Xero launches biggest number of products in its history

Cloud accounting software platform Xero has launched the biggest collection of products in the company's 11-year history, including a partnership that promises to offer automated marketing for accounting firms, an educational learning platform for high schools, universities and businesses and a complete re-thinking of Xero Expenses.

rod-drury-on-stage-at-xerocon

The features have consumed much of the company's growing research and development spend, which is 41 per cent of revenue.

The suite of products was announced by Xero chief executive and co-founder Rod Drury at this year's Xerocon in Melbourne, which attracted more than 3300 people from 19 countries.

Mr Drury told The Australian Financial Review announcements at next year's Xerocon would be even bigger.

xerocon-melbourne-main-stage

“We're really deep on machine learning and AI,” he said. “While we've released parts of our products to make it real, we're focused a lot on the product side of things at the moment.

“We've really mapped out what the next generation of accounting looks like and we'll show that when it's ready next year. I'm so stoked we've been able to drop so much product, but I'm very excited about what we're working on at the moment … next year will blow people away.”

Generating enthusiasm

Xerocon has grown from only 30 attendees in its first year to almost filling the main hall at Melbourne's Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The event generates such enthusiasm it can seem more like rock concert. It features DJs, a playground and a Xero hanging garden area decked out with beanbags and a fake lawn.

rod-drury-profile-photo

Mr Drury admits it can feel like a bit of a cult, which he loves.

Products launched on Wednesday included Xero HQ, an open practice platform that provides a curated ecosystem of nine integrated apps to provide accountants and bookkeepers with a selection of best practice tools to drive efficiency in their businesses.

Within this feature Xero also announced its integration with New Zealand-based marketing start-up Boma, enabling the company to offer its users marketing content that can be easily customised to suit their practice.

“We can now be the virtual marketing department for accounting partners,” Mr Drury said. “They can take our videos, or we're just doing some work around succession planning as the Baby Boomers come through, and that content they can take out and not just market to their existing customers, but using Facebook look-alike audiences or other social tools, they can attract new local customers.

“We're moving from what was just a software industry, to powering the whole industry.”

Revitalised product

Xero also debuted an expenses feature, which includes an analytics feature to let accountants and bookkeepers see expense patterns by category, accounts and employees, and set permissions to ensure expenses are filed by the right person.

“We've revitalised our employee expenses and reimbursement product, redesigning it for the front office, taking advantage of AI and machine learning to make the entire expense process easier and more automated than ever, ensuring employees file their expenses more frequently and directly into Xero,” Mr Drury said.

The cloud accounting platform has also built an embedded communications tool, Xero Discuss, which will go live in the next few months and enables accountants to discuss financial details about a client's business directly with the client from within Xero.

The Xero Projects tool will also let small businesses in service industries monitor active projects to maximise revenue and profits, keeping track of the time and costs in real time.

“We're taking people on a journey from traditional accounting to where it goes with machine learning … where you have thousands of servers working for you overnight,” Mr Drury said.

“It's dramatically simplifying accounting for small businesses. They don't need to do accounting anymore … because we can code things so well.”

Reshaping training

Earlier this year, Xero announced its first machine learning function, automating the coding of invoices and bank transactions.

Mr Drury envisaged Xero's final feature announced on Wednesday, the Lifelong Learning Platform, would help reshape training in the accounting sector.

In partnership with Swinburne University, the open learning platform will deliver courses for school students through to professionals who need to re-skill.

It will provide classes with working Xero applications, populated with example data for any scenario. As part of this, Xero has also developed a text-based accounting language.

Mr Drury said the developments formed part of a bigger journey the company was on to transform accountants from being compliance-focused to growth consultants.

Rather than being fearful of automation, he said Xero was aiming to create a world where accountants were still critical to business.

“We're actively driving it. We don't want a world where small businesses work without their accountants and bookkeepers … we're designing the future so that they stay very relevant, or become more relevant … turning them from compliance officers to growth consultants.”

Article by Yolanda Redrup at the Australian Financial Review – see more here