billed hours, unbilled hours, project status, and a notes section. A separate area should allow the client to track project profitability, define tasks, and see the current status.
Banking. The ability to link bank accounts is paramount. Uploading electronic statements in OFX, QIF, or CSV format is pretty standard across platforms, as is a custom area to explain new transactions and create bank account charts for further analysis. Multi-currency bank account options are good for more developed platforms.
Accounting. Typical profit and loss reports, balance sheets, and aged debtor and creditor reports are the main accounting features. Additional items such as dividend vouchers for clients, journey entries, and comprehensive views of all accounts are also required by many customers.
Taxes. Providing the option of configuring sales tax per country is a valued feature. The ability to add multiple sales tax rates and compound taxes is helpful for a SaaS accounting system.
Reporting and analytics. The ability to automatically create a financial report and look at analytics using various built-in templates is one of the key features of accounting software. There should be an option to generate custom reports. This makes financial management processes clearer and employees more productive. Accounting software should also be equipped with tools to analyze and visualize data.
Customization. Each client has specific demands for an accounting application. Some need only limited functionality or implement their own accounting functionality in their network. Due to this, there has to be an ability to switch off certain SaaS application services. A SaaS software subscription fee should depend on which services a client uses.
Stateless web servers
When developing a web app, one of the first things to consider is that web applications don’t maintain a defined, local state. A shared database, with which the architecture can support no-touch elasticity, is critical. It’s difficult (if not impossible) to make an accounting system when web servers are configured with a local state.
Automation and machine learning
An automated workflow is necessary for an advanced accounting app. Lots of processes in accounting are repetitive and can be performed by a machine. For example, accounts payable, payroll, taxes, and auditing can be done by AI. This saves employees’ time, allowing them to complete more important tasks.
A multi-tenant SaaS accounting software architecture enables the system to build upon a common infrastructure and offer services to a wide customer base. In a multi-tenant environment, data of individual tenants is strictly separated. The system needs to identify each tenant by ID. These IDs are employed at the application and database layer and are linked to individual users, thereby allowing them to access the data that they have permission for.
Take, for example, a simple subscription for a web-based application. By definition, a web-based application that charges for subscriptions is a SaaS app. Yet to differentiate itself from other ASP applications, a multi-tenant architecture is vital. Leveraging the efficiencies of this commonly used infrastructure reduces operating costs over time thanks to massive resource sharing across users.
So what are the best options for building a SaaS accounting solution?
- Build custom, web-based applications and databases that are unique to each customer. The infrastructure can, in theory, be shared among all tenants, but engineers can construct application environments custom to each client.
- Place clients on a shared application but with unique databases. This entails the installation of a single version of software, within which each client is configured with its own database. Things like physical data segmentation and per-customer encryption are all possible, yet the application as a whole (maintenance especially) is made much simpler.
- It’s also possible to incorporate a Salesforce-esque model in which tenants share not only the application version but the database as well. What you end up with is data that’s physically co-mingled yet logically separated.
Implementing an API helps with customizing your application. It allows advanced users and third-party developers to create additional components to enhance your solution and integrate their products with it, thus building a comprehensive ecosystem.
Support for user-driven configurations
If you want your software to be competitive, you should empower clients to customize its appearance, extend the data model, define specific workflows, and implement security users and groups. You need to design the software to support user-driven configuration changes. This all falls under the umbrella of self-service. You can keep application costs and issues low by making outsourcing and self-service a fundamental characteristic of the SaaS model.
Today, 24/7 qualified customer support is a must. The SaaS model allows users to access accounting software at any time and in any place. If an issue occurs, a client expects it to be solved as soon as possible. There are a few tricks to make your support team more effective. You can implement a chatbot to solve the easiest issues and a helpdesk to keep track of chats and reports. Operators would appreciate a knowledge base with descriptions of problem resolutions. If you use a ticketing system, it’s a good call to create automated tickets based on customer reports.
Scrap the hard coding
While developing your application, make sure you don’t have web servers with hard-coded values for server-to-server communication or database connection strings. A good example of values that might be hard-coded are IP addresses. Engineers should be sure that the individual layers of the application can scale by themselves without breaking the connection between the layers to successfully make a high performing system.
SaaS security standards are defining how you choose to identify and allocate permissions, encrypt and secure data, and provide audit trails, among other things. At an ideal level, single sign-on (SSO) via something like SAML will result in one less password for your clients to store and maintain. As accounting data is very sensitive, you can opt for secondary authentication techniques, either custom or incorporated with third-party integrations.
Implementing a blockchain is a way to make your SaaS accounting software different from most of the competitors’. This technology can be used for building accounting security and supply chain features.
These are the nuts and bolts and what to keep in mind when projecting the cost of software development. So now that we’ve laid out the architecture and how to construct the system, who are the vendors that are considered best-in-show and how much does it cost to build systems like theirs?
One of the most popular solutions available today is BillQuick. Offered as a stand-alone enterprise option, self-hosted software, and cloud service, this agile billing and accounting solution provides a range of business accounting, management, and market intelligence functionality.
The web-based system can be deployed on iPhones, Androids, and Blackberries and comes with over 400 customizable templates for reporting and 150 plus similar templates for invoicing. An especially valued component is BillQuick’s seamless integration with third-party accounting software. The company maintains partnerships with Microsoft, Intuit, and MYOB Australia to certify that data can be easily extracted, customized, and subsequently presented. The company has been in operation for more than 20 years and has over 400,000 users across the globe. A base subscription starts at $7.95 per month.
Image credit - BillQuick.
Next up is NetSuite, another web-based program that markets itself as an ERP and CRM provider. Since 2016, NetSuite has been part of Oracle Corporation. The NetSuite system features applications for order and billing management, supply chain management, payment management, financial accounting, financial reporting, analytics, and much more. NetSuite is easy to integrate with any company’s sales/service/back-office processes, operates on a variety of browsers, and supports data export to CSV as well as IIF files. Data security is a selling point with NetSuite, which has a highly regarded, built-in, online security control system that manages the package in real time. This system is tailored according to each client’s needs. You’ll need to contact the vendor to find out the cost for your business.
Image credit - NetSuite.
FinancialForce usually makes it into the top three SaaS solutions for accounting. It’s an ERP system based on the SalesForce platform. FinancialForce features CRM, HRM, financial and inventory management, revenue recognition, billing, analytics, and reporting tools. It can be accessed from Windows and macOS desktops, Android, and iOS. Similar to NetSuite, this software’s functionality can be changed at a client’s demand, so there’s no fixed monthly fee.
Image credit - FinancialForce.
In order to create web-based accounting software, it’s considered good practice to start with evaluating the market and your future competitors. There’s also a set of obligatory features and architectural characteristics. The industry is ripe for improvement, however, so take note of best practices and take a stab at creating the next great SaaS solution today.