When times are tough, businesses look for places to cut costs. And one of those places is software. My advice is don't buy it if you don't have to. Now, for the substantial part of the reading audience that prepares tax, there's not much choice other than buying tax preparation software each year. And, buying payroll tax tables for accounting software is inescapable (although no one has to buy accounting software itself annually).
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But there are some other areas for achieving some economies.
This occurred to me when I was trying to find a very useful tool that had been in Windows 2003, but I couldn't find in Windows 2007-the document imaging viewer, an OCR utility that can convert imaged documents, such as tiffs, into Word format. This is not a substitute for a heavy-duty OCR application in business. Yet it's very handy, and it accomplishes a task that I thought for which I would have to buy a separate utility, or transcribe the information manually.
It also did reminded me of a statement that was made during a 1993 visit to Microsoft's usability lab in Bellevue, Wash. Whatever the statistic was, it was that a majority of new feature requests that Microsoft receives are for features that are already in the product. I remember it as being around 75 percent.
The lesson is, when the urge to spend money on applications to solve business issues strikes businesses need to investigate whether they are getting everything they can from products they already own.
The next thing on the checklist should be training. It's very clear that many software installations fail, or don't produce the kind of savings that were expected because companies don't invest in enabling users to use them. I describe the process in which frustrated users stare at a screen as the point at which software makes them feel stupid. Since they don't want to feel stupid, they say the software doesn't work correctly.
I would imagine there have been a lot of very expensive projects that failed because purchasers did not invest adequately in training.
In his column in this issue, consultant Gary Boomer put some numbers on what lack of training costs business people. While Boomer applied this to accounting firms, it has to be true in every market segment.
The final item in the checklist is freeware and open source products. Freeware is probably not going to be adequate for companies, other than small ones. But it's there.
And open source should increasingly be on buyers' checklists. The package software model in which companies with a corner on the market can keep prices artificially high is changing. It's in the vendors' interest, not the users' and the current economy should accelerate the moved toward open source.
So, am I saying don't buy software? In one way, no. Companies who adequately evaluate their needs and find a new package is essential should buy. But look down the check list first.
The Web can be a sticky place and in this case, that's a very good thing.
In "Marketing Your Firm Online," Senior Editor Alexandra DeFelice writes about the way in which accounting firms find ways to make clients more loyal and to pick up new business.
Another area that can help in improving client service, and producing more billable hours is document management. Reviewer Dave McClure writes about the way document management and workflow are increasingly inseparable.
Finally, if there is anything that is inseparable with accountants and software, it's their use of the Excel spreadsheet. Opinion has long been, it's a great tool, but there's a lot of things it's being used for that it's not designed for, according to the story "Breaking the Excel Habit."
Editor Robert Scott also writes "Consulting Insights," a free, twice-monthly electronic newsletter that addresses issues concerning the consulting and reselling market. It's insight with an attitude. If you want to subscribe, put the following in your browser address line: subscribe.webcpa.com. You can also visit us at www.accountingtechnology.com.