Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Multi-column complex category option reporting made easy

We designed and built Blink Reports from the ground up as a more powerful alternative to Xero's built-in reports, we tried to make sure it was fast, it could grow, and we could add new functionality quickly and easily. Over the course of the past few months, we've received extensive and enthusiastic suggestions from users and are continually rolling out new functionality.

Today, we present one of our most powerful features yet: you can now generate profit and loss reports with more than 256 columns of data! Google Sheets has traditionally had a 256 column limit. Thankfully, with the new version of Google Sheets (now the default), this limit and a number of others no longer exist. Need to generate a huge report, with up to 2 million cells and the share it securely in real time with others? Not a problem. Google Sheets can do it for you right from within your web browser.

Xero recommended that Ryan Anning at TargetCW test out our reporting engine to overcome the limited number of columns that are normally shown on the profit and loss statement. Ryan's goal was to produce a revenue and cost analysis by worker (tracking category) which requires a report with several hundred columns! It turned out that his need was so unique that initially our reporting engine would produce an error as it was waiting too long to receive the data from Xero.

The technical side of how we fixed Ryan's challenge is quite clever, but we won't go into too much detail here. In a nutshell: we're using Google Cloud Platform to handle all the heavy lifting when the Xero data takes a long time to populate the spreadsheet. Thanks in large part to the flexibility of Google App Engine, we were able to adapt our code, test it live without impacting existing users, and then make it the production version with zero downtime.

The solution means that Ryan can now generate large reports like the one you see below (click to enlarge). Note the columns stretch all the way to KJ—representing nearly double the original column limit—and it will continue growing as needed.



Xero's built-in reporting engine is pretty good on its own, but when you need to analyze the data in a spreadsheet you're forced to export the report to Excel or Google Sheets format. This leads to static financial data that becomes quickly out of date. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Xero simply cannot generate reports to rival what we can do on the Google Cloud Platform with Google Sheets.

With Google Sheets and Blink Reports, you can now review this month's revenue and expenses by Xero tracking category and then change two date fields to see a different month (or even year) for comparison.

Offloading the pain of financial reporting to Blink Reports means that Ryan (or even you) can now work more quickly through finances and focus on the things that matter: generating business instead of generating spreadsheets.