Sorting Out Data

A new generation of software presents wide capabilities.


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Data analysis is a relatively new field, built on the power of database mapping and data mining. Most of the leading software and Web solutions in this field have been in existence a very short period-five to six years-and there is still no clear definition of what applications should accomplish beyond identifying problems and opportunities based on information from a company's general ledger. Still, there is a great deal of diversity. While most of the packages on the market focus on helping accountants serve their clients, Sage Software's CPAPractice Manager takes another tack by applying the same data analysis to the accounting firm itself. Microsoft Forecaster goes a step further, tying the financial analysis to the client's budget and planning process, resulting in a more rational approach to how client companies can make use of the data generated by the financial analysis. Finally, ProfitCents focuses more on constructing a more effective dataset with which to perform analyses, building on the public databases with its own proprietary platform.

For 2005, Accounting Technology covers the data analysis field with a roundup of nine excellent products, all of which deserve consideration by accounting firms.

ProSystem fx ProfitDriver 7.0

Partner Insights

Introduced in 2004, ProSystem fx ProfitDriver, a financial diagnostic and analytical application, transforms client data into an interactive, strategic planning tool, enabling accountants to develop the outcomes of what-if scenarios and construct detailed plans for reaching goals.

The software is designed to take client data from the ProSystem fx Engagement or Tax products, or from a spreadsheet, and crunch the numbers to provide trending and cumulative data that can be used to support strategic planning and decision support systems. The reports generated can be printed or exported into Engagement either individually or in total.

The product provides four types of analytical views of the client's financial standing. A one-page Financial Scorecard provides an overview of company performance and financial position; what-if scenarios driven by the Strategy screen that can be updated by a click of the Net Change icon; key performance indicators allow comparisons of a business with the performance of other companies in the same industry; and there is a substantial list of management reports. The reports system offers a wide range of graphical reports, including a detailed, 20-page Financial Diagnostic Report.

A number of attractive features set ProfitDriver apart from its competitors. These include the bundling of KPI data; integration with other databases, including spreadsheets, and the Mentor Plus Level 5 approach to client service that teaches accountants how to move from a compliance-oriented relationship to one that is future-focused and real-time.

ProfitDriver, a well-rounded and functionally complete toolset, has garnered strong endorsements within the accounting community for its ability to drive better engagements, more substantial consulting relationships, and better client service.

Accpac CFO Version 2.0B

Accpac CFO (Comprehensive Financial Optimizer) from Sage Software provides three core analytical functions: what-if scenarios; goal-seeking to match performance with objectives; and budgeting/forecasting. Together, these three enable accountants to easily develop financial models based on indicators and desirable business targets.

Accpac CFO is also integrated with Sage Accpac ERP (formerly Accpac Advantage Series) and Sage Pro ERP (formerly Accpac Pro Series) general ledgers, so there is no re-keying of client data.

A special add-on to CFO, the Accpac Business Advisor, enables accounting professionals to automatically generate knowledge-based reports on the data contained in the software. These reports include a one-page summary called the Business Health Check; a Business Performance Test on each key financial result against a benchmark that is derived from any external source; a Financial Diagnostic Report that compares each performance measure with either the historic or the projected data from CFO; and a Sensitivity Report that produces a matrix displaying the impact of changing a business driver with the corresponding impact on the business result.

Another add-on to CFO, Accpac KPI, generates detailed financial comparisons and reports from the data contained in CFO. KPI allows users to build custom variables and then use them to define specific performance measures for their organizations.

Accpac CFO allows accounting professionals to demonstrate for their clients the bottom line results that can be generated by establishing new business. Similar in style and content to CCH's ProfitDriver, and built on the same engine, CFO is nonetheless a strong data analysis system in its own right, and one of the first to provide accountants with a strong new tool for business development.

Business Intelligence Wizard and HOMB

AccTrak21 produces two notable programs that expand the power of data analysis to small companies: BizInt Wizard with OLAP, and Health of My Business. Each has its own purpose, but together they form an attractive analytical suite.

Health of My Business uses the information in the AccTrak21 accounting system to provide high-level summaries of key business data for corporate directors, managers, or outside accountants. The accountant assists in creating key performance indicators, and data drawn from the accounting system (primarily the general ledger) captures, stores, combines, summarizes, and organizes financial information accordingly. This information is presented graphically to authorized recipients automatically via email, or else users can view these summaries via the Internet using any browser.

The BizInt Wizard produces valuable insights into the business based on Seagate's Online Analysis Processing software. OLAP is a class of software that enables a company to sort, model, and view information contained in a database. In this case, the database would include the company's financial information.

The BizInt Wizard automated the process of mining a company's database to discover hidden trends, anomalies, and relationships in the company's business information. The trends and relationships are then presented in an Excel report format that enables the accountant and management team to generate fast and easy ad-hoc queries, seek new opportunities through multi-dimensional views of the data, and correct problems that might otherwise remain hidden.

AccTrak21 has created a strong set of data analysis tools with a global perspective but a firm focus on the needs of the SME. Together, HOMB and the BizInt Wizard provide a fast, effective path to better business management.

CaseWare Idea

CaseWare's Idea, an intense data analysis tool, combines powerful features with an interface, help, and wizards system that make it highly accessible to accountants. In use in 12 languages in over 90 countries, Idea is the gold standard in data analysis toolsets.

That power is reflected in three core functions-importing data from virtually any source, the use of exception testing to identify potential problems, and the ability to join databases to bring transactional data and master files together in a single database.

Idea's ImportAssistant can import almost any kind of data from any source. For more complex files, variable length records, or multiple record types, Idea provides a companion product, Record Definition Editor, as well as seamless import from XML and plug-ins for specific accounting packages. A new Report Reader module also helps import data from complex databases, generating a report describing the contents of the data.

Once the data is imported, extraction using exception testing identifies items that satisfy a specific characteristic, such as payments of more than $10,000 or transactions before a given date. Users can perform up to 50 separate extractions with a single pass through the database.

Geared toward the enterprise market, Idea and its mid-range alternative Idea Express are ideal for accountants needing the ability to collect and integrate data in any form, performing precision analyses of both the raw and joined data. Its power and flexibility are not for the novice, or for the company seeking a simple spreadsheet overview of performance. But it is the tool that enterprise accountants rely on for audit support, financial management, and fraud identification.

CaseWare Scenarios

For the accounting firm working with SME clients, or seeking an easy but powerful tool for business management consulting, CaseWare Scenarios precisely melds accounting information with business drivers.

Built as an extension of the CaseWare Working Papers engagement software, Scenario presents an integrated balance sheet, income statement, cash flow, business drivers, and analytics on a single screen. This format allows the accountant to show a different but understandable view of the business, and then tweak the data to create what-if scenarios and solutions for goal-seeking. Scenarios allows users to create different scenarios using actual historical data, pulled directly from the trial balance as a starting point.

Data Analysis Software

CCH Tax and Accounting
Torrance, Calif.
(800) PFX-9998
Pricing: $2,250 plus annual maintenance fee. ACCPAC CFO (Comprehensive Financial Optimizer) Version 2.0B
Sage Software
Pleasanton, Calif.
(925) 461-2625
Pricing: Accpac CFO and Accpac KPI , $1,000 each, plus a $180 annual maintenance fee each. Accpac Business Advisor Module, $500, plus $90 annual maintenance fee.

AccTrak21 USA
Frontenac, Minn.
(888) 595-8460
Pricing: HOMB is included with the basic financial package. BizInt ranges from $300 to 500, depending on user count and the configuration.

CaseWare Idea
Toronto, Ontario
(416) 867-9504
Pricing: Single-user license starts at $1,795, with $400 annual maintenance.

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