The leading brands of fixed asset software have been continually enhanced to meet the needs of today's corporations. Whereas an accurate computation of the annual depreciation was enough to satisfy most in the DOS versions of these packages, now nearly all of the systems reviewed offer such bells and whistles as integration to financial accounting software, image attachments, completely customizable depreciation schedules, and printing of fileable IRS forms. Many stand-alone fixed asset products also are available in less expensive versions with reduced capacity. In many (but not all) instances, the product that you are paying less money for may be nearly equal to a higher-priced alternative, with the chief difference being the number of assets you are allowed to depreciate, as well as the available bells and whistles, such as import/export capabilities and report writing.
Like what you see? Click here to sign up for Accounting Today's daily newsletter to get the latest news and behind the scenes commentary you won't find anywhere else.
If you're thinking of purchasing a lower-cost solution, here are a few questions to ask:
* Are there limitations on the number of assets that can be depreciated?
* Are there limitations on the types of depreciation calculations?
* What is the upgrade path from your product? Does the data convert automatically or must someone re-key it? If the vendor offers data-conversion services ask if the price is fixed or whether you must pay hourly.
* Will the lower-cost version operate under a network (some vendors such as FAS require that you purchase a special network version, even if you are only intending to use one person while operating over a network).
* Is a report writer available? If so, what is the cost of the report writer, or does the need for a report writer automatically force you to upgrade products to the next higher software level?
* Finally, ask what typical situations have prompted other users to upgrade. This question may elicit information that you had not previously considered, but which may be relevant to your decision.
Many software packages give the appearance of suffering from "feature overload" - they include options to attach pictures to fixed assets, create sophisticated role-based security, or handle multi-currency situations. For most users, the following are some of the must-have characteristics that you should seek in your fixed asset package. Modify this list to include any more complex features that your business may require.
Accurate calculations. Naturally, any fixed asset program should offer accurate calculations. Among the things you should consider here are the numbers of methods supported, the type of calculation books (book, tax, AMT, GAAP, ACE, etc.). Don't assume that all fixed asset software includes the same basic capabilities.
FAS Asset Accounting
Price: Starts at $2,245.
Fixed Assets CS (formerly Depreciation Solution)
Price: Starts at $1,100.
BNA Fixed Assets Desktop
Price: First year, $2,345; Renewal, $1,195 (includes support).
QuickBooks Enterprise Fixed Asset Manager
Mountain View, Calif.
Price: $849 (QES Accountant Edition); $2,500 (QES, single-user edition).
CCH ProSystem fx Fixed Assets
Price: $1,550, first user.
Customizable report writing. Virtually all users will want to have access to a flexible report writer. The use of Crystal Reports is one standard that many of the software developers have adopted. Some other programs use a proprietary report writer to generate the customization that standard reports may leave off.
Using an industry-standard report writer, such as Crystal Reports, has significant benefits. Chief among those is the reduction in staff training. Since so many other software companies have adopted Crystal Reports, the pool of well-trained staff that may already be acquainted with the tool should be much larger than those who are potentially acquainted with a more customized solution written only for one software package.
Integration with financial packages. Integration is one of the most confusing terms in the software marketplace. To some software companies, it means they support a multi-step import/export process that will allow their data to either be exported or imported, though most of it is manual and may not be completely intuitive or well-documented. Other software developers have embraced the ability to seamlessly integrate the depreciation calculations with only a single mouse click.
If integration is important, be sure to clarify the level of connection that you are expecting. For example, not all fixed asset programs will read the fixed assets entered into the accounts payable module of a financial package that they claim compatibility with. Instead their integration may consist of a routine that passes only an adjusting journal entry, representing the depreciation calculation.
Ease of redoing calculations. Dealing with fixed assets typically involves a lot of what-if analysis, as well as after-the-fact calculations. The depreciation may be the last piece of information generated in the monthly close, and modifying the depreciation for subsequently "found" new assets is fairly common. Be certain to investigate the ease with which after-the-fact adjustments and corrections can be entered.
Flexibility of canned reports. Smaller users of fixed asset software may not require the complexity or additional overhead of learning a custom report writer. Instead, it may be easier to evaluate each accounting package based on the number of reports that can be generated without the use of an external report writer. In these instances, it would help to review the options that each reporting screen allows the user to set. If you can change columns, as well as sorts and groups, that could very well satisfy your custom report needs.
Ease of use. When using software, moving from one process to another should be simple and intuitive. Since fixed asset software may be used by your staff once or twice per year, it is important that the features are laid out in a logical fashion, that the online help is "helpful," and that data-entry screens don't require extraneous mouse clicks.
Capacity. If you don't need all the bells and whistles of the full-featured software, then entry-level versions can save you lots of money. Many software developers sell a stripped-down, small business version that performs most (but not every) function contained in the full version. Be sure to check that you're getting everything that you need. The top three items to verify are that (a) the software has the capacity to manage the number of assets that you anticipate, (b) if needed, that the software will operate on a network and (c) that an adequate number of depreciation methods are supported.
FAS Asset Accounting
Executive summary: A powerful and robust fixed assets program. There are versions available for nearly every size business, as well as integration to nearly all Sage Software.
Pros: Extensive product line that integrates with FAS. Highly customizable to nearly any situation, with versions for small to very large businesses.
Cons: Interface requires some getting used to. Single-user network version required to operate on a network, even if only one user accesses the software.
FAS packs a lot of information onto one data-entry screen. With support for more than 300,000 IRS tax rules, and the capacity to add in your own formulas, the software is flexible for companies of nearly any size. A FAS First Step version has a lower price, but which can compute only up to 1,000 assets.
The user interface automatically opens to a group view, where you can see a concise list of your fixed assets. By double-clicking on any asset, you can drill down to the detail view, which includes information on the seven depreciation books presented side by side. Each of the 28 different fields presented are completely modifiable by the user. Examples might be changing a field title or modifying whether data can be entered to the field or only viewed.
If you're converting from another brand, you'll appreciate the custom import and export feature. Accessed right from the main menu, this allows for the import of data directly to the FAS database, thereby saving time and data-entry steps. When establishing your database, there are user-defined fields and Smartlists that greatly aid in computation and accuracy. A powerful Audit Advisor will work with your staff to point out potential problems within the data and provide suggestions for improving your reporting and correcting obvious errors.
Images may be attached to any asset. This allows scanned documents, such as warranties, purchase invoices, and repair records, to be readily available to anyone accessing the FAS database. There is also a customizable notes page, which, when combined with the ability to easily create user-defined fields, should be more than ample for just about any company's recordkeeping needs.
FAS Accounting Software offers support for all size businesses, the feature set is especially strong and the availability of low-cost versions makes this package attractive for nearly any business.
Fixed Assets CS
Executive summary: Creative Solutions offers a compelling software products aimed at the CPA firm. Fixed Assets CS includes most features that a firm would need, and has handy tools such as on-screen display of the mathematics behind every calculation.