Zoho releases invoicing service (sort of)

Zoho releases invoicing service (sort of)

Summary: Zoho has released an invoicing service as its first step into making its fast growing suite of SMB productivity services a truly useful collection of business applications. I should warn readers that this is not a production release which was originally scheduled for April 8th but a work in progress.

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ZohoInvoice

Zoho has released an invoicing service as its first step into making its fast growing suite of SMB productivity services a truly useful collection of business applications. I should warn readers that this is not a production release which was originally scheduled for April 8th but a work in progress. Therefore although most of the features work reasonably well, there are some gotchas and ommissions. You should not consider this release as suitable for day to day use. Having said that, Zoho has packed a lot of features into this service.

The screen is organized with major activities spread across a series of tabs and functions within those activities listed down the side the screen. So for example, if you click on the invoices tab then apart from creating a new invoice, you can obtain lists of amounts due, payments made, creating recurring profiles and dump things into trash. Almost straightaway I came across a major flaw in that there is no tab with which to make payments, despite instructions to the contrary.

ZohoInvoice2

Settings are tucked away at the top of the screen rather than being part of the tabbed matrix. This doesn't make any sense because there are plenty of circumstances under which settings can change. Yet again, almost immediately I came across another gotcha. Entering sales tax rates is confusing. It asks for a percentage but steadfastly refused to let me enter any figure resembling a percentage. By this stage I was starting to get worried, especially as in my case, I could be invoicing across currencies at multiple rates of sales tax.

Creating templates for different types of sale: service, goods, fixed cost and custom is simply a matter of selecting the right type although there are no obvious instructions about how you design a custom template. Accessing the help files brings up a mess of code in the Zoho wiki. The service also allows users to create estimate templates - except they look identical to invoice settings.

It does have PayPal integration which will help make the allocation of receipts relatively straightforward - assuming it works. Similarly, the ability to set up email notifications for a variety of activities like estimates, overdue accounts and receipts are nice to have features.

Creating an invoice is confusing. Why for example am I asked to select a template type but then offered the choice of type in a drop down? It doesn't make sense. You can select the currency against which you are billing (having already established your base currency in the settings area) and in turn it gives you the means to apply a conversion factor. That's fine for larger businesses that need to triangulate currencies but for the very small business that trades internationally, it will be confusing and give rise to reconciliation problems.

In creating a service invoice, there is a choice to create an invoice from Zoho Project. That's handy but I was unable to test whether it will work as I don't have projects set up. Even so, it represents a nice point of integration. I would have preferred to see integration with the recently released CRM service and I do wonder how Zoho will overcome the inevitable data inconsistencies.

There is plenty of flexibility in applying sales items on the fly rather than creating a catalog. However, I found another gotcha. If you click over any of the tabs while creating an invoice and then click back, you lose the invoice upon which you were working. I like the fact it insists on a valid email and presume that this is the preferred method of transmission.

ZohoInvoice4

The best part of the service are the plentiful onscreen reports which are logically laid out and give the user an instant picture of where they stand. I'm presuming the service is sharable which means the owner of a business need only look at the reports and simply click on the amounts shown to access more detailed information.

It is disappointing that Zoho felt obliged to release ZohoInvoice early - although it could easily have retracted - after TechCrunch chose to discuss the service. The current situation leaves Zoho horribly exposed in a business critical area. A weak spreadsheet is one thing but a billing application with holes in it is an entirely different proposition. Assuming Zoho is able to clean up the application in double quick time then it deserves to do well although I can think of a myriad ways it could be better.

The competition for this type of application is hotting up. Blinksale remains a simple but underdeveloped service while Freshbooks is doing well. International competition from new entrants like Xero and FreeAgent (in which I have a tiny stake) will nip at Zoho's heels.

Topics: Government US, Banking, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Government

Dennis Howlett

About Dennis Howlett

Dennis Howlett is a 40 year veteran in enterprise IT, working with companies large and small across many industries. He endeavors to inform buyers in a no-nonsense manner and spares no vendor that comes under his microscope.

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5 comments
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  • Perhaps try it again, after coffee:-)

    Dennis, I wonder if the sudden and unexpected release caught you off-guard in a pre-coffee moment :-) Joke apart, when you told me you found major bugs, these were not exactly what I had in mind... let's look at some.

    No tab for payments: I agree. Although this is available from within the Invoice tab, it would be logical to give it it's own tab.

    Settings tucked away: C'mon, since when is it a problem? It's a basic design principle to keep setup away from the transactional flow.

    Entering tax rates: I tried to recreate your error, but couldn't. I was able to enter all sorts of tax rates. Then it dawned on me: entering "space" would trigger your error. It's an invisible alpha character which numeric fields tend to not like.

    Templates and invoice creation: Again I don't understand the "problem". having a default yet allowing to overwrite it at the time of transcaction is another basic design principle.

    PayPal integration - if it works. There's a very easy way to check it, set up a test customer and send an invoice, then you will see (like I did) the link to make the payment online.

    Unable to test Project integration: Like you, I haven't used Projects before - simply had no need for it. But it took a grand total of 3 minutes to log in, set up a project (not really set up, just give it a title), make a timesheet entry and mark it billable. Voila! I could pull it up in Invoice.

    Losing data if you click another tab: in the scenario you describe, i.e. entering a new item on the fly, you don't lose any data, you fill in a pop-up window and remain within the invoice you're working on. But if you click on another tab, you're basically aborting your transaction, what you're seeing is standard web behavior. But I agree, it would be nice to pop up a warning and/or save a draft.

    When you told me late yesterday (wee morning hours for you) this thing was unusable, I was worried, waiting for the details. Now I feel you just need a large does of coffee (or who knows, a glass of wine?) and look at Invoice again :-)
    Zoli Erdos
    • Not having it

      Zoli - so the gotchas exist - right? As far as I am concerned, ZohoInvoice contains a bag of gotchas IN ITS CURRENT FORM which I picked up simply by trying to use it, not by trying to kill it. Note what I said at the end? You can argue all day about the things I found but I can tell you they don't exist in other applications. Simply saying 'What's the problem' is disingenuous to the user at best and arrogant at worst. Users expect an easy, simple experience. In its current form ZohoInvoice doesn't cut it. The fact it was forced out the gate early is regrettable but that's the company's choice. If it comes with issues then I have to tell it as I see it.
      dahowlett@...
  • RE: Zoho releases invoicing service (sort of)

    We take your criticism in good spirit & sincerely appreciate your taking the time to review it. There were some glitches, but it was the first day, I hope you will cut us some slack! We will get things straightened out over the next few days.

    Sridhar Vembu
    svembu
  • RE: Zoho releases invoicing service (sort of)

    I personaly think that they should work more on the products that have already been released. I mean Zoho Projects. I tried it, but I still think they could ave done it better. For now I'm using <a href=http://www.wrike.com> Wrike</a> and I'm pretty happy with it.
    Robert Hughs
  • RE: Zoho releases invoicing service (sort of)

    One interesting application is <a href="http://kashoo.com">Kashoo</a>. They've integrated with FreshBooks, and it's only ten bucks.
    markbakker