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From the July 2012 Issue.
Evaluating small business management software is always full of surprises. Some users wonder where to start the process and ask if they really need to change software, upgrade to the current version, or invest in training on the existing application. While there are many ways to evaluate these decisions, I would suggest that you consider the following items as first steps in the process:
- Look at what you are doing outside of the software to support your business needs. What are you doing in all those spreadsheets?
- Are you getting the reports to need to run your business?
- Do you have an external database to track leads and prospects?
- Are you entering information in multiple systems?
The answers to these questions will define your “must have” list. Next, evaluate where the business is going and what do you need to get there. Some possible considerations include:
- What is the one thing that you intended to do each year but just can’t find the time to resolve the issue,
- Do you want to increase marketing, organize your office, update internal controls, or gain remote access?
- Will you need to integrate your business management software with other applications?
2012 Reviews of Small Business
Let’s take a look at the software packages reviewed and examine how they meet the needs of your business and many other small businesses.
Basic System Functionality - All the packages were reviewed on a PC running Microsoft Windows. Installation of each package was completed without issues and each program was up and running in just a matter of minutes. General Navigation & Ease of Use was also addressed; all of the products reviewed used a forms oriented interface rather than requiring the user to understand debits and credits (with the obvious exception of journal entries). The appearance of the screen and use of navigation techniques, availability of dashboards and customizable menus varied. Industry Specific features were included in some programs including industry specific versions and/or reports. Platform support was also noted, and while all of the products reviewed are available in a version for Microsoft Windows, only a few support other platforms, such as MacOS or the mobile operating systems installed on most tablets and smartphones.
Accounting Capabilities – All products contained core accounting capabilities such as a general ledger, accounts receivable, and accounts payable functions. Likewise, the applications all had some support for Sales Tax, including the ability to consolidate rates for multiple jurisdictions, but none were able to support value added taxes like those levied in Canada or the European Union. Payroll functionality varied significantly, and while all reviewed products supported in-house payroll preparation, some also offered integrations with other providers, such as payroll service bureaus. Audit Trail Reporting was included in all programs with various report options. Multi-Currency abilities were included in some programs with various methods for updating rates. Unfortunately none of the programs reviewed included options for Multi-Language Support. All of the programs offered Multi-User capabilities but few had options within the program for Multi-Location support of offsite data entry.
Day to Day Operations –Significant differences were found in Sales, Point of Sale, and Shipping features. Although some programs included advanced features, and add-ons, and others offered integration with other products, and finally, some did not support any specific capabilities. Customer, Vendor and Employee Management was included with all products with the ability to e-mail invoices and perform a mail-merge for collection letters. Some products included advanced functionality with Customer Relationship Management integration or add-on products. Inventory and Purchasing varied considerably among products, and we considered the major functions in this area, including inventory valuation, multi-location capabilities, bill of materials, and reporting.