Aplos Details

After over a year of development and iterating with everyone it is time to share the Shiny R-Language application that makes Aplos useful to everyone, no matter how accounting savvy they are.

Aplos is an amazing tool but it is complicated. Just moving everyone up to the complexities of Fund Accounting is a huge jump. Getting everyone to understand the complex, yet limited, Aplos reports was too much. So, a simplified, integrated tool was needed.

The “Aplos Details” tool does a couple things; the most important is that it reduces the fund accounting world to checkbook-like report – a simple list of transactions by date with a running balance. What a difference this has made!

The next most important thing this tool does is give all the users access to their contacts. Aplos exposes all contacts to all accounts to everyone all the time. This is obviously not proper, and perhaps not legal. Therefore, the “Aplos Details” tool is vital for users anywhere data sharing laws or standards are in force. Without the tool there is no way that users could get access to their donor information.

Finally, the tool combines contact and transaction information to produce an old-style report that shows donor giving information over time to allow everyone to see how a donor has given in the past. This report has been part of typical donor management tools for decades. It’s a bit of a mystery why Aplos doesn’t include this as a standard report .

Additionally, the “Aplos Details” tool has some administrative features built in that allows us administrators to manage donation “sets” rather than individual Aplos transactions. This is really helpful when notes have to be added to the record or donation sets moved between funds. Further, managing donation sets allows the tool to run several quality assurance tests on the financial database ensuring simple mistakes are not made accidentally.

Behind the scenes this application uses just about everything we can get out of Aplos. API’s are interrogated, standard Aplos reports are digested, uploaded, downloaded, and converted to and from XLSX files, and our accounting information is combined in useful ways that Aplos never envisioned.

Aplos Fund Accounting Review

The last couple months have been focused on building tools to make the Aplos Fund Accounting software do a couple basic things that it is simply not designed to do.

It’s funny, three simple expectations that have been around since the inception of computerized accounting are glossed over in the design of the Aplos system. It’s not that these three things are “broken” or “not implemented well”. They are not even conceptually part of the Aplos world. Really, it’s a basic attitude thing.

Aplos is a much better solution for our growing administrative function than what we had before so there is no serious talk of going back. Aplos is good stuff, but as an older engineer, I’m rather surprised by how many of the hard-won lessons of the past have simply been ignored by the young ones building the Aplos system. Also, I’m surprised that such a progressive shop can actually believe they have accounting figured out for the entire world for all time. That a bit scary as I write that down…

  1. Getting your accounting data out of the system. Aplos is like the famous Signetics 25120 WOM  (Write-Only-Memory) and it’s technical predecessor, the Umac 606 Phantasatron. While these two humorously fictional devices are truly classic engineering insider jokes the humor is lost in this case. No matter what the marketing folks, tech support team, or the developers themselves say it just isn’t possible to get all the data back. If your accounting system workflow is exactly the same as the way the Aplos designers imagine in their perfect world for everyone in the entire universe it might be possible to get your data out of the system, but I’m not sure because we’re not even close to that work flow conceptualization. In any case, it’s not the raw data. This is most true of the non-accounting data.
  2. The only report output from the Aplos system is what the designers a priory provided. There is no report building capability. In a way it’s related to the first issue. Reports that have been around since the beginning of time are not available, just the new ones the clever Aplos developers have come up with that are not very helpful to our clients.
  3. I know from working with the Aplos APIs that full date and time is recorded behind the scenes but in the Aplos world everything happens in one time zone – the time zone of the data-entering computer. We’re a world-spanning organization and when a person enters data on the other side of the International Date Line it’s tomorrow’s entry even if we are working simultaneously. I almost laughed when a senior Aplos staff explained we were not technically collaborating in real time; my partner was working in my future.

Welcome to the 80’s!

Time to build our own software to get our data back.