Zapier: From IFTTT ‘weird’ to ‘wonderful’ in a ZAP

By Greg LaFollette, CPA/CITP, CGMA

In November 2014 I introduced you to a platform that connects one internet service to another separate and disparate service (see "Expanding Your App-titude: If This, Then That (IFTTT): Create 'Recipes' for Success," JofA, Nov. 2014). I wrote, "IFTTT is a free internet service that allows you to 'connect' disparate platforms by triggering an action on one platform based on something that happens on another."

The profession (and many others) dismissed it as being "weird." Now, five years later, it has most definitely morphed into "wonderful." Let's revisit the state of the art launched by IFTTT.

Since 2014 the number of vendors providing software as a service (SaaS) has expanded, as have the genres covered, but the number of practicing CPAs utilizing "connectors" has exploded. Every conference I attend I hear someone talking about tools to streamline, automate, or simplify. While IFTTT is a fine platform, it is still not sophisticated enough for many of the complex, multistep processes employed in today's modern practices.

Enter the ZAP. Zapier has been gaining a lot of notice in this marketspace. Think of Zapier as a business-grade version of its cousin, the consumer-grade IFTTT. While IFTTT interested a lot of us, Zapier has validated the "automation" genre.

I think the best approach to this topic is to detail some of the differences between Zapier and IFTTT. First there's vocabulary. The aforementioned ZAP is analogous to the IFTTT "recipe." The platforms use "trigger" and "task" similarly. Beyond that, Zapier adds words such as "filter" and "multistep" to describe some of its advanced features. Also note that Zapier runs only from a browser while IFTTT boasts apps that provide easy access for iOS and Android devices.

Since it is business-oriented, Zapier is more powerful and more flexible, but those qualities make it more complicated, too. While the consumer-grade IFTTT provides only two connections, Zapier's beefier service has no connection limits, allowing for far more complex processes.

Depending on your intended use, you'll find Zapier either very helpful or useless overkill, so inventory which apps it integrates and which it doesn't. If it doesn't include the app you want to use, then regardless of how many services it covers, it won't help you. If you intend to use Zapier for personal tasks, I'm guessing it will quickly prove too much and a little too irrelevant.

On the cost front, IFTTT clearly wins, as it's extremely hard to beat free! Since our column in 2014, IFTTT has added a paid business level, but its consumer-centered offering remains free. IFTTT's business plan pricing is not published, but I can't imagine it is significantly different from Zapier. While Zapier does have a free version, it is limited to only five simple, two-step ZAPs. More capable plans increase capacity, complexity, and cost. Subscriptions run from $20 to $600 per month, paid annually in advance.

I've talked with practitioners who are using connector services to monitor their competitor's websites and social media, to manage onboarding of new clients, and to make sure errant emails get captured in the right Slack channel.

These automated process tools have most definitely moved from weird solidly into wonderful. It's time to get on board, as we're clearly out of "innovator" territory and squarely into the "early adopter" or perhaps even the "early majority" phase.

Websites: Zapier.com, IFTTT.com.

Note: Other players in this space include Automate.io and Microsoft Flow.

Greg LaFollette, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is a strategic adviser with CPA.com, the commercial subsidiary of the American Institute of CPAs. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor, at Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com or 919-402-4056.

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