If ever there was a class of software that could be expected not to change much, it would be accounting software for midsized companies. After all, the companies themselves have survived the worst of their growth pains. The accounting requirements, while slightly more demanding, are well-defined and easily within the range of the systems available on the market.

Yet, in the past two years, this category of software has shown remarkable evolution. This is due to three factors:

* The rise of cloud computing. As on-demand computing has arisen in the age of broadband, an increasing number of companies have emerged to offer accounting systems that can provide lower total cost of ownership, lower installation and set-up costs, more modern and robust user interfaces, and more advanced features. Leading the pack in this regard are two companies, NetSuite and Intacct.

* Increased competition. Sage now offers a bevy of mid-range accounting solutions, from Peachtree Quantum to Sage Accpac. So does Microsoft, which in its Dynamics family features at least four offerings of its own. QuickBooks is gaining strength and moving up into the enterprise, and there are at least half a dozen other programs that have firmly entrenched user bases and strong features.

* New features. As happened with both tax prep software and payroll software, features that used to be extra-cost add-ons are being incorporated into the main body of the core accounting systems, beefing up those programs and putting software companies toe to toe in the development cycle. It is not a coincidence that most of the packages we review are now in Version 11.0.

Eventually, this will mean some level of consolidation, as companies move to the cloud, merge or otherwise move down the product life-cycle curve. For this year, however, this class of software remains robust and interesting. We look at nine software packages, all of which have features and benefits that put them at the top of the class.

CMS Professional 2010

Cougar Mountain Software

(800) 388-3038

www.cougarmtn.com

Cougar Mountain's CMS Professional line is a 25-year-old accounting package that remains robust through its modular construction, commitment to new features and robust customization capability.

The CMS business accounting product includes a general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventory control and order entry. Additional modules are available for job costing, bank reconciliation, payroll, purchase orders and point-of-sale support. Sporting a well-designed user interface and comfortable navigation, the software is also notable for its extensive reporting capabilities, the ability to attach documents to the master records for easier records management, the ability to convert and e-mail documents and reports in PDF format, and a customization package that includes two annual updates and training.

New in the 2010 version are three features: First is the ability to export reports to a CSV file so that it may be viewed in Microsoft Excel or other programs. Standard reports included are aged analysis of receivables, a copy of the bank register, audit trail and trial balance, order entry history, and point-of-sale history. The second new feature is a new filter for data lookup called "Contains." Use of this filter makes it possible to find information using only a few letters or numbers contained in the reference. Finally, there is the new Cougar DTails dashboard that allows managers or accountants to get a fast read on key performance indicators from data pulled from the general ledger.

A stable and respected system for midsized businesses, CMS Professional 2010 offers an economical price and strong performance. But what will garner the most attention is the ability to customize the system to meet the unique needs of a given company.

CYMA Financial Management System

CYMA Accounting Software

(800) 292-2962

www.cyma.com

CYMA Financial Management System is Windows-based accounting software designed for growing midsized businesses, in a modular system whose 14 modules include AP, AR, bank reconciliation, GL, inventory control, job costing, payroll, purchase order, sales order, and a system manager. CYMA supports unlimited companies, unlimited user-defined custom fields, and a flexible, user-defined account number structure.

The modules are built around the system manager, which controls companies, users, security and other basic features. Also within the system manager is the eDesk, an HTML-based resource center that includes a CYMA Control Center to set up menus for quick access to modules.

Additional features worth noting are the extensive configuration options, including customized Crystal Reports and a batch-reporting capability, which allows users to create batches of reports that can be executed with a single click. Each batch may contain multiple instances of the same report and each individual report may have different selection criteria. Each batch may consist of reports from different modules.

Version 11 is a major release whose new features include the ability to attach documents, images or files to any customer, vendor, product, job, employee or project; and a bank register within the bank reconciliation module.

CYMA Financial Management System is attractive for mid-range companies because its modular approach is easily customized to the needs of the company. Integrating easily with dozens of third-party partners and in use at some 5,000 sites, if offers a straightforward and stable approach to core accounting that can scale as the company grows.

Intacct

Intacct Corp.

(408) 878-0900

www.intacct.com

Intacct is an on-demand, cloud-based system aimed at growing companies with a need to expand their financial, managerial and operating reporting and analysis.

Because it is a cloud application, Intacct offers lower total cost of ownership with mature financial management and accounting functionality, accessibility from any location, and continuous upgrades. It is an integrated system offering core financial management and accounting, comprehensive revenue management, sophisticated multi-entity and multi-currency business management, real-time financial consolidation and real-time dashboards for management control.

The cloud computing platform (also known as Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS) offers additional advantages in that its newer interface style makes for an attractive user interface with a relatively lower learning curve and browser-style navigation.

In April of 2009, Intacct and the American Institute of CPAs announced a business partnership that saw the company launch a new product - a CPA-specific version of Intacct to be marketed exclusively by the AICPA's CPA2Biz subsidiary. Under the alliance, Intacct became the preferred provider of financial applications for the AICPA.

With its instant access, strong collaboration capabilities and lower total cost of ownership, Intacct may well be the future of mid-range accounting.

QuickBooks Premier Accountant 2010

Intuit Inc.

(650) 944-6000

www.intuit.com

QuickBooks Premier Accountant expands QuickBooks with special enhancements for accounting professionals, kicks the price down to $249.95, then adds some new bells and whistles. The Premier Accountant version supports all of the versions of QuickBooks 2010, has special controls for accountants like a fast client files clean-up system, and offers sophisticated tools for trial balance, multi-currency management and remote access.

New in the 2010 version is an update to the client file clean-up system, called Client Data Review, that identifies and corrects problems in the client file, such as erroneous sales tax filings. The new document management system allows documents to be appended to client files, with copies stored online for secure and instant backup. A new add/edit multiple entries function allows data to be entered rapidly in table format or imported from Excel. Other enhancements include an improved Report Center, and improvements to the "Company Snapshot" dashboard. The online banking module has been revised, and there is a new Intuit Statement Writer (sold separately) to create financial statements.

Intuit has unveiled a whole series of accounting-centric applications - accounting, tax and payroll, for starters - under the ProLine family name. Accountants working with growing companies would be wise to pay heed to the developments at Intuit, if for no other reason than that is where companies seem to head first as they grow.

Microsoft Dynamics GP

Microsoft Corp.

(701) 281-6500

www.microsoft.com/dynamics

In the long-ago days of accounting, Microsoft purchased a number of mid-range to enterprise accounting systems in a bid to capture a share of that business. Its bid was successful - not least due to its acquisition of Great Plains Software, which became the core of Dynamics GP.

The current version of GP retains the best of the old product. It is stable, familiar, scales well and offers features that include advanced consolidation, robust business intelligence, and rich reporting, forecasting and budgeting. This functionality is available right out of the box and integrates seamlessly with other Microsoft technologies such as Office.

The current version was introduced in 2007, and included enhancements addressing financial, human resource/payroll, supply chain, and field service management. Deeper integration with Microsoft technologies such as MS Office, MS SharePoint Server for collaboration, and MS SQL Reporting Services for advanced business intelligence were part of the upgrades, as well as new role-based interfaces that look and work more like Microsoft Office. A new workflow engine provides additional flexibility and ease of use. Enhanced search and social networking capabilities make it easier to find the right information and the right people to make decisions and serve customers.

Microsoft has built a powerful franchise for the Dynamics brand, stretching from growing firms up to the enterprise. If there is an anchor to this brand, it is surely Dynamics GP, which blends strong features, interconnections with the Microsoft Office and desktop, and an economical starting price.

NetSuite

NetSuite Inc.

(877) 638-7848

www.netsuite.com

NetSuite provides on-demand business management software suites that include accounting/ERP, CRM and e-commerce software for small and midsized enterprises and divisions of large companies. Another leading-edge SaaS service, it provides the advantages of cloud computing, from lower total operating costs to simplified installation and real-time access from anywhere.

NetSuite's accounting/financial resources include a GL, AR, AP, advanced financials, time and billing, purchasing, inventory management, and customizable reports. Also included are budgeting tools and multi-currency capabilities. There are both standard and customizable reports, and some advanced financial tools. But the NetSuite package also bundles advanced customer relationship management tools, inventory management tools and e-commerce capabilities.

One of the features that sets NetSuite and other on-demand systems apart from competitors is their use of role-based dashboards that enable every executive in every department to access customized graphical reports and snapshots, and enable drill-down to the hard data. The dashboards also allow access to key performance indicators of every type, enabling faster and better decision-making.

NetSuite also stands apart from the majority of mid-range solutions for the breadth and depth of its services and its willingness to embrace technologies as they emerge - there is even an application to view the management dashboards from an iPhone.

NetSuite is a relative newcomer to the accounting landscape, but has been around long enough to establish a firm footing and a strong reputation for its features. If the future of accounting truly lies in the cloud, NetSuite will be an accounting package of choice.

Peachtree Quantum 2010

Sage North America

(866) 308-2378

www.sagenorthamerica.com

There was a time over the past 30 years when Peachtree was considered a small-business accounting package. That description simply doesn't fit Peachtree Quantum, which has evolved into a more robust, more sophisticated and more feature-laden package for the growing and mid-range company.

Sage has added new capabilities to Peachtree for transaction histories, business analytics, customer management, order process workflow, and role-based, customizable dashboards.

The Quantum version was designed to handle the larger volume of data generated by mid-range companies. It also has a strong order process workflow system that keeps track of all of the parts of the order process, notifies the next person in the process with a status report and notes as needed, and sends notification to the designated Peachtree users once a task is completed. The My Dashboard feature, which is also exclusive to Quantum, allows customized screens for each user that can be created from any of the functions in Peachtree. Data is filtered, and security assigned, based on the needs of the user.

Quantum is the most comprehensive product in the Peachtree product line, providing all the features found in Peachtree Premium Accounting for up to 40 named users. It offers performance, database and security management benefits over the regular Peachtree product line, and offers a compelling migration path for companies that have outgrown the standard Peachtree capabilities.

MAS 90 and 200

Sage North America

(866) 308-2378

www.sagenorthamerica.com

There are ordinarily some rules in writing reviews. One is that we don't review beta software, and the other is that we don't review multiple products from the same category from the same company in the same review. Let's break both rules for a moment.

MAS 90 and 200 have been powerful competitors in the mid-range field. They automate core accounting, financial reporting, distribution, manufacturing, e-commerce, and comprehensive business intelligence tools. Version 4.3 provided new paperless office capabilities supporting document imaging and storage, e-mail and e-fax capabilities; enhanced business intelligence functionality with the new Business Insights Dashboard, which enables the capture, consolidation and presentation of key performance indicators in simplified snapshots for easy analysis; and "green" features that help users not only save the environment, but also save money.

Version 4.4, which should be available as this review is published, will improve productivity and business workflow through over 30 usability enhancements, including increased personalization capabilities and customizations that survive upgrades, expanded customer and item number fields that allow for meaningful information to be included, such as "smart part numbers" to indicate special handling requirements, a full UPC code, a store number, a vendor's item number, and a new Parallel Migration tool that reduces risks and lowers the cost of upgrading from a previous version of Sage MAS 90 and 200 up to Version 4.4, by minimizing downtime and transitioning from test to live.

More information will follow when the live version of the software is available.

Traverse Version 11

Open Systems Inc.

(800) 328-2276

www.osas.com

Open Systems' Traverse accounting software is a business management backbone for many small, growing and mid-market companies. Though built on Microsoft technology, Open Systems provides source code at no additional cost. Recent enhancements to the system have included Traverse Banking, for secure electronic banking.

Traverse Version 11, the newest generation, is built on .Net and SQL Server technologies and has four layers of adaptability.

The first is a personalization layer that allows each user to customize screen preferences, adjust menu organization, and create and save individualized views of data for inquiry and reporting.

The Traverse Design Studio gives users the ability to add custom fields, adjust screens for various users and roles, and build import and export definitions to provide integration to other business management software applications or automation equipment that may be in use. In the integration layer, users can integrate their Web store, trading partner, or other proprietary or third-party data to Traverse using the Traverse Integration Engine, a set of data mapping and scheduling tools. And there's customization to meet the specific business needs of a company.

Traverse offers a powerful, scalable and customizable system appropriate to its position as a mid-range accounting package with a well-established user base, a host of advanced features and economical pricing. It also benefits from its status as the only open-source software among the major mid-range accounting packages.

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

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