Product Review: Fixed Asset Software


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The summer months at an accounting firm used to be for four things: vacationing, auditing non-profits, cleaning up client files and manually carrying forward depreciation schedules on big sheets of paper. In 1986, when I started in public accounting, there were scant few tools for computing depreciation. Most work back then was completed with a No. 2 pencil, a straight edge and a big supply of erasers. Each time you prepared a new schedule you hoped that the depreciation method and asset life were chosen properly. One mistake meant you'd spend an hour with your eraser neatly removing the improper calculations and replacing them with new amounts.

Thankfully, the days when my hands would cramp from manually preparing fixed asset schedules are long gone. Instead, fixed asset software takes the guesswork out of depreciation and lets you increase your summer vacation days. When fixed asset software first came onto the market there were dozens of independent products. Perhaps the biggest fixed asset program was not a formal program at all; rather it was Microsoft Excel which firms eagerly embraced to replace their paper-based asset schedules.

Gradually as software matured, we've seen the software companies consolidate. Today nearly all fixed asset programs reviewed are part of suite of software. The benefits to having a family of integrated software packages extend well beyond the passing of data. By having a shared user interface and common code base, the suites are generally operate at a faster pace than the standalone systems of yesterday.

Partner Insights

If you're looking for fixed asset software, you will want to keep a few key criteria in mind. First, I recommend you always stay with the market leading brands of software. These are more likely to be better supported and receive more frequent faster upgrades. Here are some of the key attributes:

Templates. When you are adding assets, they will fall into similar categories. You'll likely have furniture and fixtures, automobiles, office equipment and computer equipment. The average office will not have much in assets, which is why you want to have templates from which a data entry clerk can choose when adding assets. If, for example, all of your computer monitors are depreciated for book purposes as Straight Line with a life of five years, then you'll want to be sure that there's a template that can be used when the data entry clerk is out sick and someone is assisting. They can select the proper configuration based on a template that remembers life, method and classification.

Report Writing. Since the reporting in most software packages is aimed at the overall marketplace, it's not surprising when you find yourself wanting reports tailored more closely to your needs, such as the grouping of data or the level of detail shown. This means a report writer is a must. If the report writer can be an industry standard such as Crystal Reports, that's even better. If you can customize existing reports and create new ones, then you won't need to resort to cut and paste or exporting data to Excel.

Integration. Depending upon your use of the software (private company versus public accounting practice), you'll be looking at one of two different integrations. Private companies want to feed the general ledger journal entries to their accounting software. Public accounting firms will desire to have asset data transfer seamlessly to both tax preparation and working paper analysis and reporting software. Are you expected to create an export file to get the data out of your fixed asset software and an import to pull it into your tax software or does it have push-one-button ease that firms dream about? Don't be shy about asking vendors to explain how their integration works.

Printing of tax fileable schedules. Even if you are integrating fixed assets to a tax software program which will create fileable tax forms for you, it is still convenient to be able to print forms from within the system for inclusion in the working papers. This eliminates the need to run copies of the tax forms when you return to the office.

Support for Citrix/TS sessions. Because CPAs spend so much time outside the office, you want to make absolutely certain that your software supports remote computing solutions such as Citrix and Windows Terminal Server. These remote programs allow users to log into the full application via an Internet connection and control their program as if sitting in front of the local machine. Support for at least one of the two major remote connection services is a must-have feature. Avoid the temptation to "cheap out" and use a solution like LogMeIn or GotoMyPC. While these are fine remote applications, they work on a one-to-one basis and requiring every incoming connection to have sole control of an entire PC and aren't as cost effective if you have many remote users.

Fixed Assets Desktop

BNA's Fixed Asset Desktop is a standalone solution with some rather remarkable features. The company claims that the software might be called an "Accountant's Dream" and based on feature requests that I hear from accountants (both in public and private practice), one of the most sought-after features is to eliminate the "hard close" of an accounting program.

With the BNA Open Timeline feature you'll never have to worry about the impact of a monthly closing again.

What Open Timeline does is allow you to go back in time and re-run depreciation reports for any prior period. This gives you full access to detailed depreciation information for any of the prior periods, even when they've long been closed out and forgotten. This presents a cradle-to-grave picture of any asset and is a feature which almost everyone will use.

BNA provides more than 30 reports (six of which are fileable tax forms). When those reports aren't enough, you can use their BNA Fixed Assets Report Writer (sold separately), a BNA-specific version of Crystal Report Writer. This reporting can be based on any of the standard depreciation books: GAAP, Federal, State, AMT, ACE or E&P. Not enough books? You can add up to 99 more. While not an unlimited capability, it's hard to imagine a situation where 99 depreciation books would not be ample for most needs.

Templates and full data entry validation are standard features. There is a full audit trail for every depreciation book accessible within the asset viewer. Here you can see all detail behind the often tricky computations for expenses, gains/losses or exchanges. This detail can be by month, quarter or year for individual assets.

BNA Fixed Assets has some heavy horsepower. Open Timeline alone should make it a welcomed visitor to both corporate and CPA firm offices everywhere.

CCH ProSystem Fixed Asset Manager

Integration, features, functionality and a wide user base are the four primary reasons users consider the CCH ProSystem fx Fixed Asset Manager so powerful. Data flows readily between the CCH fixed assets program and both ProSystem fx Tax and ProSystem fx Engagement.

So whether your focus is IRS number crunching or strictly financial reporting, this application presents a flexible solution that can be just as easily adopted by the tax department as the audit team.

As you would expect, the data integration between the CCH packages is pretty tight. What you might not expect though is that you can keep an unlimited number of assets as well as open any client data file accessed within the last two years of your current ProSystem fx version. This does away with the annoying "version conflict" that other software users may experience as they try opening historical data files with the latest fixed assets software.

Because the asset manager serves as the main data collection point for the ProSystem fx tax software, it tends to offer more advanced features that can be used by a tax department. You'll happily discover that features like asset splitting (maximum of 99 assets) and negative depreciation are no problem. You'll also like that you can create filters for ProSystem fx Fixed Assets systemwide and have them apply to each individual company file, eliminating duplicate efforts.

ProSystem fx Fixed Assets lets you tailor most of the reports using their customization options. This is a help for adding or removing columns or changing totaling. When needed you can even report on closed years of depreciation (a major no-no for even some of the other equally high powered fixed asset programs). Projection reports are also standard which allow you to create a what-if analysis or to create a report that is used by accounting staff for creation of monthly journal entries. ProSystem FX Fixed Assets is one of the more powerful fixed asset programs and worth consideration, especially if you're a ProSystem FX Tax or Engagement user already.

Fixed Assets CS

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