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Celebrating a Decade of Xero: Part 4 - The Future

by Daniel Jordan
In the fourth and final installment of our Xero retrospective, product analyst Daniel Jordan discusses the future possibilities of Xero enhanced with AI: smart software that helps you make smarter business decisions.

Over the last three posts in this series, we’ve taken a look at some of the factors that brought Xero to the place it is now. In this final installment, I’d like to look at what we can expect from Xero in the future.

If you’re a current Xero user, you’ve no doubt had a small taste of the future already. A few months ago, Duncan Richie announced on the Xero blog that, from June 2016, Xero would migrate its cloud platform to Amazon Web Services (AWS). Richie wrote, “The new AWS platform provides improved levels of security, availability and performance that will support massive future growth.”

From this we can surmise the fairly standard goals of increasing performance as global growth continues and putting more emphasis on mobile offerings.

For the more speculative future of Xero, however, we can gain insight from New Zealand managing director Anna Curzon. In the Business Is Boring podcast, she gives a little more information on this subject (at around nine minutes in).

“Being at the vanguard of innovation, and thinking about the future, is just part of our DNA,” Curzon says. “Small businesses are really hungry for tools to make the boat go faster and for the right information to make the boat go faster.”

Tools. The right information. It all seems to be pointing towards the thing that everyone in tech is talking about at the moment: artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence will take two forms. Firstly, with machine learning, mundane tasks that you do every day will be reduced to automated processes. Xero has already done this before with its bank feed, making the onerous chore of daily reconciliation a more enjoyable, more satisfying experience. The algorithm that suggests where you should apply payments is an example of nascent artificial intelligence. Just think of the other similarly repetitive tasks you do each day then imagine them evolving into a more streamlined process.

Secondly, and the far more exciting part for most businesses, is that AI will surface the right information to you at the right time, to help you make better decisions.

Up to this point, software has washed its hands at the reporting stage, presenting the correct information to you then taking a step back. What you do with that information, how you infer strategy or make decisions has been entirely up to you.

But what if a computer could analyze your data, compare it to other businesses and then make suggestions on how you should plan your business? Or what if it could take a long view of your data and mix it with market forecasts, the current economic weather and even the actual weather, to create forecasts that help improve your business?

Xero has already taken its first steps towards this idea with its Signals service, where anonymized customer data can be used to spot trends and help businesses plan for the future. As things progress, however, we can expect to see this information surfaced in an intelligible, human way. Cloud integrator Link Solutions has written about a future where cloud applications present to you “relevant, timely financial and nonfinancial business information in a digestible format, but [also] actions you might take to better your business.”

With companies like Xero pushing the boundaries of technology, we can look forward to a future of smarter business decisions and less hard work—and that really is beautiful.