Small business software grows up: intense efforts for product improvements.
* Microsoft's introduction this year of its small business accounting software is challenging the two leading competitors--QuickBooks and Peachtree--to step up their efforts with products that are ever-more technologically powerful,
* The competition will be intense because "Microsoft Small Business Accounting (MSBA) is technologically more advanced than either QuickBooks or Peachtree and its price strategy is hard to beat: It's bundled free in selected 2006 versions of Microsoft Office. With more than 400 million users of Microsoft Office worldwide, even if only a small percentage of them upgrade to the 2006 version, the new accounting program could be in the hands of millions of users by the end of the year.
* With products as complex and customizable as SBA software, it's not prudent to rely fully on assessments of reviewers or colleagues. The only way to be sure a product works best for you or a client is to test it with your own accounting data.
* If you're going to buy QuickBooks or Peachtree, purchase the accountant's editions. They contain nearly all the additional functionality found in the various other versions of the product and they're typically priced lower.
* The stakes in the competition for small business accounting software are high. The current estimated market of small businesses is between 15 million and 25 million, with 500,000 to 2 million new businesses starting each year. Clearly, small businesses will be the winner as their accounting tools continue to improve.
If you think small business accounting (SBA) software has made enormous technological leaps in power, speed, sophistication and flexibility in recent years, you ain't seen nothing yet. In each of the past few years, the two leading SBA products--Intuit's QuickBooks and Sage Software's Peachtree--have challenged each other, making their products stronger and easier to use as they battle to expand, or at least maintain, their already huge customer bases. But now the competition is entering a new, more intense stage as giant Microsoft has entered the field with two winning strategies. In many ways its new Microsoft Small Business Accounting (MSBA) product is technologically more advanced than either QuickBooks or Peachtree and its price strategy is hard to beat, as it's bundled free in the 2006 version of Microsoft Office. A five-user stand-alone version sells for $149.
With more than 400 million users of Microsoft Office worldwide, even if only a small percentage of them upgraded to the 2006 version, Microsoft's new accounting program could be in the hands of millions of users by yearend. To put that in perspective, consider that currently QuickBooks is the leading purveyor of SBA software, with 90% of the market and an estimated 3 million users. Peachtree, with 9% of the market, reports more than 1 million users. The remaining 1% is made up of a half-dozen other products.
To help determine which product is best suited for you and your clients, we will focus on QuickBooks' and Peachtree's new features and only briefly mention the new advances of some of the other products. Since all the functions of the MSBA are new, we will examine only its key functions---especially those we rate superior to its competitors. For an overview of the key functions of the three leading products, see "Product Comparison Chart for Selected Features," page 51.
Caveat: With products as complex and customizable as SBA software, it's not prudent to rely fully on assessments of reviewers or colleagues. The only way to be assured that a product works best for you or a client is to test it with your own accounting data.
Intuit offers 23 versions of its accounting software, but most are just lighter and less expensive versions of its primary product, QuickBooks Premier Accountants Edition 2006, which more than 250,000 CPAs use. Unless otherwise noted, all QuickBooks references in this article refer to QuickBooks Premier 2006, which is missing some specialized functions found only in the accountant's edition. Because the underlying data structure and user screens are similar for all QuickBooks products, users can easily migrate to more powerful editions without reading the operating manual or reimplementing the software. A table listing the prices and the number of users the 23 versions support is shown in "QuickBooks Products," page 57.
Screens: Intuit has reduced the number of setup screens to 20 from 130. As a result, once it's loaded, it now takes only 15 to 30 minutes to get under way In addition, Intuit offers 30 days of free support with each purchase. The product now sports a clutter-free "screen center," a kind of home page, that displays folders for only the key features/functions a user chooses to activate (see exhibit 1, page 54).
Each screen center mimics filing cabinets to provide quick and easy access to data on customer, vendor, employee and financial reports. For example, multiple copies of a check might be filed simultaneously under banking, vendor and job cost, simplifying a search for it. Likewise, a company's financial information is grouped so users can see all invoices, payments, credit memos, transactions, contact information and memos for a given customer either on one screen or on individual "subject" screens and other notations (see exhibit 2, page 55).
Database: By switching to a SQL (pronounced sequel) standard database (not to be confused with the more powerful Microsoft SQL Server database), QuickBooks now runs considerably faster and is able to handle as many as 15 concurrent users on its Enterprise version, up from 10 before, making financial data more accessible for sharing, crunching, charting and reporting in other applications.
Audit trail: QuickBooks no longer allows users to turn off the audit trail system. Now the system records and tracks all transactions--even errors that are reversed and corrected, something antifraud-conscience CPAs have been seeking for years.
Mimic client screens: The accountant's edition lets CPAs create a screen that replicates any screen for any of the other versions of QuickBooks, making it easier to provide consulting via the phone.
SAGE SOFTWARE'S PEACHTREE
Sage Software offers 10 versions of Peachtree, but most are merely lighter versions of the primary product, Peachtree Premium Accounting Accountants Edition 2006. For purposes of this article, all references to Peachtree refer to that edition unless otherwise noted. Details on all the versions can be found in "Peachtree Products," page 60.
Peachtree has been a long-time favorite of the CPA community Sage reports that about half its sales come directly from CPAs or their recommendation. CPAs who take my technology classes generally consider Peachtree more powerful than QuickBooks.
Tracking parts: The software's strong suit is inventory It can track part identification by serial number or by a customer's stock keeping unit (SKU), which QuickBooks cannot. Manufacturers especially favor Peachtree's bill of materials (BOM) assemblies, which are displayed in an indented format based on their level of bill of materials; further, each line item displays the cost for each component and the total estimated cost of the assembly. In addition, BOM invoices (see exhibit 3, page 56) provide the type of detail costing information many customers need.
Auto-fill: Taking a cue from QuickBooks and Excel, Peachtree provides an auto-complete feature that fills in fields as you begin typing based on past entries.
Lookups: Peachtree has cleaned up a few annoyances. For example, ID lookup lists are sorted alphabetically and provide an alert when you try to use duplicate numbers for quotes, invoices, purchase orders or credit memos.
Invoice aging: Peachtree calculates and reports the aging of customers' invoices--helping to identify financially stressed customers in time to step up collection actions. Peachtree also calculates and reports the number of days it takes to pay invoices.
Internal reviews: The software offers a built-in internal accounting review that evaluates up to 15 types of suspicious transactions and common mistakes, such as duplicate transactions and cash receipts and amounts posted to wrong account numbers; such tools are growing more common in higher-end applications.
Banking: Peachtree downloads bank statements directly into the software, automatically matching existing items and creating those that are missing, such as service charges (see exhibit 4, page 56).
Printing, filtering and drilling down: Users can print selected reports directly from commonly used screens. Likewise, single customer or vendor reports can be printed and drilled down and filtered. The software can save transaction searches, greatly speeding repeat searches.
Design tools: Peachtree improved the tools that customize invoices, quotes and other documents.
Job costing: Billing capabilities were beefed up; contractors can bill customers at several different milestones in a job cycle: calculated on a percentage of the total estimated job revenue or the job completed.
Financial reports: The premium edition includes Crystal Reports for Peachtree, a feature that assembles and formats financial reports. The high-end edition also can export reports in Adobe format, export templates to Word and Excel and produce e-mails that alert users to selected changes in financial conditions. The software contains an archive function so users can access detailed company data and financial statements from closed years.
Reports can be viewed by department, location or product line with up to five account segments in the chart of account numbering scheme. The software contains a consolidation wizard for maintaining a separate set of books for each company yet still produce consolidated financial statements, including budgets by company. It also tracks three-year budgets, employee raises and employee performance reviews.
Conversion: Peachtree can automatically convert data from all versions of QuickBooks, so switching products is relatively painless.
MICROSOFT SMALL BUSINESS ACCOUNTING (MSBA) 2006
MSBA offers a complete collection of features that CPAs and small businesses have long sought: a powerful database, true networking ability, extensive payroll, a secure audit trail, customization and deep integration with Microsoft Office. Taken together, these functions are unprecedented in the low-end accounting software industry.
Customization: One of the most important features in any accounting system is the ability to easily customize it to meet your needs. With more than 100 user-definable fields, MSBA offers more customization possibilities than its competitors. See exhibit 5, page 59, for a customized home page.
As expected, Microsoft has designed MSBA to be tightly integrated with other Office applications; for example, its documents are maintained in Word and all financial data export to Excel for analysis, formatting and charting; even what-if analysis is a breeze. The most impressive integration is with Outlook; all MSBA documents and reports can be e-mailed. Further, Outlook shares and updates contact data in both directions: its contact data can be sent to MSBA and MSBA contact data can be sent to Outlook. Its calendar data post as billable time with just one click.
Scalable database: MSBA operates on the Microsoft Database Engine (MSDE) database, a lighter version of Microsoft SQL Server, but still far more powerful than QuickBooks' SQL. MSDE, which holds electronic data in much the same way a filing cabinet holds paper documents, with records organized by folders, can accommodate huge volumes of transactions with no performance slowdown. By comparison, all other entry-level accounting systems use databases that degrade considerably as transaction volume grows, forcing customers at some point to switch to a more expensive, higher-end product. It's unlikely any small business would ever outgrow MSBA's database.
Network: MSBA offers a true networking environment that lets multiple users access the system simultaneously with more advanced record-locking instead of rudimentary file-locking technology, so multiple users can access a file at the same time.
Audit trail: Like the latest edition of QuickBooks, MSBA boasts a secure audit trail that cannot be turned off to make a correction; the system preserves all entries, making it difficult for an unscrupulous user to kite the system.
Paperless environment: With its built-in electronic document handling, MSBA is the first low-end program to completely support a paperless environment. Users can attach an unlimited number of documents, worksheets, bitmapped images, sound clips and even movie clips to any transaction or item. Exhibit 6, page 60, shows an example of an attached handwritten image displayed with a sales order.
Payroll: To produce the payroll module, Microsoft turned to ADP, which developed the most comprehensive program ever provided for small businesses. The cost, including state forms, is $169 a year or $229 for electronic filings. The payroll system actually resides on ADP's servers and interfaces, via the Internet, directly to each user's MSBA.
THE REMAINING SBA PRODUCTS
Although QuickBooks and Peachtree hold 99% of the small business accounting market, the remaining 1% still represents a large enough niche market for a few other vendors to hold their own. Here are the highlights and improvements for these programs.
M.Y.O.B.: Sage Software, Peachtree's owner, also owns M.Y.O.B., an Australian product with a worldwide following of about 500,000 users. It's available in five versions (two for Windows and three for Mac) and costs from $99 to $399. A single-user version sells for $29; a three-user version for $129.
New features: The product can accept short shipments, partial shipments and back orders and still track all purchase-order items. It can handle sales on items not yet received, allows negative item counts as a preference, receives inventory without knowing cost, tracks inventory received into multiple warehouses or specific locations within a warehouse and handles items moved from one location to another while a new location report tracks inventory levels.
In addition, M.Y.O.B. added multiyear budgets, support for multiple locations, the capacity to maintain up to seven years of transactions and the ability to print ready-to-file W-2s and W-3s on plain paper. Users can drill down on income statements and balance sheets, produce year-to-date amounts on paycheck stubs and handle scheduling of recurring transactions, batch e-mailing, exception testing, discrepancy tracking, auditing and subtotaling of time-and-billing reports by job.
NetSuite: Unlike the other products, NetSuite is Web-based. It has about 9,000 customers and uses the Oracle database. It rents for $99 a month for one unlimited user and 10 limited users; each additional unlimited user costs $49 a month. Advanced modules, such as customer relations management (CRM) and e-commerce, are available for $199 to $449 a month.
New features: NetSuite has added spellcheck, duplicate detection, transaction merging, electronic fund transfers to vendors, publishable dashboards (data screens), key performance indicators, escalation and follow-up workflow capabilities in CRM and just-in-time inventory ordering.
New add-on solutions include lot management, multiple budgets and allocation capabilities. NetSuite also can handle non-inventory and service items and other charges in assemblies.
Simply Accounting: This software is available in three versions that are priced from $49.99 to $699.99 for up to six concurrent users. It has about a million customers.
New features: Integration with Microsoft Outlook, a new form designer, new report sorting and filtering options, the introduction of 25+ performance indicators, warnings for duplicate form numbers, one-step allocations, the ability to export and re-import information (such as price lists) to Excel, twice as many (20) payroll-deduction fields, job categories, integration to handheld devices, a new departmental trial-balance report and inclusion of salespersons' names on quotes, orders and invoices.
SMALL BUSINESS WINNER
As you can see, small business accounting systems are becoming very powerful and sophisticated. And with the introduction of MSBA, the competition will become increasingly intense. The stakes are high: The current estimated market of small businesses is between 15 million and 25 million, with 500,000 to 2 million new businesses starting each year. Clearly, small businesses will be the winners as their accounting tools continue to improve.
The Value of Industry-Specific Editions
In recent years, industry-specific versions of QuickBooks and Peachtree have emerged to appeal to distributors, contractors, manufacturers, nonprofits and other organizations. While these products have some merit, in reality they have more to do with marketing and product positioning. In most cases they offer only a handful of additional features and reports relevant to each industry.
Software for CPAs Only
If you're going to buy QuickBooks or Peachtree, purchase the accountant's editions. They contain nearly all the additional functionality found in the various other versions of the product and they're typically priced lower.
Both vendors offer CPA adviser/membership programs that include free copies of the software, training, CPE credit, support and other benefits. These programs cost far less than the software itself. For example, QuickBooks consultants receive a copy of the QuickBooks Enterprise Accountants Edition, plus more than $3,500 worth of software, training and free product upgrades the following year for just $449.
CPAs can join the Microsoft Professional Accountants' Network at no cost; it includes training, support and a copy of MSBA. And for $299 members also can subscribe to Action Pack, which provides $25,000 worth of software--nearly all the Microsoft desktop application software for up to 10 partners and staff.
J. Carlton Collins, CPA, president of ASA Research, LLC, is an author, lecturer and analyst of the accounting systems industry. His reviews can be seen at www.ASAResearch.com. His e-mail address is carlton@ accountingsoftwareadvisor.com.
Product Comparison Chart for Selected Features QuickBooks Peachtree Premier Complete Accounting Accounting Single-user pricing $399 $499 Five-user pricing $1,499 $999 Modules: General ledger Yes Yes Accounts payable Yes Yes Purchase orders Yes Yes Accounts receivable Yes Yes Sales orders Yes Yes Payroll Yes Yes Inventory Yes Yes Job costing Yes Yes Fixed asset accounting Yes Yes Point of sale Yes Yes Report Writer Yes Yes Bank reconciliation Yes Yes Departmental accounting Yes Yes Setup wizard Yes Yes Export reports to Excel Yes Yes Group reports for printing Yes Yes User definable alerts No Yes Secure audit trail cannot be turned off Yes No Company financial dashboard Yes Yes Ability to memorize transactions Yes Yes Online banking Yes Yes Sync customer and vendor data to Outlook Yes No Attach pictures and documents to transactions No No Alternative part numbers No Yes E-mail invoices Yes Yes Track multiple warehouses No No Track serial numbers No Yes Cash-flow forecasting Yes Yes Maintain multiple price levels Yes Yes Time and billing Yes Yes Time-and-billing integration to Outlook No No Fixed asset accounting Yes Yes Integrated Web store No No Auto complete text fields Yes Yes Calculates days-to-pay for each customer No Yes Built-in internal accounting review function No Yes True networking environment that does not No Yes need to be toggled on and off Microsoft Small Business Accounting Single-user pricing $149 Five-user pricing $149 Modules: General ledger Yes Accounts payable Yes Purchase orders Yes Accounts receivable Yes Sales orders Yes Payroll Yes Inventory Yes Job costing Yes Fixed asset accounting Yes Point of sale Yes Report Writer Yes Bank reconciliation Yes Departmental accounting Yes Setup wizard Yes Export reports to Excel Yes Group reports for printing No User definable alerts No Secure audit trail cannot be turned off Yes Company financial dashboard Yes Ability to memorize transactions Yes Online banking Yes Sync customer and vendor data to Outlook Yes Attach pictures and documents to transactions Yes Alternative part numbers Add-on E-mail invoices Yes Track multiple warehouses Add-on Track serial numbers Add-on Cash-flow forecasting Yes Maintain multiple price levels Yes Time and billing Yes Time-and-billing integration to Outlook Yes Fixed asset accounting Yes Integrated Web store Yes Auto complete text fields Yes * Calculates days-to-pay for each customer No Built-in internal accounting review function No True networking environment that does not Yes need to be toggled on and off * Microsoft Small Business Accounting provides auto-complete text via a drop-down window. QuickBooks Products Users Suggested supported retial price QuickBooks Simple Start 2006 1 user $99.95 * QuickBooks Pro 2006 1 user $199.95 * 5 users $749.95 * QuickBooks Pro 2006 for Mac 1 user $299.95 * QuickBooks Premier Edition 2006 1 user $399.95 * 5 users $1,499.95 * QuickBooks Enterprise Solution 2006 5 users $2,500.00 * 10 users $3,500.00 * Online Edition 3 users $19.95/ +CPA month * QuickBooks Basic Point of Sale 2006 1 user $799.95 * 5 users $1,499.95 * QuickBooks Pro Point of Sale 2006 1 user $1,049.95 * 5 users $1,749.95 * QuickBooks Pro Multi-store Point of Sale 5 users $1,399.95 * 2006 10 users $2,099.95 * QuickBooks Premier Accountant Edition 2006 1 user $499.95 * 5 users $1,499.95 * QuickBooks Enterprise Accountant Edition 1 user $849.95 * 2006 QuickBooks Premier Contractor Edition 2006 1 user $499.95 * 5 users $1,499.95 * QuickBooks Enterprise Contractor Edition 5 users $499.95 * 2006 10 users $1,499.95 * QuickBooks Premier Manufacturing and 1 user $499.95 * Wholesale Edition 2006 5 users $2,500.00 * QuickBooks Enterprise Manufacturing & 5 users $499.95 * Wholesale Edition 2006 10 users $2,500.00 * QuickBooks Premier Nonprofit Edition 2006 1 user $499.95 * 5 users $1,499.95 * QuickBooks Enterprise Nonprofit Edition 5 users $499.95 * 2006 10 users $2,500.00 * QuickBooks Premier Professional Services 1 user $499.95 * Edition 2006 5 users $1,499.95 * QuickBooks Enterprise Professional 10 users $2,500.00 * Services 2006 QuickBooks Premier Retail Edition 2006 1 user $499.95 * 5 users $1,499.95 * QuickBooks Enterprise Retail Edition 2006 5 users $499.95 * 10 users $2,500.00 * QuickBooks Premier Wholesale Edition 2006 1 user $499.95 * 5 users $1,499.95 * QuickBooks Enterprise Wholesale Edition 5 users $499.95 * 2006 10 users $2,500.00 * * Does not include additional fees for add-on services such as payroll tax service, support, training or online banking. Peachtree Products Users Suggested supported retail price Peachtree First Accounting 2006 1 user $99.99 * Peachtree Accounting 2006 1 user $199.99 * Peachtree Complete Accounting 2006 1 user $299.99 * 5 users $699.99 * Peachtree by Sage Premium Accounting 2006 1 user $499.99 * 5 users $999.99 * Peachtree (Online Accounting) 1 user $149.99/year Multiuser $249.99/year Peachtree Premium Accounting for 1 user $599.99 * Construction 2006 5 users $1,199.99 * Peachtree Premium Accounting for 1 user $599.99 * Manufacturing 2006 5 users $1,199.99 * Peachtree Premium Accounting for 1 user $599.99 * Distribution 2006 5 users $1,199.99 * Peachtree Premium Accounting for 5 users $1,199.99 * Nonprofits 2006 Peachtree Premium Accounting Accountant's 1 user $499.99 * Edition 2006 5 users $999.99 * * Does not include additional fees for add-on services such as payroll tax service, support, training or online banking.
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|Author:||Collins, J. Carlton|
|Publication:||Journal of Accountancy|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2006|
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