by Ted Needleman
Given the complexity of installing accounting systems, businesses don't change software vendors often. However, it's not unusual for CPAs' clients to start with a low-end, entry-level accounting product, then after a year or two, outgrow it and be forced to change.
Midrange accounting packages bridge the gap between popular low-end applications like QuickBooks and Peachtree, and higher-end systems, such as Best Software's MAS 90 and Microsoft/Great Plains' Dynamics.
Midrange accounting packages have definable differences from entry-level or lower-end applications. One is price. Many of the mid-level accounting packages reviewed here are sold on a per-module basis.
You pick and choose a System Manager, which provides overall administrative capability for the accounting system, then select only those applications that you desire. Clients get precisely the accounting system they need and can implement it in stages.
Even when the accounting software is offered as a bundle, at the midrange, prices tend to be significantly higher than the lower-end programs.
Also, midrange applications are not sold at retail. While some are available direct from their developer, most of the packages reviewed here must be bought through resellers.
Resellers are important because midrange products' installation and set-up can be complex. We did not experience problems during our tests, but your clients may have complex organizations. A reseller's experience can mean smoother installations.
Resellers also are important for product support and customization. A major reason why clients move to midrange systems is a need for more information than current systems can provide. With source codes available from several vendors, and links to add-on tools, mid-range systems can often be customized to clients' particular needs.
The midrange market has several serious online contenders. However, this review covers only packaged applications and not application service providers.
Still, accountants should be aware of the midrange market's two leading ASPs - Oracle Small Business Suite, from NetLedger Inc. (www.oraclesmallbusiness.com) and Intacct Corp's (www.intacct.com). Each provides much of the functionality of the desktop packages reviewed here but in different delivery and maintenance formats.
Prices for each of these ASPs are based on the number of users. Keep in mind, however, that your client would need a high-speed Internet connection, such as DSL or a T1 line if opting for an ASP. The slow process of entering data and printing reports over a dial-up modem and telephone line can frustrate even the most patient users.
Advantage Small Business Edition
Regardless of what level of accounting software you need, Accpac probably has a product that fits. Its midrange offering, Advantage Series, is also available in a number of different editions. Particular modules included vary depending on the edition, and users can add other modules to customize an edition for specific needs.
Advantage, as with many of the packages tested, uses the Persuasive SQL database, which makes it a breeze to go from a single-user installation to multiple-user support simply by purchasing additional user licenses and updating the underlying database engine.
This product, and the other Accpac offering tested, VisionPoint, cannot be purchased at stores or directly from the vendor. If you call Accpac's sales staff, you will get a list of resellers who handle the particular product.
Advantage Small Business Edition consists of modules for general ledger, accounts payable and receivable, inventory control, order entry, purchase orders, payroll and "Zippy Notes," which allows you to add comments and notations to records in any of the modules. Before you can use Zippy Notes, the system administrator must first set up the specific fields in the modules so that they accept the note.
Also included are system manager and bank reconciliation modules. An optional eTransact module ties the Small Business Edition to a Web site, so orders placed online automatically flow into the accounting system. Also included in the suite is Crystal Reports, which lets you create ad hoc reports. Crystal Reports' library has over 100 report templates.
Users also can export Advantage reports directly into Microsoft Office applications, which allows you to set up a client's system to drop data either into Excel for further analysis or into PowerPoint.
Advantage is a nice entry-level system for companies that require a more robust information solution than what's provided by low-end accounting offerings. An optional multi-currency module lets users easily conduct business outside of the U.S. and Canada. It is easily expandable to grow with a client, providing a seamless upgrade to the higher-end editions of Advantage.
The Advantage Series meets the needs of many of Accpac's potential customers. For clients seeking a truly customized solution, Accpac offers VisionPoint, a product that it picked up by purchasing the former vendor SBT Accounting Systems several years ago.
All VisionPoint modules are written in Microsoft's FoxPro database language. Sold by the individual module, the product is available in either a compiled version, and source code is available at added cost. With the code, a FoxPro programmer can customize the module (and accounting system) to the client like a glove. FoxPro 6.0 also provides the underlying database engine, rather than Access or SQL.
Like Advantage, VisionPoint is sold only through Accpac resellers, who can also do any requisite customization.
VisionPoint 10 has a very comprehensive set of modules. You'll need the System Manager along with any others you may choose. These include General Ledger, Accounts Payable and Receivable modules, Order Entry, Purchase Order, Payroll and Job Cost.
The Inventory module is geared toward manufacturing entities, and may not be an optimum solution for retail and other types of inventory situations.
The General Ledger module is unusual in that it has a built-in capability to be configured for accounting needs of nonprofit organizations. That makes this product particularly well-suited for practitioners that have a wide range of both for-profit and nonprofit clients.
Accpac offers a Report Writer module for producing custom VisionPoint reports, as well as the F9 Report Generator. A Message Master module lets users broadcast reports through a number of different media, including print, fax and e-mail.
Even if your clients do not need the customization capabilities immediately, don't discount this proven midrange solution out of hand. Even if your client purchases and installs the compiled version, they can always purchase the source code at a later time should they discover that there is an aspect of the system that they would like to customize.
Visual AccountMate Version 5
In addition to this product, AccountMate Software's parent organization, Softline North America, recently began offering another midrange product, Business Vision, whose vendor, Business Vision Technologies, it acquired last year.
Business Vision is one of the leading applications in Canada, but it has not yet established a reputation as a United States market leader. This review instead covers Visual AccountMate, because it already has a well-established U.S. presence. However, readers who are interested in all the top-functionality midrange applications should include Business Vision on their shopping list.
AccountMate has been around since the mid-1980s, originally as SourceMate. The vendor has always offered the source code of its applications to users who are capable of customizing the software. Over the years, this has led many third-party developers to adopt Visual AccountMate applications for vertical markets.
Visual AccountMate is available in LAN and SQL versions. The SQL version offers a true client/server approach, with a server version running under OS400 on IBM's AS400 mini-computer lineup.
Most of the other vendors' SQL versions incorporate automatic set-up of the database engine. AccountMate's SQL set-up is somewhat more complex, requiring you to go into the ODBC section of the Windows Control Panel and make some entries and adjustments. AccountMate also uses the same Pervasive SQL database engine that the other vendors incorporate.
After reading the instructions in the SQL System Manger set-up guide, we decided to install the LAN version for our testing. This version's installation is highly automated, and went off without a hitch.
Other than the underlying database engine, both the LAN and SQL versions are essentially the same, though the SQL engine provides a very hardy underpinning for larger enterprise-size accounting systems. Additionally, not all of the SQL-based modules are available for the LAN version.
AccountMate supplied us with all of the modules that are available for SQL, and there were close to two dozen manuals. The modules that are available under SQL or on the AS400 server include inventory item specification, kitting, lot control, price control, customer inventory manager, Internet order, return merchandise authorization and return to vendor authorization.
Visual AccountMate has a comprehensive set of reports in each modules, but the F9 Report Writer is also available for all versions of the software, just in case you want even greater control over the reporting capabilities.
Visual AccountMate is sold through resellers, though it can also be purchased directly from AccountMate. Pricing starts at about $3,000 for the System Manager and a five-user license (for the LAN version). The AS400 and SQL versions are more expensive, as are the source code versions of the individual modules.
Visual AccountMate is at the upper end of midrange accounting. A complete installation can easily exceed $25,000, or even more if you are using an AS400 for the server. Business Vision is less expensive but has an unusual pricing scheme. The product is only available with all of its 18 modules in packages priced at $4,495, which is about $250 per module.
AccountMate offers one of the more comprehensive offerings of modules in this market segment, along with the capability of vertical market customization.
Best Software Mid Market Division
BusinessWorks Gold 2.2
The Business Works product name has remained intact, but its vendor's name has changed several times in recent years. What is now Best Software Mid Market division, used to be Sage Software and, before that, State of the Art.
The version of the software reviewed is the second major release of BusinessWorks Gold, an upgrade of the original BusinessWorks for Windows. As with several of the products reviewed, Gold's core applications include the System Manager, GL, AR, AP and cash management. This core is priced starting at $1,995 for a single-user license.
BusinessWorks also is available via resellers.
Inventory and payroll subsidiary ledgers are available in BusinessWorks Gold as options. Inventory will serve for both retail and manufacturing entities, but no point-of-sale module is offered. Other optional modules include purchase order and order entry.
BusinessWorks Gold has a complete and comprehensive collection of reports. Best Software offers several reporting options. Crystal Decisions uses the Crystal Reports package with a large selection of customizable pre-defined report templates. For more complex financial analysis, the F9 Financial Report Writer is available.
Best Software has two other BusinessWorks Gold modules that will be useful for some clients. BusinessWorks/GoldMine Link lets users of the popular GoldMine customer-relationship management/sales force automation package integrate data from that application with BusinessWorks. This eliminates the need to make duplicate entries, since entries made in one package are accessible to the other.
A Custom Office module creates tight ties between Gold and Microsoft Office. This allows users to easily create mass mailings using customer, vendor or employee data from the accounting system and Microsoft Word. A link to Excel lets clients use the wizard-driven Custom Worksheets to create custom financial analysis.
As with other vendors with multiple accounting software offerings, Best offers BusinessWorks Gold users a path to higher-end products as they grow.
Cougar Mountain Software
Accounting for Windows 6.5
Cougar Mountain Software exemplifies the direct marketing concept. It has thrived using this type of marketing since it was first established in 1982.
Unlike the other vendors reviewed here, Cougar Mountain does not rely mainly on a large reseller base, though it does have some resellers should you wish to have your client purchase the product through someone who can also provide a high level of support.
Included in the purchase price in direct deals with Cougar Mountain is a three-day training session at the vendor's Idaho headquarters. We had no trouble installing and configuring Accounting for Windows, so this should be a task that you and your client will feel comfortable with, especially if you take the three-day course.
While many of the vendors covered in this roundup sell the modules on an individual basis, Cougar Mountain's Accounting for Windows is sold as a set that includes the System Manager, General Ledger, Accounts Payable and Receivable, Order Entry, Inventory and Data Exchange. A number of companion modules, which extend the system's usefulness, are available for purchase on a per-module basis. They include payroll, point-of-sale, a multi-location inventory, purchase order, bank reconciliation, job cost, bar coding, e-commerce, a credit card authorizer and report writers for the general ledger and other modules. Cougar Mountain also has a version of its software for nonprofits.
As an integrated package encompassing the most-often purchased modules, Cougar Mountain's Accounting for Windows is one of the more affordable midrange accounting packages that we reviewed. It has much of the ease-of-use found in lower-end products, such as extensive use of wizards, auto-fill and many pre-defined charts of accounts. On the downside, it does not have quite as much flexibility in the account and sub-account numbering scheme as some of the other products reviewed here.
Cyma Systems Inc.
Accounting for Windows 4.0
Cyma is another software industry veteran, having been around since the days of the CP/M operating system. Accounting for Windows Version 4.0 is the first new release of the software in several years. Many changes are incremental, such as adding reports to various modules.
One major change is in the underlying database engine. Cyma has moved from Pervasive SQL to the new Pervasive 2000 engine. This makes it easy to upgrade to a multi-user environment by switching the version of Pervasive being used. The new engine also works better with the more business-oriented versions of Windows, including Windows 2000 Professional and Windows XP Professional.
There are also some brand-new features in Cyma's offering. The eDesk, which comes up when you start the program, provides Accounting for Windows a tightly integrated Internet capability. It also serves as a central starting place to access the software's menus.
Cyma hasn't fiddled with what's worked. Reports in the system are generated by using Crystal Reports 8.0, so they are easy to customize. F9 Report Writer offers the ability of ad hoc financial analysis. Cyma also has a Fund Accounting version for nonprofit clients.
With this new release, Cyma has raised the per-module price $100. Even with this increase, it's still one of the more affordable packages in the midrange market. Bear in mind, however, that while the previous release had an optional Distribution Management system that provided inventory, order entry, purchasing and sales capabilities, this add-on is not yet available for Version 4.0.
Microsoft/Great Plains Business Solutions
Small Business Manager
Small Business Manager is the first major product roll-out since Microsoft/Great Plains was created by Microsoft Corp.'s acquisition of the former Great Plains Software in 2000.
The product is a departure from Great Plains' usual enterprise-oriented offerings, but it's not the vendor's first different approach. The Profit Accounting system, originally offered by Microsoft, then Great Plains and now by Champion Software, was developed by Great Plains for Microsoft.
Profit was not particularly successful, largely because it was usually misunderstood. Small Business Manager seems to be undergoing a similar misunderstanding. In approach, it is very similar to lower-end products, such as Peachtree and QuickBooks, but it's priced more toward the midrange, competing with BusinessWorks Gold.
The single-user Financial Suite has an introductory price of $995, and includes the general ledger, accounts payable and receivable, bank reconciliation and extensive reporting capabilities. In addition to the pre-defined reports, there is a Report Editor for customizing reports, a SmartList for ad hoc reporting, and very tight integration with Microsoft Office, so you can use Excel for financial analysis.
Perhaps the most compelling feature, however, is that even this affordable version of Small Business Manager uses the Microsoft SQL Server Desktop Engine. This makes it very easy to upgrade to full SQL functionality. This promises a quick and easy upgrade to Dynamics when SBM runs out of steam for a particular client.
Payroll adds another $95 (single user) to the mix. And various service plans can also increase the acquisition and operating cost, though other vendors charge these fees, as well.
As with Great Plains' other products, Small Business Manager must be purchased through the reseller network. That's unusual for a product in this price range, but the relationship with a reseller may be beneficial when the user decides to upgrade to Microsoft/Great Plains' more powerful Dynamics accounting software.
In straddling the gap between an entry-level and midrange accounting application, Small Business Manager does a pretty good job. For example, the basic account structure defaults to seven characters, but you can set up the software to use a complex structure of up to 25 characters. Our review copy came with a nicely done set of training manuals, though the actual product documentation is placed on the hard disk during the installation, and needs to be printed using Adobe Acrobat.
At the same time, there are some areas where Small Business Manager has to take a hit. At the moment, the only ancillary module is Payroll. Many potential SBM users will need an inventory module. Rolling out the product without this capability just sends potential users elsewhere.
Small Business Manager also suffers a bit from its visual design. We found it to be nicely laid-out, especially running under Windows XP Professional. But the task organization bar at the top of the screen may put off some potential implementers looking for a more "business-like" accounting application.
Open Systems Inc.
Traverse Business Edition
Open Systems was one of the first software vendors in the microcomputer-based accounting market, having previously developed accounting software for mini-computers. Open Systems Accounting System, or OSAS, which derived from the Business Basic offering, is still available for the DOS operation system.
Traverse is the second graphic-oriented accounting application from Open Systems. Its first offering; Harmony, was one of the first task-oriented accounting systems designed for larger businesses.
Traverse takes a more conservative, ledger-oriented approach, with modules available for all of the major subsidiary ledgers. The Traverse modules come in two editions, both written and run under Microsoft Access 2000. The Traverse Desktop edition that we reviewed has the same comprehensive line-up of modules as the Traverse Enterprise Edition, but is designed and priced for smaller companies.
Pricing is up to the reseller, which is how you must purchase the software, but suggested prices start at $1,800 per module. Suggested pricing on Enterprise starts at $3,500 per module. Both versions come with Microsoft Access runtime modules.
The Traverse Desktop version, which is also multi-user, includes a run-time version of Microsoft Office 97. Traverse is tightly integrated with Microsoft Office, and you can export reports to Word and other data to Excel.
We reviewed the 8.4 version of Traverse Desktop. The 9.4 version uses Access 2000 as the run-time system, rather than Access 97 that our review copy needed. Version 10 should be out by the time this review appears. This new version improves drill-down functionality in the general ledger and inventory modules, adds a "Server Manager" tool for easier administration, and implements the Microsoft Data Engine, rather than Access Runtime.
Version 10 will also add several new modules include a Service Director module for service organizations, and three new modules for manufacturing and distribution entities.
Traverse Desktop is a mature application. It's also a good entry point into the Open Systems lineup for users that need a hefty accounting system to start, but expect to outgrow that level fairly rapidly. Upgrading to Traverse Enterprise will allow your clients to be easily accommodated in this situation.
Red Wing Business Systems
Red Wing Software started out years ago by offering vertical market software to farmers. It still has the lion's share of the accounting software market in that vertical area but, in recent years, it has derived the major share of its revenue from selling more generic midrange accounting software.
Turning Point is a new product from the vendor. It is available on a per-module basis, as a core financial suite, which includes the system manager, general ledger, accounts receivable and payable, or as an Inventory Suite which adds inventory, order entry and purchase order to the core suite. The Inventory Suite is expected to be available this month.
Turning Point is a major upgrade from Red Wing's Windows Accounting, which will continue to be sold. Turning Point is also available directly from the vendor or from its resellers.
Rather than just freshen up Windows Accounting, Red Wing developed an entirely new Windows-based system using Microsoft's Visual FoxPro. Using the Microsoft Visual Studio for development allows Turning Point to provide tight integration with Microsoft Office applications, which can be launched directly from the main window Tool Bar.
Turning Point also has a rather unusual look, one that is similar to CaseWare International's Write-up and other tools for accountants. A left-hand pane has a Windows Explorer-type of interface, with the applications shown as folders, while the different task categories are shown as subfolders. Click on a sub-folder, such as reports, and the particular reports available are shown in the pane to the right. Click on a particular subtask, such as trial balance or general ledger and another window, offering selection and filters, opens. This approach is very straightforward, and very easy to learn and use.
Turning Point uses Crystal Reports to generate all of its reports. This makes it very easy to customize for specific needs.
As with a number of the other systems reviewed here, Turning Point actually spans the mid-range and lower-end entry level areas. While the pricing may be a bit steep for many companies that are looking at entry-level systems, Turning Point has many of the features, such as wizards, that make entry-level accounting so appealing. At the same time, it's robust enough to support a fairly large enterprise with comprehensive information needs.
Accpac International Inc.
6700 Koll Center Parkway
Pleasanton, Calif. 94566
Accpac Advantage Series Small
Accpac VisionPoint 10
$450 per module (compiled) average system price is $1,800.
81 Digital Drive
Novato, Calif. 94949
Starts at $995 per module plus System Manager (actual cost depends on platform and database size).
BusinessWorks Gold 2.2
Best Software Inc.
56 Technology Drive
Irvine, Calif. 92618
$1,995 single user (includes System Manager, General Ledger, Accounts Payable and Receivable, Cash Management), other modules available at $595, multi-user licenses available.
BusinessVision Technologies Inc.
81 Digital Drive
Novato, Calif. 94949
$4,495 for an 18-module package.
Cougar Mountain Accounting for Windows V6.5
Cougar Mountain Software
7180 Potomac Drive
Boise, Idaho 83704
$1,499 (single-user); multi-user licenses priced on number of users.
Cyma Systems Inc.
2330 West University Drive, Suite 7
Tempe, Ariz. 85281
$495 per module, single-user (System Manger, GL, AP, AR, Payroll); multi-user adds $495 per user.
Great Plains Small Business Manager
Microsoft/Great Plains Business Solutions
One Lone Tree Road
Fargo, N.D. 58104-3911
$995 Financial Suite (Single user, includes GL, AR, AP, Bank Reconciliation, Report Writer); Payroll and multi-user licenses available.
Open Systems Inc.
1157 Valley Park Dr.
Shakopee, Minn. 55379
Pricing determined by reseller but starts at $1,800 per module.
Red Wing Business Systems Inc.
491 Highway 19
Red Wing, Minn. 55066
Core Financial Suite (System Manager, GL, AR, AP) $1,995; individual modules cost $895; multi-user licenses available.
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