It's always interesting to see when software trends are failing. Four years ago, software vendors couldn't get over their love affair with the big "enterprise" customers, ditching their small business and mid-market customers in favor of wealthier global concerns. The accounting software industry was no exception.Now the trend is reversing itself, due in part to the fact that there are only a relative handful of enterprise customers to be had - and most of them do not want to go through the pain and cost of switching accounting systems unless it is absolutely necessary. Today, the mantra is to move into the mid-market, where companies are forced by growth to upgrade their systems. Little software vendors are moving up to the mid-market; big vendors are moving down.

But it is more than that.

The globalization of the marketplace and the growth of electronic commerce are causing fundamental shifts that make the mid-market an important - if not the most important - segment of the marketplace. Added to that are three trends within the industry:

* The growing importance of integrated customer relationship management. The wall between the front office and the back office has crumbled as companies demand better, faster access to key data at every level of the organization.

* Online integration. It's not enough to have the data available - it has to be accessible throughout the organization, across national boundaries and in multiple locations. This shift makes reporting tools and intranets as important as the Internet to today's company.

* Better customization tools. With the advent of better SQL platforms and programming tools, it is possible to build a custom accounting solution for an industry - or even a single company - faster and at a lower cost than ever before. The result is that accounting software companies are branching into two camps - those that use a toolkit of separate but integrated applications, picking and choosing the building blocks for each client, and those that use a basic set of open-source modules that can be rewritten to meet the needs of each.

What this means for mid-market companies is that accounting and business support is better than it has ever been before, at a lower cost and with fewer headaches.

ACCOUNTMATE 7 FOR SQL

AccountMate is a modular accounting system built on the Microsoft SQL Server platform that is designed to give companies and their consultants an optimal means of configuring the software for special requirements and future growth.

The system is built on 21 modules that span the full range of accounting, payroll, inventory, manufacturing, CRM and other business applications. These are managed through a control center called the system manager module. From within each module, users have access to Microsoft desktop and Office applications, up-to-the-minute bank balances (with an instant view of unreconciled transactions), and the ability to attach supporting documents to transactions and account records.

AccountMate 7 has multi-currency and multilingual capabilities, and is able to handle multiple warehouses with unlimited bin locations. Source code is available for each module in the event that additional modifications are needed, and to provide maximum scalability. The modules can accommodate hundreds of concurrent users, are very scalable and offer substantial security features to protect the database. For smaller mid-range companies, there is an AccountMate for Express version that accommodates up to five concurrent users, built on the same modules and available as configurable source code.

Introduced in June of 2006, AccountMate 7 for SQL automates critical new processes such as landed cost accrual and allocation, and adds an enhanced payroll module. With its secure password policy additions, it ensures that customers can meet recommended settings for Sarbanes-Oxley. Other recent enhancements include a new upsell management module for customer ordering, upgraded payroll module functionality, and tighter integration for CRM to convert sales quotes to sales orders.

Well-crafted and easy to navigate, AccountMate is an impressive and powerful system that meets the diversified needs of growing mid-market companies. It is flexible, scalable, security-minded and reasonably priced at $1,500 per module. Of note is the built-in CRM functionality tied to Microsoft Office, which eases training and usability problems typically encountered in the move to a mid-range accounting system.

CMS PROFESSIONAL ACCOUNTING

Cougar Mountain Software publishes modular accounting software that provides midsized organizations with a flexible accounting and business management platform, a three-year fiscal calendar, hundreds of variations on the built-in and customizable reports, and the ability to drill down to source documents.

The core modules include general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventory and point of sale. Payroll, purchase order and bank reconciliation modules are offered as optional add-ons, as are a new PDF-explode electronic document generator, tax updates, job costing, a GL report generator, shipping, advanced bill of materials, multi-location inventory, e-commerce software, credit card authorization, a label generator for inventory, and a new CRM bridge to Act!

Much of the development work in CMS V. 11 has gone toward better and more accessible reports. Custom reports created within the R&R Report Writer can be accessed from the reports menus in Cougar Mountain. Customized reports are also accessible from a new custom options dropdown menu. This new menu can also be configured to link to specific files or applications on the desktop.

Other enhancements include a new search functionality, drill-down menus for specific information, enhanced security settings, a purchase order alert when wholesale prices change, new sales tax reports showing the monetary amount funneling into each tax level, and a new monthly movement report that tracks changes in inventory and profit on a monthly and yearly time line, with inventory movement over 12 months for accurately planning purchasing and seasonal trends.

Though much of the back-office accounting is straightforward and navigation of the system can be awkward, Cougar Mountain does offer a number of features attractive to midsized organizations. These include an option to buy a fully configured server to avoid installation hassles on already busy servers, as well as strong data transfer services to upgrade from small business accounting packages.

Strong on accounting functionality and sporting stronger reporting capabilities than ever before, Cougar Mountain Professional Accounting remains a strong contender for companies that want a modular system without the need of additional programming or the cost of modules that are not needed. Priced from $1,599 for a single user, it is an economical step up to enhanced accounting and reporting as companies grow into the mid-range.

CYMA IV FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT SYSTEM V. 9.0

CYMA IV is an accounting software system designed specifically for midsized organizations, built in Visual C++ on the Pervasive SQL platform and utilizing the industry-standard Crystal Reports and the F9 financial reporting tool. The result is a modular system with customization capabilities, the ability to port report data to Microsoft Excel, and more than 300 standard reports.

Core modules include AR, AP, bank reconciliation, GL, inventory control, job project costing, payroll, purchase order and sales order. Access to and integration between these modules is controlled by the system manager, which also manages users, companies, security and other features. The system manages both cash and accrual accounting bases. In addition, CYMA IV's eDesk is an HTML-based resource center that can be used for information, tutorials, calculators and to run CYMA functions remotely.

CYMA IV has been upgraded annually since its introduction in 1996, and the enhancements in the current version have focused on expansion of the job/project cost system, quick-entry capabilities for data, and payroll enhancements such as Social Security number encryption and effective date on employee features (benefits, 401(k), insurance, vacation, etc.).

CYMA IV is clearly not a small business software system - it packs strong accounting functionality with the level of security and audit capabilities necessary to meet the expanding Sarbanes-Oxley compliance requirements. It also offers such advanced features as a "rollback" system to ensure data integrity. But it is also user-friendly - from its tabbed navigation system, to the keyboard-oriented batch data entry.

Expanding both in its capabilities and features each year - the inventory system has been beefed up in recent years, and the payroll system is particularly agile - CYMA IV combines solid accounting with a flexible and scalable base. Its pricing, starting at $595 for a single user, makes it an attractive product for the midsized market.

EPICOR ENTERPRISE V. 7

Epicor Enterprise is an integrated suite of accounting and financial applications built on Microsoft's .Net architecture and aimed at the global mid-market.

Epicor's emphasis is not a typical modular design, but rather an integrated set of key applications that include AP, AR, cash management, asset management, contract management, budgeting and human resources/payroll. These are built around the core GL, which features extensive user-definable options and the ability to set up unlimited numbers of companies, account codes, and up to 365 fiscal periods. For simple integration with other line-of-business applications, an Import Manager carries data from any OBDC-compliant source into the GL or other relevant accounting applications.

Epicor Enterprise offers multi-currency and multi-company capabilities, a flexible chart of accounts structure, payment processing for electronic funds transfers, automatic bank account reconciliation, and strong drill-down capabilities for inquiries. Reporting functionality is provided by FRx and Crystal Reports.

Other business applications are likewise integrated with the core accounting suite - including CRM, supplier relationship and supply chain management, and business intelligence - to round out the front-office/back-office functionality.

Recent enhancements to the software include the addition of three applications for enhanced connectivity, collaboration and productivity in and around the ERP system. The first is Epicor Service Connect, a Web Services-based business integration platform that provides a central integration point for implementing secure workflow orchestrations both within and outside of Epicor Enterprise to enhance collaboration and automate business processes.

The second is Epicor Portal, a platform for building informational Web parts and sharing them inside and outside the organization in a personalized, secured portal environment. And third is Epicor Information Worker, a new desktop productivity solution that will deliver Epicor's ERP applications on the 2007 Microsoft Office system, providing information workers improved access to business data.

Epicor's approach to accounting for the mid-market focuses less on creating a custom application for each client than on the ability to properly select and customize a standard set of building blocks. This enables the company to build and deploy enhancements more rapidly, and to retain better control over the direction of development. While this requires a bit more accounting sophistication for the client company, it is extremely well-suited to the more established mid-market company that participates in today's global economy.

QUICKBOOKS ENTERPRISE SOLUTIONS 7.0

QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions 7.0 is the most powerful product in the QuickBooks family. It is designed to offer an enhanced choice for business automation and to give mid-market companies the capacity, speed and scalability that they need, while still offering the familiar QuickBooks interface.

Optimized for a number of industries in special versions - including one for accountants - the Enterprise Solutions version of QuickBooks remains notable for its rich feature set - from its customization features to its 120 standard reports - and relative ease of use.

Growing and mid-market businesses increasingly have more complex workflows - and employees specializing in various functions such as accounting, payroll, sales, purchasing, and shipping and receiving. To meet the needs of these growing businesses, Quick-Books Enterprise offers the ability to handle more than 100,000 inventory items, customers and vendors in a system that is scalable from five to 20 simultaneous users.

It also offers some notable strengths and unique services. Growing businesses can make their merchandise searchable on Froogle, Google.com and Google Maps. This tool enables users to automatically transfer inventory data to Google's database, Google Base, to attract local buyers to their shops or complete the sale online by integrating with an existing Web store. In addition, the inventory management and shipping management modules have been enhanced to enable companies to purchase an item in one unit of measure, stock it in another and sell it in yet another.

Because it takes a holistic view of the health of the business overall, as opposed to focusing just on accounting and business management, QuickBooks Enterprise is one of the most popular mid-range accounting systems on the market - with good reason.

SAGE MAS 500 ERP 7.0

Sage MAS 500 7.0 automates accounting and financial reporting, project management, distribution, manufacturing and business intelligence in a modular system written in Microsoft Visual Basic and operating on the Microsoft .Net and SQL Server platforms.

The system is built around six core accounting modules - GL, AP, AR, cash management, multi-currency management and Sage Fixed Assets. Other modules are available to manage planning, advanced consolidations, allocations and fixed assets inventory, with seamless integration as well with Sage CRM SalesLogix and Sage Abra HRMS. And the software includes modules often-overlooked in mid-market solutions, including time and billing and project management.

The architecture provides for superior scaling and flexibility, but the strongest orientation is toward mid-market companies engaged in manufacturing and distribution. Key features for these companies include a new warehouse management module that provides for flexible picking, fulfillment and personalized order-entry options so that customers can maximize workflow for their specific needs. It offers advanced support for handheld devices, multi-step transfers between warehouses, inventory tracking within multiple locations, and implementation of warehouse zones for streamlined picking.

A point of differentiation of MAS 500 from its competitors is the high level of business intelligence support available within the system. Business support features available for integration include a business insights analyzer, an "office" module for enhanced CRM communications, e-mail alerts to employees, Web-based reporting, and the ability to generate, format and print a wide range of standard and custom reports created with Crystal Reports.

Sage MAS 500 ERP V. 7.0 represents an excellent balance that reflects the realities of the global marketplace. It is modular, but based on a consistent set of core accounting blocks. It is flexible and scalable for growth, but features Microsoft Windows and Office conventions for better ease of use and navigation. Its focus on business intelligence and exceptional support for manufacturing make it a strong challenger and a good choice for global companies in the mid-market.

MICROSOFT DYNAMICS GP

Forget all the name changes: The reason to pay attention to this software is its usable interface, its solid accounting structure and the fact that it is an integrated, adaptable business management solution that helps executives, managers and staff more easily access information that is meaningful to their specific role and responsibilities.

Its innovative and advanced features have put this product at the forefront of what Microsoft calls "Wave One" of its Dynamics product line, combining enhancements in business intelligence, connectivity and Web integration.

More than any other mid-market accounting solution, Microsoft Dynamics GP has embodied the value of SQL Server and .Net functionality and the power of Microsoft Office. It is delivered with 21 role-based user templates, over 160 Web Services interfaces, contextual business intelligence tools, and integration with Microsoft CRM. Added to these are a familiar Microsoft Office 2003 user interface, new Business Analysis Cubes for Microsoft Excel, expanded reach and functionality around Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services, and a Visual Studio 2005 development environment for extending Microsoft Dynamics GP forms and business logic, as well as connecting through Web Services using standard Extensible Markup Language (XML) templates.

Dynamics lives at the cutting edge of Microsoft technology, and at the upper end of the mid-market. Once aimed solely at companies with less than 1,000 employees, it has been made more scalable and adaptable to the needs of companies emerging from the mid-market and stretching for the enterprise - with the ability to serve a handful of users all the way up to the enterprise-level organization with over 100,000 customers, vendors or inventory items.

Microsoft Dynamics GP retains its accounting roots and its friendly interface, while serving as a platform to extend the meaning and value of accounting software. Market acceptance of its many new concepts remains to be seen, but accountants and their clients won't be disappointed by either the level of accounting power in this new version or by its ability to deliver a solid set of interesting and innovative features.

TRAVERSE

Traverse is another solid solution for the mid-market, developed entirely with Microsoft technology and offering strong features for customization and scalability. Though the source code is available for customization, the Traverse line more closely follows the model of tightly integrated applications that are selected and implemented for each client.

A system manager offers simplified set-up and access to the integrated applications of GL, AP, AR, multi-currency, payroll, advanced payroll tax reporting, bank reconciliation, direct deposit and fixed assets. In addition, Traverse offers advanced reporting capabilities and specialized solutions for nonprofits, manufacturing, distribution, service, retail, EDI and CRM, as well as handheld solutions.

The strength of the applications approach in Traverse is that it is able to offer such diversity in its building blocks. Distribution applications handle inventory, order, warehouse management and other advanced services. Manufacturing applications add production controls. There are job costing and service industry support in the service applications, as well as applications for business intelligence and e-business.

There are two versions: a Business Edition for companies with up to 12 users, and an Enterprise Edition for companies with more users. Traverse users benefit from intuitive, Windows-style functionality, Excel-based reporting and custom reports, drill-down capabilities, and graphing capabilities.

The release of Version 10.5 brought more than 100 enhancements, including unlimited budgets and forecasts in the GL, a bill of lading based on standard shipping documents, a parameter-driven landed cost system (allowing users to distribute indirect cost to inventory items), and more.

Though Traverse may not be a name that is recognized as easily as those of some larger competitors, it should be. This is a sharp, serious set of accounting and business tools that blend the sophistication of mix-and-match building blocks with the flexibility and usability of a custom accounting system. Accountants who don't at least consider this solution are doing themselves - and their mid-market clients - a disservice.

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

Vendor Information

AccountMate 7 for SQL

AccountMate Software Corp.

Novato, Calif.

(415) 883-8873

www.accountmate.com

Pricing: Compiled modules - $1,500; source code - additional $1,500 per module. System Manager - five users, $7,000; each additional group of five, $6,000.

Cougar Mountain Professional Accounting

Cougar Mountain Software

Boise, Idaho

(800) 388-3038

www.cougarmtn.com

Pricing: One user - $1,599; four users - $2,799; unlimited users - $3,999.

CYMA IV Financial Management System

CYMA Systems Inc.

Tempe, Ariz.

(800) 292-2962

www.cyma.com

Pricing: Per module - $595. For additional users past one - $595.

Epicor Enterprise

Epicor Software Corp.

Irvine Calif.

(949) 585-4000

www.epicor.com

Pricing: Starts at $12,500 for five concurrent users.

Microsoft Dynamics GP

Microsoft Corp.

Fargo, N.D.

(800) 456-0025

www.microsoft.com/dynamics/gp

Pricing: Essentials - starts at $2,250 per user.

QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions 7.0

Intuit Inc.

Mountain View, Calif.

(866) 379-6635

www.quickbooksenterprise.com

Pricing: Five-seat license - $3,000;

10 seats - $4,500; 15 seats - $6,000;

20 seats - $7,500.

Sage MAS 500 ERP 7.0

Sage Software Inc.

Irvine, Calif.

(800) 854-3415

www.sagemas.com

Pricing: Starts at $10,500.

Traverse

Open Systems Inc.

Shakopee, Minn.

(800) 328-2276

www.osas.com

Pricing: $1,500 per module;

Resource Manager -varies based on user count.

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