The accounting software market for the small-to-midsized business is getting a little worse and a lot better at the same time. It's getting a little worse because the number of lower-end products continues to shrink, but it's getting a lot better because the quality of the products continues to improve while the prices are staying about the same. It's going to get even more interesting when Microsoft leaps into the fray later this year. (See related article, page 31.) Let's deal with some packages that have been on the market for years.
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What should you look for in an accounting product? Accounting applications for small-to-midsized businesses have the basic modules: general ledger, accounts receivable, accounts payable, and payroll. Most can also do inventory, job costing, and time and billing. You should be able to generate and print quotes, sales orders, purchase orders, and checks of all kinds, and have a wide range of customizable, professional-looking reports. Both printed and online documentation should be complete.
In addition, there should be an Internet user forum that lets you ask questions and discuss problems with other users. The product must also support multiple users with varying security levels, import and export accounting data in several formats, provide customer address books and to-do lists, and let you update tax tables and transmit data over the Internet. You may also want the ability to make direct deposits and B2B payments, or to set up a Web store using your company's inventory.
Evaluating the Products
Each product was evaluated using the following criteria:
Overall ease of use. Is the product easy to install and configure? Did the product feel easy to use? Was it necessary to pick up the manuals or go to the online help? Did each step in the new company set-up make sense? Was it easy to add invoices and pay bills?
Product features. How complete is the feature set? How many sample charts of accounts are there? Are there add-on features such as Web store creation, fixed asset management, or integration with other programs?
Documentation. Was online documentation well indexed, useful, clean? Were manuals complete, easy to read?
Trial versions and money-back guarantees. Finding the right accounting package is a challenge. It's a little easier to determine which package is right for you by trying before you buy.
Reporting and exporting options. Is there a good range of reports? Are there filtering and sorting options? Can you easily export report info and financial data to other formats?
SIMPLY ACCOUNTING 2005 BASIC
Simply Accounting 2005 Basic isn't as full-featured as the other products in this review. But it's by far the least expensive, and a great starter system for small companies that don't yet need all the bells and whistles of larger, costlier products.
Installation is quick and easy. The new company set-up process has been enhanced, and there are 102 sample charts of accounts for you to choose from. The screens haven't been changed from the previous version, but they're attractive and easy to use. The software handles GL, AR, AP, payroll, inventory, and basic job costing, and also supports two currencies. For an extra cost, you can get electronic funds transfer services and direct deposit of employee paychecks. There is a hosted Web service, Simply Webstore, that lets you build a Web store that is integrated with your accounting data.
The product doesn't ship with printed manuals, which are available for a small fee, but there are more than 1,000 pages of printable product manuals, an accounting guide, and a training workbook in PDF format. The clear online help files make good use of graphics.
Simply Accounting 2005 Basic has 69 reports and 12 graphs, all of which can be heavily customized with the new built-in form designer or with Crystal Reports. Invoices can now be created and emailed in PDF or RTF format. You can also export financial reports with formulas directly into Excel. Enhanced reporting features in this version include more filtering options and reports that span multiple pages horizontally. There are several new and updated reports as well, including a budget report, a remittance report for amounts due to government agencies that have been collected from employees, a payroll deduction report, and an enhanced payroll detail report.
The Daily Business Manager is an effective tool for identifying tasks and keeping current with what's happening. You can display 25 key performance indicators, including the average number of days you take to pay your vendor invoices, current cash position, average number of days customers take to pay their invoices, recent sales, asset/liability ratios, and actual/budgeted expenses, revenues, and net income for year-to-date and compared against the previous year. Other new features include additional information fields that can be set as pop-up reminders, better importing/ exporting, remittance payments, and twice as many employee income and deduction fields.
If all you need is a single-user product and don't need time and billing, multiple price lists, or departmental accounting, Basic is great. For a multi-user product with more features, consider Simply Accounting 2005 Pro or Simply Accounting 2005 Premium. An online version called Simply Online (www.simplyaccounting.com/simplyonline) offers more features than the basic version. All Simply Accounting products have a 30-day free trial period.
Simply Accounting 2005 Basic continues to be a good, basic product with exceptional documentation. It is a solid entry-level product for a small company that offers a clear growth path as your company's accounting needs expand.
SIMPLY ACCOUNTING 2005 BASIC
MYOB BUSINESSESSENTIALS PRO 2005
MYOB BusinessEssentials Pro 2005 is now more than just the dependable MYOB accounting package. It's become a complete small business management product that delivers a load of new features for a good price.
The core of MYOB BusinessEssentials Pro is MYOB Premier Accounting. The installation procedure is clear and easy, with 98 charts of accounts to choose from. Once you've completed basic set-up, you can further customize your company and accounting preferences, using the new Easy Setup wizards. Then, you can start entering information from the MYOB Command Center, a map of accounting tasks in the order they should be performed. You click a task icon to go to the specific task screen. The screens have changed only slightly and are still attractive and easy to use.
MYOB handles GL, AR, AP, payroll, inventory, job costing, and time and billing. There are also 200 reports that can be customized and saved to disk in PDF and HTML formats. Many reports have drill-down features for exploring data. The MYOB card file lets you capture customer, vendor, and employee information for basic contact management. The product supports multiple currencies and sales tax codes and has good data import/export. The creative forms designer lets you format invoices, purchase orders, and other forms.
The new payroll processor lets you run a complete payroll in a batch process rather than having to process employee checks individually. You can also process and print W-2 and W-3 forms. Also, this version of MYOB adds enhanced recurring transactions options (including an automatic notification), batch emailing for sales forms, statements, and POs, pop-up warnings, and mouse scroll wheel support. The MYOB Merchant Account Service also now lets you process credit card payments even when you are on the road.
One distinctive new feature is the built-in data auditor. You can check your accounts for a number of data exception conditions that may need to be examined or resolved. The data auditor reconciles invoices and purchases against the respective accounts, reviews audit trail changes, and checks transactions, inventory pricing, and tax exceptions.
The printed manual is reasonably complete, but it still uses type that's too small to read easily. The online documentation is pretty good, although you need to use Internet Explorer to use the search feature.
While the accounting features are solid and very usable, what makes this package really impressive is the wide array of business management features that have been added. You can install modules for forecasting and budgeting that let you forecast income and expenses, as well as including sample business plans, an employee information manager for HR tasks such as tracking employee time and doing performance evaluations, a customer appointment scheduler for customer and contact management, and a logo designer for creating logos for your forms, Web site, and letterhead.
MYOB BusinessEssentials Pro has something for everyone. It has a small, friendly feeling that will encourage SOHO users while having enough strength to handle the accounting and business needs of larger businesses. The Pro version costs $299 for the single-license Windows version with additional users at $149 each or a five-license pack for $499. For a mere $99, there is a standalone version, MYOB BusinessEssentials, which has a cut-down version of the accounting package and doesn't include the customer and employee modules. Both have a 30-day money-back guarantee and technical support. Demo versions can be downloaded from the MYOB Web site.