Everybody, it seems, likes to get into the analysis game. After all, what good is having a lot of data if you can't make sense or cents of it?

Thus the proliferation of analytical tools continues at all levels. Just witness Simply Accounting 2005, the retail product that has sprouted the ability to perform 30 key performance indicators--many of them basic financial ratios. It also adds short explanations of what the terms mean, for those who don't know a current ratio from a current of electricity. That's in a package with a $49 list price.

A bit higher up in price is Exact Software's Business Analytics, with a starting price of $5,000. It has executive dashboard capabilities and drill-down access to data. You get a lot more for a lot more money, but it's basically on the same continuum in must-have features for software.

Analytical tools are rapidly becoming a requirement for any software company that wants to be serious in reaching (or keeping) its end users. Given the features that have been loaded into accounting software, the need to convert that data to something useful is a lot more important than figuring out if more modules can be loaded onto the product platform.

Just to mention a few more. Best Software has adopted the e-Analytics Portal, developed by one of its resellers, for its CPASoftware Practice application. Microsoft loaded analytical tools into the latest version of Navision. Blackbaud

has extended the use of its Business Intelligence Deployed to its Financial Edge nonprofit accounting software.

And don't forget some of the "what-if" tools, such as CCH's ProfitDriver, its nearly identical twin Best's Comprehensive Financial Optimizer, and CaseWare's Scenarios, which go beyond simple explanations to giving users the ability to jigger their numbers and see what happens.

Analysis, business intelligence, and reporting seem perched on becoming facets of the same thing. Users don't want static reports and they don't want clumps of data lying around uselessly.

Fans of reporting tools may remember that those are also changing. This year, Systems Union purchased Lasata, which owns the F-9 report writer, and folded the product into its Business Intelligence Division. Business Objects, which last year acquired Crystal Decisions and its ubiquitous Crystal Reports, is going to merge its major product lines' features over the next two years.

What these tool will look like, how the categories overlap or merge, is not quite apparent. What is apparent is that buying software that lacks analytical tools is going to be like buying a VCR instead of a DVD player. The VCR will still work. But why would you buy a new one, since DVD players offer a lot more?

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