Transitions are difficult for any class of software, but fixed asset management programs have had more than their fair share of adjustments in the past few years.What began as a simple spreadsheet noting assets and their depreciation information for tax purposes has now become a major class of software that can have a significant impact on the bottom line of a major corporation.

The spreadsheet format has largely fallen into disfavor, replaced in nearly every case by a more robust calculations engine built for database power and integration with other suites of tax and accounting software. That transition was not complete, however, when Web-based ASP applications began to take precedence, forcing software designers back to the drawing board to adjust not only to the new model, but also to increasing state requirements for e-filing.

Then came Sarbanes-Oxley, and the reporting requirements of Section 404 for depreciable assets and management of physical asset inventory. Today, the scramble is on to ensure fixed asset capabilities for virtually every tax and accounting suite on the market - adding new products, new chaos and new features into the mix.

In general, the advantage has gone to those who have been in the fixed assets software business the longest. And there are strong contenders from the top software vendors, who have more resources to throw at the development challenges.

Finally, there are pressures in the marketplace itself - the consolidation as Sage, Microsoft and Intuit vie for software leadership, as well as the push to outsource as companies reduce the size of their internal tax staff. Increasingly, fixed asset management is being shifted to accounting firms in an effort to keep the fixed asset databases current and their management better audited.

For 2006, the transitional nature of fixed asset management software is obvious - of the top 10 packages, three were considered but not reviewed because they are in the midst of retooling and are not yet ready for use. All seven have strengths for specific market segments, and all are respectable applications with a strong and stable base of users.

BNA Fixed Assets

BNA's strength in software derives from its extensive use of expert guidance systems backed by precise tax and accounting information. The BNA Fixed Asset application is no exception, providing a wizard- and template-driven system to track, manage, depreciate and report on the assets of the corporation.

BNA Asset Inventory allows streamlined asset entry and recognition, with high levels of flexibility due to its import/export features and its use of bar-coded asset identification. Individual databases are used for different types of assets, with the ability to enter an unlimited number of assets, each with an unlimited number of user-defined fields. The system has more than 100 predefined reports, as well as the ability to export report data to other programs in the ASCII, XLS, PDF, TXT, XML and RTF formats.

Three fixed asset programs (one for smaller organizations, one for large organizations and the online ASP version) all operate in a similar manner. They feature built-in wizards and asset templates, as well as an import system that provides the ability to add, dispose, edit and transfer thousands of assets in the application within seconds. An Open Timeline feature allows adjustments and changes to be made to an asset throughout its life. The reporting system comes with more than 30 predefined reports, including five fileable tax forms and supporting worksheets, plus the ability to create custom reports. The large organization version adds more flexibility, with no limit to the numbers and complexity of assets, companies, divisions, locations or users.

In the most current version, the audit trail tracking feature was enhanced to provide better documentation of changes on a detail level - including who made the change, when it was made, what was changed and the impact of the change on depreciation calculations. A new asset image and document feature provides the ability to upload, view and print not only a photo of the asset, but relevant supporting documents such as invoices and repair manifests.

BNA's near-obsession with precision and effective compliance make BNA Fixed Assets a first-rate solution for asset management. The application service provider version, based on an economical sliding scale for per-client billing, is useful for accountants managing the asset reporting and compliance for their clients, particularly in the area of Sarbanes-Oxley Section 404 compliance.

Fixed Assets CS

Fixed Assets CS is an exceptional asset management solution as a stand-alone product, offering the ability to manage multiple classes of assets and all accepted depreciation methods. But as with most elements in the CS Professional Suite family of accounting products, its key strength lies in its integration capabilities - the automated flow of asset and general ledger data to the tax and accounting systems.

Fixed Assets CS also exports to Thomson Tax & Accounting's GoSystem Tax, and data can be exported to or imported from ASCII-formatted files. With the optional FileCabinet CS document management system, users can also save and share files in a PDF format.

Because it sheds the traditional spreadsheet format in favor of user-friendly screens, wizards and templates, Fixed Assets CS is remarkably easy to install and use with minimal training. This design also simplifies the common tasks of asset management, including grouping of assets or dividing a single asset into multiple units for easier disposal. Depreciation calculations include MACRS, ACRS, straight-line, 200/150/125 percent declining balance, sum-of-the-years digits, units of production, amortization and an unlimited number of customized treatments. Fixed Assets CS also allows automatic bonus depreciation calculations (Sections 168(k) and 1400N, including Go Zone Section 179 limits) for federal and applicable state returns.

An inventory module is available for conducting physical asset inventories. To further simplify data entry, the program offers several wizards, including the Method/Life Wizard to quickly set up new assets, and the Disposal Wizard to quickly get rid of them.

The 2006 version of Fixed Assets CS, due in November, will feature the ability to print fixed asset reports through UltraTax CS, streamlined import of data from Microsoft Excel, and an option to display gain/loss calculations.

Fixed Assets CS is a natural choice for accountants already using the Thomson Creative Solutions family of tax and accounting products. But it also deserves a close look as a stand-alone product, particularly for smaller companies looking to enhance their ability to cut costs by better identifying assets and their use.

ProSystem fx Fixed Assets

ProSystem fx Fixed Assets is a fusion of the best parts of the familiar spreadsheet-style asset manager and a capable Windows application, offering excellent stand-alone application capabilities, but benefiting as well from its tight integration with the ProSystem fx family of products.

This integration saves time and reduces errors. Integration with ProSystem fx Tax or Global fx Tax allows the import and export of company information, depreciation information in full or as totals, disposed asset information for reporting tax gains and losses, and state depreciation adjustments. Integration with ProSystem fx Engagement allows the storage of files and reports in PDF format for better document management and control.

The CCH fixed asset solution allows for management of an unlimited number of assets, with up to eight different books - financial, federal tax, AMT, ACE, state tax and three user-defined books - all viewable side by side on one screen. It calculates and maintains sum-of-the-years digits, MACRS, ACRS, amortization, straight-line, list auto, declining balance, Section 179, units of production and Indian reservations depreciation. And it is able to split single assets into up to 99 individual assets.

Recent enhancements to the ProSystem fx Fixed Assets program enable the use of global filters for data manipulation, as well as global setting for user-defined fields. The 2006 updates (scheduled for October and December) will include the ability to include or exclude current and prior-year Section 179 in Accumulated, Current Year or Total Depreciation columns for all applicable reports. It will also have the ability to copy one book to another, and will provide support for Microsoft Vista 64-bit operating systems. The December release will improve backward compatibility, with an ability to open client files that were last accessed on a 2004 Fixed Assets release. Additional enhancements, including a mid-quarter report, are expected later this year.

ProSystem fx Fixed Assets is one of the best examples of how to migrate a stable software application to meet emerging demands. It blends the best of spreadsheets and applications, with the ability to import from most Windows-based asset inventory programs and export to Excel.

It is also highly customizable, with options for entering asset information, viewing data and producing reports. Obviously recommended for users of ProSystem fx applications, it is also very appealing for accountants serving complex client asset management needs.

Sage FAS Fixed Assets

FAS 100 Asset Accounting is the mid-range product in a powerful lineup of fixed asset accounting software - positioned between Sage's FAS 50 to handle up to 1,000 assets per company and the unlimited SQL Server-based FAS 500. But there is nothing middling about its feature set, which is one of the most comprehensive and flexible on the market.

The core FAS 100 Asset Accounting application manages an unlimited number of companies, with up to 10,000 assets per company. Its calculation engine contains over 300,000 Internal Revenue Service rulings and generally accepted accounting standards-approved depreciation methods, and allows for simultaneous viewing of up to seven books, including internal, tax, AMT, ACE, state and two that are user-defined. FAS 100 Asset Accounting automatically calculates AMT and ACE schedules and over 50 methods of depreciation, including MACRS 150 percent and 200 percent (formulas and tables), ACRS, straight-line, modified straight-line (formulas and tables), declining balance, sum-of-the-years digits, and customized depreciation methods.

Having marketed the product in a "Track Pack" bundle (FAS 100 Asset Accounting, FAS 100 Asset Inventory and FAS Report Writer), the company this year also announced another bundle that incorporates its FAS CIP accounting product for construction-in-progress accounting.

Also new this year is FAS Compliance Advisor, a new wizard-based module designed to help Sage FAS Fixed Assets customers produce 16 of the most commonly requested auditing reports to assist them in demonstrating their companies' compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley security requirements. FAS Compliance Advisor produces reports on system security, data access, system set-up and asset audit trails, saving them in Microsoft Excel, Adobe Acrobat and numerous other formats for paperless record-keeping and simple distribution.

Now in their 24th year, the Sage fixed asset products have made a solid progression from simple spreadsheets to powerful and easily navigated Windows applications. Integrated with the Sage Desktop, a common resource center being deployed across Sage products, FAS 100 Asset Accounting remains a top choice for users both of Sage accounting products and those seeking a flexible, stand-alone product.

TaxWise Fixed Asset Manager

TaxWise Fixed Asset Manager is meant as a more facile asset manager, geared for accountants who serve a number of corporate customers without the need for high-end bells and whistles.

The software can handle any number of clients with an unlimited number of assets, and supports more than 30 general property types, along with a variety of depreciation methods and averaging conventions, including MACRS, ACRS, straight-line, modified straight-line, declining balance, sum-of-the-years digits, and support for Indian reservations and farms.

Up to three books can be managed and viewed on-screen at a given time: federal, state and book. The reporting system is basic but flexible, with pre-built options for depreciation reports, disposed asset schedules, asset details and asset summaries, the ability to produce a worksheet for Form 4562, and the ability to output to PDF format.

For complicated asset management chores, it may be hard for some accountants to overlook the simplicity of the program and its design - the lack of export features for integration with popular general ledger programs, for example. But Universal Tax Systems is a powerhouse for tax software, and has shown both record growth and earnings in the past few years that have allowed for expansion of the company's facilities and product line - from the addition of trial balance software to the relatively new Fixed Asset Manager. And even the Fixed Asset Manager is not without some power features, including a wide range of depreciation methods and the ability to handle transactions such as trade-ins, like-kind exchanges and installment sales.

TaxWise Fixed Asset Manager is a work in progress that nonetheless offers effective support for asset management and depreciation, and is a significant step up from using a manual spreadsheet approach.

Accounting and tax firms that are already using TaxWise tax preparation software will benefit from its integration with the 1120 and 1065 modules, and its ability to export to the 1040, and the majority of accountants whose fixed asset needs are more modest will appreciate the program's straight-forward approach and economical pricing.

Microsoft Dynamics GP- Fixed Assets Management

Though clearly of greatest advantage to users of the Microsoft Dynamics GP accounting software, Dynamics GP- Fixed Assets Management is also notable for its integration of the Windows interface and the adoption of the .Net architecture. The result is a clean, scalable solution built for the challenges and complexities of midsized to enterprise-level organizations.

Microsoft Dynamics GP-FAM is designed to manage asset depreciation with any of 16 depreciation methods, with the ability to back depreciation out, recalculate it, add additional depreciation, or project it ahead for any number of assets. It features an unlimited number of books of assets for each company, including corporate, federal tax and alternative minimum tax. Up to three books can be viewed at a time for comparative purposes.

Assets can be tracked using standard or user-defined fields, with up to 15 customizable fields to track industry-specific information. It is designed to permit accountants to use any of 16 accepted depreciation methods - including straight-line, declining balance and sum-of-the-years digits - to manage and forecast budgets and depreciation schedules. GP-FAM provides a wide variety of standard reports, such as depreciation ledgers, property transfer, inventory list and asset retirements, and allows the creation of custom reports using SmartList, Report Writer, SQL Reporting Services and Crystal Reports.

The GP-FAM program is a module for one of the most popular accounting solutions in the mid-market, and supplies the muscle needed by companies using those accounting solutions. Although there are other selections more suitable for stand-alone use, Dynamics GP-FAM is the strongest solution for Microsoft Dynamics users in need of a robust fixed asset management program.

ProSeries Fixed Asset Manager

The ProSeries Fixed Asset Manager is a flexible and powerful part of the ProSeries product line from Intuit that functions well as either an integrated or stand-alone product to provide both tax and depreciation calculations for fixed asset management, with up to five user-defined classifications for asset tracking.

ProSeries FAM may use an asset list with the look and feel of a spreadsheet, but with tabbed access for such functions as Schedule, Asset, Disposal, Projection, Notes and Calendar, it departs rapidly from that format to a faster and cleaner Windows application. Data may be entered directly, or imported from other sources that export data in CSV format. Data can be exported into Word, Excel or ASCII, and is tightly integrated with the ProSeries Professional tax preparation software, but does not export to any major general ledger programs.

ProSeries FAM supports up to six books per asset (federal, state, AMT, ACE, book and one user-defined) with all books presented on a single screen for comparison purposes. A calendar view provides a view of assets and information by date, logging for easy viewing such asset events as acquisition, disposal, splits and transfers. The program also offers MACRS, ACRS, straight-line, declining balance and other methods of depreciation.

A built-in report writer offers more than 50 predefined standard reports for asset depreciation, basis comparison, gain/loss, projections, disposal and acquisitions, lead schedules, GL reconciliation and more, with some customization. FAM provides tax worksheets for Forms 4562, 4626 and 4797, as well as Section 179 expense tests and mid-quarter determinations and calculations.

An obvious choice for accounting firms that are focused on asset management for tax purposes and those that are using the ProSeries family of tax products, ProSeries Fixed Asset Manager also serves well as a stand-alone product. It is especially well-suited to professionals serving small-to-mid-market clients, where its depth and focus can ably handle complex asset issues.

Dave McClure is the president of Kent Associates, in Alexandria, Va., an independent testing laboratory and evaluation service.

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