There are a number of ways that your clients can outgrow their entry-level accounting software. One of the more common instances is that a growing client totally embraces the accounting system to a degree where it has more people that want to use it than the software can support.Most entry-level accounting applications are built on proprietary databases and limit access to five or so simultaneous users.
These proprietary databases provide another reason that many clients need to upgrade as they grow. Most entry-level applications use databases with modest capabilities. As the number of transactions grows, so do the contentions - where a user or transaction tries to use a database record that is already in use. The result is that the database and the application bog down.
Most mid-range accounting applications are built on a heavy-duty database, such as one of the popular versions of SQL. These handle high transaction loads much more efficiently, and thus scale easily to accommodate large numbers of both users and transactions.
Another place where your clients can outgrow their accounting software is in the area of capabilities. Most entry-level accounting packages offer similar functionality.
For many small to midsized clients, these capabilities will suffice. Other clients may want or require additional capabilities. Because most mid-range accounting systems are modular, adding advanced features is easy. A system manager acts as the entry point to the system that makes it a simple matter to extend the system with capabilities such as customer relationship management, human resource management, multi-currency/multi-language functionality, customizable dashboards and reporting, complex warehousing, and advanced inventory management and costing.
And while a number of entry-level packages do provide excellent budgeting and analysis functions, many mid-range systems extend these capabilities significantly, which is important to a client that uses the data
to perform more effective management.
A final area to consider is upgradability. Almost all entry-level vendors offer some sort of upgrade path. Some of these approaches work better than others. In many cases, however, migrating data from an entry-level package into a mid-range system is no trivial matter. Neither is retraining client staff in new procedures so that they can use the upgraded software.
One option is to have the client migrate to a more robust version of what they are already using. That's the rationale behind QuickBooks Enterprise Edition and Peachtree Quantum, both of which are reviewed in this roundup.
Another possibility is to start a client off with a mid-range accounting system as their initial accounting application. That way, as the client's needs changes, the accounting system can grow with them without having to transition to a completely new way of doing familiar operations.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Keep in mind when looking at a mid-range system to recommend to your clients that the product name can sometimes mean something other than what you expect. The term "enterprise" is common in mid-range software. And while "enterprise" often means a business with hundreds or even thousands of employees and staff members, when it comes to accounting systems, it can also refer to a company that has more sophisticated data and application needs. At the mid-range, sometimes the word "accounting" doesn't even appear in the product name. ERP, or enterprise resource planning, is a common acronym when you get beyond the entry-level market.
Mid-range accounting systems have several other areas where they differ from entry-level applications. We've already pointed out the modularity of most mid-range systems. This is also reflected in the pricing of the software, allowing your client to purchase modules as they are required.
And pricing is different in another way. While it's unusual for an entry-level application to exceed $1,000, that's the price level that many mid-range accounting applications start at. Depending on the complexity of your clients' needs, the software could easily wind up costing well in excess of $10,000.
And that's just for the license. Most vendors of mid-range accounting software don't sell directly to the end user, but rather market their software through resellers. It's frequently these resellers who provide installation, support and other services. Marketing through this channel can add a significant cost to the acquisition.
To help you in advising your clients, we tested nine mid-range accounting systems. Our testing was performed on a single workstation, but all of the systems tested are designed to be used in a multi-user client/server environment. These more robust accounting systems benefit from being installed on a higher-powered server, since this is where the actual transaction processing and posting will take place. This is another area where you may want to advise your client to upgrade.
As with any mission-critical application, both the server and workstations should be connected to an uninterruptible power supply and backed up frequently, with at least one backup copy stored offsite.
In the reviews that follow, several accounting systems are in the same version number as those we reviewed last year. Unlike entry-level applications, mid-range systems go through major upgrades much less frequently, though there are updates and enhancements that are slipstreamed into the applications even if the version number does not change.
CMS PROFESSIONAL 2009
The original Cougar Mountain Accounting software has been continually updated and improved, and today is one of the two major accounting products offered by the company, having been joined by Denali, the product we reviewed last year. Both accounting products are sold through the reseller channel, as well as directly through Cougar Mountain's own sales force.
In addition to providing its software for in-house installation, Cougar Mountain is one of a number of accounting software vendors that offers its software preloaded and preconfigured on a server from Applianz. This plug-and-play approach takes the sting out of set-up and configuration, and allows the software to be up and running almost instantly. We tested CMS Professional 2009 on an Applianz server located at Cougar Mountain's offices. An end user would have an almost identical experience running the application over the Internet or a network using a Web browser.
As with most mid-range accounting systems, CMS Professional 2009 is a modular system. The basic system consists of the general ledger, accounts receivable, accounts payable, inventory and order entry; payroll, purchase order, and bank reconciliation are optional modules that can be added at any time. The 2009 version of the software is primarily an incremental upgrade, but does add such useful features as being able to attach documents to master records, PDF document and report creation, corporate credit-card processing, and the ability to set up employee garnishments. We found the system easy to understand and navigate, so getting your client's staff up to speed should be quick.
One thing we particularly like about CMS is that the vendor has been in existence a long time and over the years has built up a large network of third-party developers. This has resulted in the creation of several dozen add-ons and vertical adaptations of the software. Cougar Mountain has offered point-of-sale capabilities almost since the very first version of the software, and it is particularly capable. Also available is a nonprofit version of CMS Professional.
Because it's scalable from a single-user system all the way up to dozens of users, CMS Professional Accounting 2009 is a good system to consider if your client needs a capable "starter" system that they won't have to migrate or upgrade from if they experience significant growth.
Web-based applications have really hit their stride. While initially many accountants were a bit hesitant to recommend these applications to their clients, the two major vendors in this market, of which Intacct is one, have proved their staying power and practicality.
Intacct provides a very attractive mid-range offering. It offers all of the accounting and management modules that most clients in this market segment will require, and the applications themselves are robust, with features that equal or surpass the majority of in-house applications. In addition, Intacct has partnered with vendors of other applications such as Salesforce CRM and Avalara Sales Tax Management to provide a best-of-breed approach to an integrated financial, operations and management system.
The accounting system is easy to navigate and has a comprehensive dashboard that is easy to drill down through for detail. As expected from a mid-range accounting system, there are complex consolidation capabilities, as well as multi-currency conversions and multi-entity accounting.
On the downside, Intacct does not provide payroll or HR management, although it does interface seamlessly with many services provided by partner vendors such as ADP.
Data backup is always a concern, especially when an application doesn't reside on the client's computers. Intacct addresses this by using SunGard for backup and disaster recovery, and the price for this peace of mind is included in the monthly fee.
In fact, the monthly fee includes a lot of features that your clients will appreciate, such as not having to worry about having a large IT staff to manage the software and apply updates, and it also includes training and on-line phone support.
Along with Intacct, NetSuite is one of the more popular SaaS-based systems, and offers pretty much the same benefits, including easy configuration, along with providing your clients with a powerful system that they don't have to maintain.
Another benefit of having NetSuite (or Intacct) maintain the application and data is that meeting Sarbanes-Oxley and other compliance requirements is somewhat easier for your clients, as much of the burden for internal controls is passed onto the application provider. Of course, your client will still have to have (and document) sufficient controls on the parts of the application to which they have in-house access.
NetSuite has been in existence for 10 years, and during that time has expanded its offerings to include not only financial accounting and CRM, but also e-commerce and HR management. As with Intacct, NetSuite does not itself offer payroll, though it has integrated and markets Perquest's payroll.
Since NetSuite takes care of the database, setting up a client is pretty much a matter of configuration and entering or uploading current GL and subsidiary journal data. The application's screens are clear and easy to navigate, and the individual sub-applications are tabbed on the top of the navigation screen. Configurable dashboards provide a client with a concise presentation of financial data that they are interested in, and your client can drill down for the detailed data, if desired.
The thing we liked best about NetSuite is that there is practically no downside to recommending it to your clients. Start-up is easy, maintenance is easy, and with the availability of OneWorld and CRM+, the application is easily configured to almost any entity. Best of all, scaling up (or down, for that matter), as the client's needs change, is painless.
QUICKBOOKS ENTERPRISE SOLUTIONS 9.0
QuickBooks is the most widely used entry-level software in the world. That presents a problem for some QuickBooks users who are beginning to outgrow the software's capabilities.
The places where many QuickBooks users are straining the seams are in the number of users and in transaction capability, which grows substantially as you add users. It's at these users that Intuit aims QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions 9.0. The Enterprise version has been available for several years now, and like the previous versions, looks almost identical to the Premier version. Set a QuickBooks user down in front of Enterprise Solutions 9.0, and they should be able to use pretty much all the features of the software. The features that are new in this edition, including online banking, multi-currency conversion and others, shouldn't present any difficulty at all.
One major enhancement with this release is Intuit Statement Writer, which is also present in the newest iteration of Premier. This allows QuickBooks to export financial reports to Excel that incorporate all of the formulas used to derive different figures. Modifying the appearance and consolidating different subtotals is amazingly easy.
QBES 9.0 was one of the easiest applications to install, especially as we still had the Premier Edition of QuickBooks on our test system. We just opened the files from Premier, and were up and running. The application converts the Premier files into the underlying database, which is different from that used in the other QuickBooks products.
This year, Intuit increased the number of simultaneous users that can access the application to 30. Unlike Peachtree Quantum, these don't have to be named, though we don't see Quantum's named-user requirements as much of a hindrance.
That kind of capability does not come cheap, though. The 30-user version of Enterprise Solutions is priced at $13,000.
Still, that's not really a lot if it saves a major migration to an accounting system from an entirely different vendor, with all of the migration and retraining costs involved. And unlike most of the mid-range accounting systems we reviewed, Enterprise Solutions can be purchased directly from Intuit. All your client needs is a credit card with a sufficient credit limit.
TRAVERSE V. 10.5
The version of Traverse that Open Systems shipped us for testing is the same basic 10.5 version that we looked at last year. Traverse was designed from the bottom up for the Windows operating environment, and over the years has garnered several dozen modules. We tested the system manager, general ledger, and a business intelligence application called Digital Dashboard. This is a graphic display of different balances from the installed modules, and can be configured to display specifically the data that your client is interested in.
The GL is what we would expect from a mid-range system, with a large enough account structure to accommodate pretty much any numbering scheme your clients might use. Budgeting is easy to set up and use, and while there are a limited number of predefined reports, the application also includes a moderately simple report generator to produce specialized reports.
Open Systems can provide modules to configure Traverse for pretty much any kind of client, including warehousing, distribution, retail and nonprofit. If necessary, your client can purchase the source code so that their Traverse installation can be extensively customized.
Traverse runs with two different databases. On the server, some version of SQL is required, while the workstation software, which actually runs the application, uses Microsoft Access Runtime. We installed the application with SQL Express 2005 and experienced none of the installation problems that occurred the last time we reviewed the software. As with the other mid-range applications running on top of SQL, we found Microsoft's SQL Server Management Studio Express utility an invaluable aid in configuring the SQL Express database.
Open Systems is in the process of bringing out a major upgrade - Traverse 11. While we did not test this new version, it will retain the SQL server core, while adding ASP.Net technology for increased performance and the ability to access the accounting system using a variety of devices, including PDAs and smartphones. The new version of Traverse will feature Traverse Design Studio, which will provide users with a greatly enhanced customizability, including the ability to add fields, modify input screens and reports, and script workflows.
While some accountants still see Red Wing Software's users as wearing overalls and having cows in the barn, this established software vendor has been selling TurningPoint, a very nicely designed modular accounting system, for almost as long as they have offered their CenterPoint agricultural accounting software.
The TurningPoint 6 system is available as separate modules, as a Core Financial Suite containing GL, AR and AP, and as an Inventory Suite that extends the Core Financial Suite with inventory, order entry, and purchase orders. Payroll is sold separately. Multiple user licenses are available on a per-user basis, so your client can pay for just the number of users that they anticipate. A wide variety of third-party developers provide an extensive collection of additional functions, including POS, contact management, business intelligence, and extensions to Turning Point's inventory.
The Version 6 release, new this year, adds a large number of incremental features to the individual modules, mostly in the areas of usability and providing a greater array of information on a screen or report.
TurningPoint uses its own proprietary database, which limits an end user's ability to customize the applications, although the software does provide a good amount of customizability, such as hiding unused data fields. We found the software very easy to install and configure, so your clients do not need to be afraid to order applications directly from Red Wing, though the vendor does have a growing network of VARs and resellers that can provide training and support services in addition to installation.
Turning Point is probably at the lower end of the mid-range accounting software spectrum, especially when compared with enterprise-capable systems such as Traverse and Accpac 200 ERP. That's not to say that the software is deficient in any manner; rather, that it is probably more suitable for a client that needs just a bit more capability than would be provided by an entry-level package.
SAGE ACCPAC 200 ERP ENTERPRISE SUITE
Over the years, Sage has become one of the largest software companies in the world. It definitely has one of the largest offerings of accounting applications.
Its Accpac 200 ERP Enterprise Suite evolved from the original software developed by Accpac, which was acquired by Sage years ago. The Accpac line of software is targeted at enterprise-sized clients - those who have multiple offices, divisions or warehouses in geographically diverse locations. With strong multi-currency capabilities and the ability to be set up for Web-based access and employee self-serve provisions, Accpac 200 ERP is available as both individual modules and as the ERP Enterprise Suite that we tested.
The Enterprise Suite provides an extensive collection of modules that include the standard GL, AR, AP, OE, PO, BOMP, CRM, fixed assets, bank reconciliation, inventory management and more. Also included are copies of FRx Desktop and Crystal Reports Designer. Considering the per-module pricing if your client does not license the suite, the Enterprise Suite is a great value if they will use most of the included applications.
The Accpac 200 ERP and Enterprise Suite can use a variety of SQL databases. Last year, we installed the software over Pervasive SQL with no problems. This year, we went with Microsoft SQL Server Express 2005 and hit a brick wall. The install instructions in the system administrator's manual are extensive, but we still wasted the better part of a full day before raising the white flag and crying "Uncle!" Of course, we don't perform SQL installations all that much, but it still was frustrating.
Fortunately, Sage's tech support was terrific. They had us up and running inside of about 20 minutes. If your clients have a savvy IT staff, they may have better luck doing the install than we did, but letting the reseller/VAR perform the installation is probably the best choice with any complex application.
SAGE MAS 90 ERP
While Sage has a wide number of product lines, they are the result of numerous acquisitions over the years. The MAS products, including MAS 90, were originally developed by State-Of-The-Art Software.
We tested MAS 90, which, while similar in components and functionality, is built on a proprietary database. MAS 200 can be purchased with the same database or with Microsoft SQL. The proprietary database is installed and configured automatically as part of the installation process, making MAS 90 very easy to install. Since the software is likely to be installed by a VAR or reseller, the choice of underlying databases probably won't be that much of a consideration in most cases. Where it will be of concern is if your client requires access to the data in this database. The MAS 90 database is not accessible without an optional ODBC access kit, while most SQL databases are directly accessible.
MAS 90 is available in two editions. The MAS 90 ERP that we tested offers application modules on an individual basis. The MAS 90 ERP Enterprise Suite bundles all of these modules together for a per-seat license fee. The selection of modules is almost identical to that offered for the Accpac 200 ERP Enterprise Suite, though the software itself is very different in appearance and some features.
While it may seem that Sage has a lot of products that compete with each other head to head, that's really not the case. The MAS line is really targeted at companies that are migrating from an entry-level system, and provides capabilities that will serve the client well as they grow into an enterprise-level entity, while the Accpac line is positioned towards somewhat larger companies. MAS 90 and 200 ERP offer a migration tool for QuickBooks and Peachtree users, which makes the software an excellent upgrade for clients that currently use those.
PEACHTREE QUANTUM 2009
As with QBES, Peachtree Quantum is essentially Peachtree Premium Accounting on steroids, and is Peachtree's offering to its current users who are starting to strain their current Peachtree installation. And as with QBES, Quantum addresses the same two constraints - number of users and number of transactions. For this product, Peachtree has switched to Pervasive SQL as the underlying database, and implemented a SmartPost technology that speeds transaction handling even more.
With a 30-user limit to the number of users, Peachtree Quantum maintains parity with QBES. With Quantum, however, these must be specific "named users," rather than just simultaneous users. This limitation is easily gotten around by just having several users share a "name," such as accounts payable or payroll. The downside to this work-around is that it reduces the ability to apply different levels of access security to specific users (rather than "shared" groups of users), an area that Peachtree handles very well.
In terms of feature set, Quantum is almost identical to Peachtree Premium Accounting. It also has all the features of Peachtree's industry-specific editions, so if your clients are using these, they won't lose any functionality by upgrading.
The application automatically installs and configures the Pervasive SQL database. This eliminates the complex configuration that is sometimes necessary when using an application based on SQL.
As with QBES, Peachtree Quantum is most appropriate for your clients that are already using Peachtree Premium Accounting. Since the upgrade to Quantum is completely painless from Premium Accounting, DacEasy and Simply Accounting, there is no reason not to start your client off with one of these less expensive products first, if it's appropriate.
Ted Needleman, a former editor of Accounting Technology, is a consultant and freelance writer based in Stony Point, N.Y.
Cougar Mountain Software
Price: Single user - $1,838; four users - $3,358; multi-user - $4,798.
Price: Starts at $400 per month.
Price: Starts at $499 per month, plus $99 per user.
Price: Varies - five users, $3,000; 30 users, $13,000.
Traverse V. 10.5
Open Systems Inc.
Price: Single user - starts at $500 per module.
Red Wing Software
Price: Single user - starts at $895 per module; payroll - $795.
Sage Accpac 200 ERP
Price: Starts at approximately $2,250 per user for all available modules.
Sage MAS 90 ERP
Price: Starts at approximately $3,800.
Peachtree Quantum 2009
Sage Software SB Inc.
Price: Up to 10 users - $3,750; 30-user license - $9,450.
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