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How to get real-time custom reporting across all your cloud apps

May 19, 2020

It’s amazing how hard it can be to find a solution to the simplest of needs. Here’s an example you’ve probably experienced: You needed a custom report from data created from one of your apps – maybe it was Xero, maybe it was another platform your business uses. So you went ahead and did a manual CSV export of all your data, loaded it into your reporting tool and built the report. Great. But you soon realise there’s a problem: your data is not live. Every time you want your report updated, you have to go through the entire process again. This causes potential inaccuracies and flawed insights, not to mention a lot of cussing from whoever has to regularly go and grab the data every time you want to view the report. No doubt you asked yourself: “All I want is my data in real time, why isn’t there a simple way to do this?” Well, actually, there is.
This article originated from the Xero blog. The XU Hub is an independent news and media platform - for Xero users, by Xero users. Any content, imagery and associated links below are directly from Xero and not produced by the XU Hub.
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Back in the days before the cloud, getting data from source to reporting tool was a relatively simple task. The data was all stored locally, so it was just a matter of connecting your reporting tool to your on-premise database and away you went. Unfortunately, getting data from cloud services isn’t quite so simple. And that’s a problem, since most businesses in 2020 are predominantly cloud-based.

According to a study published by BetterCloud, the average company today uses 16 separate cloud apps to run their business. That’s a lot of SaaS. Now, most of these apps have some basic reporting functions built-in, and for many smaller businesses this is all they need. The rest of us, though, need something with a bit more beef (metaphorically speaking) and turn to a dedicated reporting tool like Power BI or Tableau.

These tools are fantastic. They give us complete control over how the data is put together and we can customise reports and dashboards to our heart’s content. So it may be surprising, then, that despite all their amazing capabilities they do such a poor job of connecting to the apps you use every day.

Why is it so hard to access data in cloud apps?

The answer is of course complex, but I’ll do my best not to get too nerdy on you.

Basically, while pulling data from a local database is relatively easy – you simply connect your reporting tool directly to the database – syncing data from cloud apps is hard because they can only be accessed through their API. APIs, while a wonderful invention, can be very challenging to work with and require considerable development skill. Building onto an API means having to manage things like throttling limits, connectivity issues and duplication detection, to name a few.

And you have to work within the parameters and (sometimes interesting) development choices made by that API’s development team.

All of this means that, unless you have significant technical resources, the only option is manually updating your reports. Or at least, it was...

Finally, the solution

Late last year, a software development company based in New Zealand – actually just down the street from the Xero HQ – struck gold when they devised a way of automatically bringing data from cloud apps to reporting tools. They had managed to navigate their way through all the hurdles of pulling data from an API and successfully built a platform that keeps business intelligence (BI) reports updated in real time.

The way it works is pretty straightforward. It incrementally pulls data from the API and stores it in a relational database in the cloud. From there, users connect to the database from whatever reporting tool they like by using its standard database connector. And just like that, reports and dashboards are kept 100% accurate at all times.

Having realised how vital this solution is, they fine-tuned the syncing platform and turned it into a fully fledged cloud app – called SyncHub. It’s now featured on a number of SaaS app stores, including the Xero marketplace.

What’s more, SyncHub’s arrival couldn’t have been better timed...

The importance of data

It’s 2020, I don’t need to tell you how data is revolutionising the way businesses operate – buzzwords like “big data” and “machine learning” are pretty well worn at this stage. But right now, it’s become even more critical. As businesses around the globe work to recover from the effects of the current epidemic, BI is the flashlight shining the path to recovery. The time to be doing comprehensive, real-time reporting is now. And according to this Forbes article, that’s exactly what companies are doing.

Why leave it there?

To learn more about SyncHub

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