With the introduction of QuickBooks 2011, Intuit rolled out a new cloud-based document storage service: QuickBooks Attached Documents.
Before we delve into the details, here are some important points about the service. It supports:
- an unlimited number of attachments per transaction and list item but each attachment must be under 100 Mb in size;
- attaching documents to most – but not all – QuickBooks list items;
- 1 company file per subscription;
- local storage for QuickBooks 2011 users – but even exclusive use of local storage requires a paid subscription;
- a Document Inbox of unattached documents – an important tool for simplifying workflow;
- attaching most common file types, including PDF and Microsoft Office formats;
- linking an attachment to a QuickBooks list item or transaction from within QuickBooks only;
- searching for a document by file name, title, description and keyword, user who attached the document, and the QuickBooks record to which the attachment is linked;
- filtering documents based on any 1 list item or transaction type plus a date selected as 1 of 4 pre-set options or a custom range but multiple list/transaction filters cannot be selected, such as filtering for all bills (a transaction type) for a specific vendor (a list item);
- drag-and-drop uploading of attachments through QuickBooks but not a web browser;
- sharing 1 document at a time via email with 1 or more individuals who are not subscribers; and
- web browsers that include support for Adobe Flash.
It’s also important to understand what Attached Documents does not do. The service can’t:
- attach the same document to more than 1 list item or transaction;
- add multiple documents at a time via the web interface; or
- store documents in a traditional folder structure.
There are 2 distinct ways of looking at the functionality of QuickBooks Attached Documents: from a web interface or from within QuickBooks.
Using Attached Documents With A Web Browser
Let’s start by taking a look at the service from a web browser after you’ve signed up for the service. The first step is to sign in at Intuit’s Workplace secure sign in page. In the screenshot below, note the lock symbol indicating the site is secure from the start.
Depending on the other Intuit services you’ve purchased, you may start out at the Intuit Workplace, which shows icons for the applications assigned to your account plus teasers to entice you to buy more apps. For our purposes, we’ll click the icon for QuickBooks Attached Documents and jump in.
If you’ve just signed up for the service, your QuickBooks company file is not linked to QuickBooks Attached Documents. That’s a step you have to complete from within QuickBooks, which we’ll cover later in this article. For now, let’s close this welcome screen since we’ll tackle the linking issue once we launch QuickBooks.
Here’s the Online Document Center, the main screen of QuickBooks Attached Documents in a web browser:
Basics of Adding a Document
Uploading new documents is a critical step for any document management program. Adding a new document to QuickBooks Attached Documents is a straightforward process.
Once you click the Add Document To Inbox link in the upper left corner of the Online Document Center, you’ll be greeted with the Document Record window, shown below.
Using your operating system’s file browser, you can locate a document on your local disk system and record the title, description, and a comma-separated list of keywords. There are a few important limitations of adding a document via a web browser: you can only add 1 document at a time and the web interface does not support drag-and-drop. Both of these features are available when working from inside QuickBooks itself.
When you add a new document, it starts its online life in the Document Inbox. The Document Inbox is a handy workflow tool because it represents the documents that haven’t been attached to a list item or transaction in QuickBooks. You can think of it as your “to do list” for attaching. When viewing the Document Inbox, there’s a checkbox marked Include Previously Attached, and you’ll want to make sure this checkbox is not checked so that documents linked in QuickBooks don’t show up in the inbox.
The Actions Button
QuickBooks Attached Documents supports 3 basic actions, Download, Share…, and Edit. You’ll find all of these tasks on the Actions button, shown in the screenshot below.
Download allows you to save a copy of the document locally. Share… allows you to send an email link to provide viewing access to the document with users who don’t have access to your Attached Documents subscription. The Edit menu selection gives you access to change the information in the Document Record window, recorded when you first added the document.
Finding a Document
Attached Documents has 2 basic methods: you can search for a document or you can filter the list of displayed documents. If your filter reduces the list of displayed documents down to a small number, you can pick the document out from the list of those displayed or you can search the filtered list.
Documents are searchable based on 6 criteria:
- file name
- the user who initially uploaded the document
- the QuickBooks record to which the attachment is linked
Search results are based on the current filter applied to the documents listed, and you can narrow that filter to get better search results.
You can also filter by any 1 list item or transaction, combined with a date filter. By default, QuickBooks Attached Documents displays a limited set of list item and transaction filters, but you can customize that list by clicking the Customize Filters link at the lower left of the Online Document Center.
QuickBooks Attached Documents gives you the ability to filter by most – but not all – list items and transactions. You can’t filter or attach documents to: price levels, billing rate levels, classes, and customer/vendor profile list items (such as terms or sales reps). While that might seem to exclude a lot of possible attachments, the likelihood that you’ll want to attach a document to one of these list items is small. A simple workaround is to create a “placeholder” record in an existing list that can accept attachments, such as the Other Names list.
You can attach a document to most transaction types. A good rule of thumb is that if the transaction is recorded and can be viewed on a QuickBooks form, such as a vendor bill or customer invoice, you can attach a document to the transaction. For transactions not recorded or viewable on a form (such as a statement charge, which is viewable on a register), you can’t attach a document.
One important limitation of filters in QuickBooks Attached Documents is that you can only filter on a single list item or transaction type. That means you cannot filter on bills for a vendor, for example. To achieve a similar result, you’ll have to combine a filter with a search.
QuickBooks Attached Documents allows you to add an unlimited number of users to your subscription and manage their access to documents. You can provide access in 1 of 4 pre-defined roles: Administrator, Full Access, View Only, or Custom Access. Only users with Administrator privileges can manage users, and only users with Administrator or Full Access privileges can delete documents. Custom Access allows you to control the ability to add a document to any area and to view and modify documents in 8 pre-defined areas:
- Sales and Accounts Receivable
- Purchases and Accounts Payable
- Checking and Credit Cards
- Time Tracking
- Payroll and Employees
- Sensitive Accounting Activities
- Company Documents
If a user is assigned the Custom Access privilege to add documents, the user can add any document; control over adding documents is not granular to the same degree as viewing or modifying them.
QuickBooks Attached Documents allows you to share a link to a document with another party via email without adding that person as a user on your Attached Documents subscription.
The first time you share a document, you’ll see this summary of how sharing works, and you can turn it off for future sharing by clicking the Don’t show this message again checkbox at the bottom of the form.
When you’re ready to share a document, choose the Share… link on the Actions menu for the document you want to share. You’ll be able to customize an email to your intended recipients.
Here’s the email your sharing recipients will receive:
Using Attached Documents Inside QuickBooks
Many users will opt to use Attached Documents almost exclusively from within QuickBooks. Those that do will find features not available when accessing the service via a web browser.
Establishing the Connection To QuickBooks
As we covered near the top of the article, once you launch QuickBooks, the first step to using QuickBooks Attached Documents is to connect your company file with your service subscription. To do so, visit the Company -> Attached Documents -> Learn About Attached Documents menu selection, sign in to your Attached Documents subscription, and QuickBooks will perform the connection.
There are a few important restrictions on connecting to QuickBooks. First, document attachment services first became available with QuickBooks 2010, so if you’re using an older version of QuickBooks, you need to upgrade your QuickBooks version. Second, in QuickBooks 2010, the service of this type had a different name, Document Management, so your menu choice will refer to that service. If you previously used the Document Management service, you’ll have to remove that service from your company file before you can use Attached Documents, and that’s a process that will require sending your company file to Intuit. Lastly, while you can use Attached Documents with QuickBooks 2010, you can’t use the ability to store documents locally unless you have QuickBooks 2011.
Once you’re connected, here’s the Attached Documents menu structure in QuickBooks 2011:
Add To Online Document Inbox
We’ve already covered adding documents via a web browser and the role of the Document Inbox, so we’ll just focus on what’s new when accessing the Document Inbox from inside QuickBooks. To start, visit the Company -> Attached Documents -> Add to Online Document Inbox menu selection.
From within QuickBooks, click the Local Files button at the top of the window to add new documents. Adding documents from within QuickBooks gives you several important capabilities: adding multiple documents at a time and adding documents by drag-and-drop. Those improvements are offset by a small change in workflow: you’re not automatically capturing the Document Record information on upload. You’ll have to edit the Document Record from the Actions button in a web browser for each document you upload using this method.
If you’re working within QuickBooks, you can also choose to add a document to your Online Document Inbox directly from your scanner. QuickBooks supports several profiles for Twain-compatible scanners:
You can only attach a document to a list item or transaction from within QuickBooks with your company file open. For list items, the specific method to attach a document varies by list item, but the general approach is the same:
- use the Attach button at the bottom of the list display;
- invoke the context menu (by right clicking) on a list item in a center, such as Customer Center; or
- double-click in the Attach column on the list item.
Any of those methods will open a window where you can choose from an existing document already added to the Online Document Inbox or a new document on a local disk.
A QuickBooks list item or transaction with an attached document is marked in one of several ways. For list items, a paper clip appears in the Attach column for any list item with at least 1 attachment. For transactions, you’ll have to open a form for the transaction and observe the color of the paper clip at the top of the form window. As the Enter Bills window below illustrates, when the paper clip is green, the transaction has an attachment; when it’s gray, it doesn’t.
Intuit could make existing attachments more obvious in centers, such as the Vendor Center, by adding an Attach column to the list of transactions. So far, as of R5 for QuickBooks 2011, it’s not there, so you’re stuck having to open a form to learn if an attachment has been made.
Now that we’ve covered all of the ins and outs of QuickBooks Attached Documents, is it worth it? For now, we’ll give it a qualified thumbs up. The prior incarnation of this type of service, Document Management for QuickBooks 2010, lacked the ability to store unlimited documents. That made it difficult for those organizations who would most benefit from a service of this kind to even consider it. Attached Documents overcomes that limitation and comes in at a price point that is virtually unbeatable.
The price advantage that Attached Documents has over most big name competitors jumps out once you adjust for the number of users accessing the service or consider caps on storage. Intuit is offering an unlimited number of users an unlimited amount of storage for $19.95 per month. By comparison, cloud-based storage competitor Box.net offers 500 Gb total storage for $15 per user per month. For most companies, that’s a lot of storage, but at just 2 users, Box.net works out to be 50% more expensive than QuickBooks Attached Documents. The more users you need, the bigger the price advantage for QuickBooks Attached Documents. Dropbox, another popular cloud storage service, charges $19.95 per month for 100 Gb of storage. The cost of these services includes primarily cloud-based storage and doesn’t include the biggest feature of QuickBooks Attached Documents – the ability to link documents to accounting records. The productivity gains from not having to maintain an index that connects documents to accounting information are huge. And that’s a differentiating feature that generic storage systems can’t offer.
Beyond generic cloud-based storage solutions, QuickBooks Attached Documents does have competition in the market for linking documents to accounting records. SmartVault offers plans that range from $19 to $69 per month, but those plans include caps on storage, the number of users, and in some cases, the number of guests for document sharing. The company’s $69 per month plan caps disk storage at 30 Gb for 5 users. That’s 3 1/2 times the price of Intuit’s service that doesn’t carry those same limits.
Papersave Plus skips the cloud altogether and sells a software product based on a per user license that stores documents locally. Prices range from $199 for a 1 user license to $699 for 5 users. A local-storage only approach does save recurring monthly subscription fees for a much higher initial investment but gives up the disaster recovery benefits of off-site storage, a big advantage of cloud-based systems. We’d rather make our document management do double-duty and provide both accounting record-keeping and disaster recovery.
With the big pricing advantage and strong QuickBooks integration, what qualifications are we attaching to our thumbs up assessment? QuickBooks Attached Documents is a big improvement over its earlier offering, but it lacks a few features found in other document management systems, and these features are often behind big productivity gains. Here’s our wishlist for improvements to Attached Documents. Intuit needs to add:
- the ability to have an auto-syncing folder on a local disk, where documents in the folder are automatically added to the Document Inbox;
- the ability to drag-and-drop new files, including more than a single file, into the Document Inbox using the web interface;
- the ability to print a file or a Microsoft Office email message to the Document Inbox directly;
- the ability to search within the contents of files in addition to the meta-descriptions of files; and
- the ability to set multiple filters for cases where a filter plus search are less effective.
Most of these improvements are features that exist in the document management world. It’s simply a matter of Intuit devoting the resources to add them to QuickBooks Attached Documents to make a good product a great one.