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What's new in accounting software; enhancements to look for in new and upgraded programs.

In the past year the software field has experienced major design advances in both power and utility. Accounting software is no exception. New and upgraded professional programs are performing a wider range of functions faster and in a more user-friendly way.

Such software advances open important opportunities for CPAs in industry and in public practice, not only because the programs automate accounting tasks that otherwise would consume much of CPAs' time but also because they provide an opportunity to apply information-enhancing functions, which make reports more useful.

In the early 1980s, most accounting software generally was limited to performing essential, but still relatively basic tasks such as transaction and reporting functions. Computer systems could prepare and print invoices, paychecks and monthly financial statements.

A few years ago, accounting programs began to incorporate helpful enhancements such as pop-up windows, full-screen editing, on-line help and customizable financial statements. Today, such features are standard in most programs. This article describes these functions and explains what accountants should look for when shopping for new and upgraded software.


Accountants want a software package that produces a visually pleasing work screen, is easy to learn and has enough power to help run a business effectively.

But when CPAs serve as consultants, another element is added to the wish list: The software package should be well supported by the vendor's technical staff; the technical team should be available and competent to handle problems; software customization software tools should be available; upgrades should be frequent enough to keep the software abreast of the competition and developing trends in the industry; and the qualified installer programs (the vendor program in which consultants are certified as expert installers) should not be too demanding, in cost or in time.

The listing on pages 80-81 includes accounting programs that incorporate many of the enhancements described below.


* External program shell. This feature lets the user temporarily suspend the accounting system, either access an entirely separate application or execute a DOS command, and then, when finished, reactivate the accounting system.

This is a tremendous convenience. Until recently, the user had to completely exit one program before launching another. Not only was this time-consuming, but upon reopening the initial program, the user had to move through all its preliminary functions in order to reach the place where work had been interrupted.

* Menu options. Many users want to use only certain selected portions of a program; some of today's programs allow the user to hide or even unload unwanted functions, thus saving memory for other applications.

In addition, the user may have the option of using either pull-down or traditional function menus. Pull-down menus allow quicker movement through the program screens by conveniently presenting all the related options to a particular overall function. For instance, if the user selects the posting feature< all five posting options immediately flash on the screen. And then, with the press of a button, the desired posting option is selected.

Compared with the function menu, a pull-down menu provides more flexibility and speed. It offers more command options and there is no need to switch from screen to screen to access new commands.



* On-the-fly function. Adding an item (name, product, etc.) to the database of an older accounting program is an awkward process, since the accountant first has to evoke a special maintenance function of the program.

Newer programs have on-the-fly entry functions, which means that new file records can be added without exiting the current function--for example, adding a new record while working in the order entry function.

* Full-screen editing. This is a feature that makes data entry even faster with arrow keys that move between fields on the screen and insert and delete keys that assist in editing data within the fields. In database terminology, a field is a collection of related numbers or letters.

* Suspend function. This enhancement allows the user to jump from any place in a program to execute another function in that software, and then, when the new task is completed, to return to the original task automatically.

The suspend function can be used to add data on the fly or to look up information without leaving the current task.

* Pop-up calculator. Most new programs have this enhancement. The calculator is accessible while other functions are operating. In addition, any computed value can be exported into a specified field of the function in use. This is especially handy for adding sales tax or special add-on charges. Some calculator programs even have on-screen register "tapes" that can be printed out.



* Printing options. Only a few years ago, the only software printing options available gave the user a choice of sending a report to a screen, a disk or a printer; in addition, the user could print a detailed report or a summary.

Some of today's software allows the user to print a report to disk, select the font, defer the printout to a specific time, choose among multiple printers or spool (place the data in a special memory location) to a network.

* Report output. Until recently, accounting software needed special add-on modules to produce graphic reports. Now many programs include such modules in the program. As a result, they can format information so it can be presented in a graph of financial relationships. One program will even format a variety of reports, such as aged accounts payable or receivable, in either pie or line-graph designs.

* Special function keys. By pressing a designated function key, the user dan see special information relating to a specified place in the software. For instance, a user in the order entry function may find an item is out of stock; without moving out of the order entry function, the user can press a special function key and call up, say, information on substitute items.

In addition, with the touch of a function key, individual memos can be attached to a record.


* Real time. Some of the newer accounting software provides cash-management information in real time. Less sophisticated programs cannot provide cash reports until all modules are posted to the general ledger and an account balance run at the end of the period. Thus, older software cash reports nearly always are out of date.

* Service invoicing. Many businesses require service billing, the ability to enter service items with some combination of the following data: multiline service description, job number, hours and price. Many, accounts receivable systems currently include this feature as a built-in function.


* Transaction detail. Sometimes an accountant wants a software function to provide either more detail or less, depending on the work being performed. In some cases too much or too little detail can hamper the work and the accountant simply must make do. With many of the newer programs the user can adjust the amount of data provided, choosing to tracks as much detail as described.


Some accounting packages contain powerful functions to create and maintain budgets. For example, some programs can create a budget from different kinds of data: from currently entered numbers, from last year's data, from data imported from another source, from a spreadsheet or even from data that has been computed by making dollar or percentage changes to stored budget information.


* Bank reconciliation. This function is fast becoming an expected capability. Many companies want to be able to perform full bank reconciliations on multiple cash accounts, enter miscellaneous service charges, make interbank transfers and handle checks written from not only accounts receivable but also payroll. This function generally is sold as a seperate module.

* Sales management integration. Recognizing the growing importance of sales management and telemarketing, vendors are starting to incorporate tools for these functions into their software. Integration of these activities with the accounts receivable and order entry program can save considerable data-entry duplication and provide valuable statistics before and after a sale.

* Kit processing and bill of materials. An increasing number of packages offer assembly or kit processing, which keeps track of entries for finished goods, and automatically subtracts inventory for all the components used in the product. This application is suitable for light manufacturers. For heavy manufacturing, some programs offer true bill-of-materials features.

* Improved financial reports. Many programs have been enhanced so they can report quarterly data and period data across columns and perform column computations such as ratios. Newer releases also provide multiple proor-year histories or rolling quarter comparisons. Some systems will even support 25 columns of data on a single report. These features were a rarity just a year or so ago.


* Data access. Accountants often need access to databases compiled on database software other than the program they are using. Some newer programs give the user that flexibility.

Other programs go one step further: They let the nonprogrammer-accountant extract the foreign data and then manipulate them for special needs.

* Executive information systems. Some of the new programs let CPAs graphically display financial indicators< such as current cash balances, ratios, the balance of accounts receivable or payable and order backlog. These programs can retrieve real-time data automatically. As a result, It is possible to first graph data, such as the aged trial balance and percentage overdue, and then provide the details that make up the overdue balance.

* Macros. These small programs consist of prerecorded keystrokes for executing menu tasks, such as end-of-month procedures. Some software contains prepared macros, and others allow the accountant to customize them easily. Macros do all sorts of jobs, even pausing and waiting for data entries, such as data and dollar amount changes in selected recurring transactions.


Accountants who shop for new software should keep these enhancement in mind as they examine the market for programs for themselves, their employees or their clients. Accountants also should keep in mind that this impressive array of new capabilities does more than make a CPA's job easier; it makes the accountant more productive and professional and opens the door to a wide range of consulting opportunities.

SHELDON NEEDLE is president of CTS, a publisher of software evaluation materials for CPAs, situated in Rockville, Maryland.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Institute of CPA's
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Needle, Sheldon
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Previous Article:Directory of new tax software; the Journal surveys major vendors' products for the 1991 tax year.
Next Article:Software that makes computers easier to use; CPAs should find this list of utilities helpful for all tasks performed on hardware.

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