From XU Magazine, 
Issue 18

Understanding APIs and applying automation in practice

What is an API? It’s an important question to ask, since APIs are rapidly transforming how accountants, and indeed all businesses, are working. Practices are increasingly automating workflows and connecting apps through ‘Application Programming Interfaces’, or APIs, to work more efficiently.
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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Whilst it sounds like a technical term, best left to developers, firms who understand how to leverage APIs and automation, are unlocking significant operational benefits. So for those who want to keep up with this pace of change and use technology to drive growth, how can they understand APIs better and apply them in practice?

APIs in everyday life

The topic of APIs isn’t likely to come up in conversation often, yet we use them every day without realising it. This is because APIs work behind the scenes to support many digital processes, by allowing programs to ‘communicate’ and share data with each other. We wouldn’t be able to do a lot of what we take for granted today, without APIs. In fact, many of the world’s biggest brands use APIs to deliver services to us. For instance, when we book a hotel or flight through a third party booking website; use mobile apps to order takeaway or call a taxi, we are doing this through APIs. There are different types of APIs, but generally speaking, the role
of an API is to act as a messenger, transmitting our data in real time to service providers, to fulfill requests.

How APIs add value to accountants

Xero offers third party developers access to its own API, which allows accountants to connect other apps to their Xero account, and leverage Xero as a central platform. Anyone who has browsed the Xero marketplace will have seen the breadth of add-ons available to streamline processes including payroll, reporting, CRM, payments and more. By syncing these apps to their Xero account, users can easily automate more areas of their practice. They can gain better visibility into client projects and more control of their data. Automating functions is often much more cost effective than doing everything by hand. And data flowing from these apps to a user’s Xero account, is incredibly secure, as it’s protected through the advanced security measures Xero requires of third party suppliers.

In the long term, a more automated practice will help accountants to become more agile and competitive.

Instead of spending hours of time on inefficient manual processes, they can serve clients faster, and focus more resources on business development and growth. By becoming more efficient, they can swiftly react to legislative changes and industry trends. They can spend more time on innovation and on the diversification of their services, to secure new revenue streams.

Getting started today

One process practices are increasingly phasing out, with the help of APIs, is bookkeeping data entry. Whether all of the team share the burden, or this function is outsourced, manual data entry is an incredibly inefficient process, which has no place in the ‘API Economy’ of today. AutoEntry is a web and mobile app that integrates with Xero’s API, helping accountants to effortlessly automate this function. AutoEntry works by capturing and analysing scanned and photographed sales and purchase invoices, bank and credit card statements, expenses, receipts and more, accurately automating data entry into a user’s Xero account. With its AI-based technology, AutoEntry helps users to work smarter with its broad range of features. For instance, AutoEntry captures tax summaries by default and if requested, full line item details including description, quantity and unit price. AutoEntry also remembers how users categorise expenses, such as the relevant supplier account, nominal account and tax code without ever creating duplicate supplier accounts or posting duplicate invoices in Xero. AutoEntry even matches invoices to purchase orders.

Users can pass on efficiencies to clients, by enabling them to access their financial records remotely, and upload their bills and receipts, at their convenience via AutoEntry’s mobile app.

Using APIs to fuel practice growth

Technology is changing the very fabric of our society and how we interact with our service providers. Whilst this transition may seem daunting, greater understanding into how to leverage technologies, including APIs and automation, represents a considerable opportunity for accountants to improve the quality of their services and provide greater value to clients.

Ultimately, using APIs can help accounting firms retire outdated processes and position themselves as indispensable business advisors. This approach will be key in helping firms to engage their clients and make a name for themselves in the industry.

Why leave it there?

Automate manual data entry with AutoEntry. A free trial is available for all new users. Find AutoEntry in the Xero App store or online

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