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ACCPAC International ‘ ACCPAC Pro Series Small Business Edition

ACCPAC offers its accounting applications in a highly scalable, highly modularized format, so the business can start small with just the modules it needs, then advance to a higher-end platform and add modules as its needs dictate. This provides a very flexible approach that is cost-efficient and easy to implement.

The ACCPAC Pro Series suite is available at two different levels: Small Business Edition (SBE) and Enterprise Edition. This review looks only at the Small Business Edition, which is targeted at the mid-sized business in a wide variety of industries. Modules available in the Small Business Edition include System Manager, GL, Project Accounting, AR, AP, Purchase Orders, Order Entry, Inventory Control, PR, Multicurrency and Job Cost. A number of other operational modules are available to provide automated workflow alerts (Pro Alert), electronic communications management (Message Master), financial diagnostics (Comprehensive Financial Optimizer), data drill-down (Financial Link), customer relationship management (Customer Connect), and query capabilities (Query).
SBE modules are suitable for up to 10 concurrent users. The modules are written in Visual FoxPro and use the native FoxPro database formats. However, ACCPAC provides a seamless transition path to its Enterprise Edition product line, which can utilize FoxPro, Microsoft SQL Server, or IBM DB2 for more users or multiple locations.

A single application controls access to all installed modules with ACCPAC Pro Series. The toolbar contains drop-downs for selecting the application and the company number. When these items are selected, the menu system is dynamically modified to reflect the appropriate choices, such as Transaction, Maintain and Print. The Transaction menu is used to select data-entry and processing functions. The Maintain menu contains choices for database maintenance, such as accounts, vendors and customers. Print shows the various reports that are available within the selected module.

Data-entry screens are clean and self-explanatory, with numerous pick lists for things like vendors and customers. The data-entry area generally consists of some type of multi-tab layout to keep the screen from becoming too cluttered with detailed data-entry items. Data-entry screens have a toolbar with icons for functions like Save, Cancel and Close. Quite a number of screens throughout the program have been designed as MDI-style screens, and can be added to a ‘favorites’ toolbar for one-click access.

One of the unique features available within any module, or as a stand-alone application, is called the ‘DataDriller.’ This is a flexible, all-purpose query tool used to search and display record information from any data file with instant data drill-down capability. Each ‘view’ is a grid/spreadsheet list of database records using defined columns. In addition to the data views that are available on key program master files, you can set up your own data views, using the System Manager, by customizing the content and format with secure, user-specific access to information. You can even use DataDriller to set up data views for non-ACCPAC data files. As records are selected for drill-down, the DataDriller screen creates additional tabs across the top to represent each drill-down level.

ACCPAC Pro Series customizations are provided in a number of ways, depending on your skill level and the type of customization you need. At the low (easy) end, you can add specific data-entry screens to a favorites list to make applications readily accessible that you use most often. At the middle difficulty level, you can customize nearly any report form provided by the program. Within each module, you just go to the Maintain menu and select Customize Forms, which opens a list of available forms from which you can select. A WYSIWYG report writer opens and allows any modifications you wish. At the high (difficult) end, you can use Visual FoxPro to modify just about anything with the program, including screens and database fields. An experienced programmer has nearly limitless capability to customize any aspect of the program to meet specific business needs.

Security is provided through the System Manager module. Users can be assigned privileges using a detailed list of process IDs within the program. If a user is to be given access to a particular function, you just add that process ID to his or her list of privileges. Privileges can even be set specifically for a particular company. This allows tightly controlled access to all areas of the program.

Since ACCPAC is essentially an ‘open’ accounting system, you can import and export any data whatsoever throughout all modules with the appropriate knowledge of programming and file structures. All reports can be exported to a variety of formats as well, including Excel, HTML, XML, ASCII delimited and text. With the Message Master module, you can also fax and e-mail documents directly from within the program.

A healthy variety of reports is provided by each module. Of course, as indicated earlier, you can preview, print, or even export these reports to numerous electronic formats. Report customization is also available through the report writer.

The Pro Series help system is extensive and detailed. Within the modules, you can access context-sensitive help by pressing F1. Help topics are well written and contain links to related topics. Also, the program includes a DocOnDisk feature that can be installed separately. This provides a fully searchable electronic copy of all user manuals in *.PDF format.

ACCPAC provides customer support at several different levels, depending on your needs and budget. You can arrange prepaid toll-free technical support or pay-as-you-go support. The company also offers a Priority Response Package and a Total System Support arrangement. Training is coordinated through ACCPAC Recognized Training Center (RTC) programs through its Solution Provider network.

The Pro Series product line has a long successful history. Originally marketed as SBT Accounting, it was purchased by ACCPAC in 2000 to help the company expand into the mid-range accounting market, applying its 20 years of accounting software expertise from other products, such as the ACCPAC Advantage Series. In March of 2004, ACCPAC was acquired by Best Software, a subsidiary of The Sage Group. These companies all have strong product lines and a long-term commitment to quality accounting software.

ACCPAC Pro Series is by no means the simplest product in the lineup of mid-range accounting packages. It has a steeper learning curve than some of the other products in this category, but provides a high degree of customization capabilities, as well as full scalability that lets you start out small but keep growing. Single-user pricing for the specified base set of modules (see review introduction on page 42) would be $6,965, or $10,945 for five users. Additional modules and users are $995 each. Annual maintenance costs are approximately 18 percent of the original software cost.


Review sections for the mid-range accounting products include the following:
Modules Available/Scalability. Within this section, we look at the general breadth of modules available from the company. Although our prototype pricing only includes a base set of modules, there are many occasions where a company has special needs. The availability of ancillary modules provides for expansion of the integrated module set to meet new business requirements. Scalability is the capability of the product to grow with the business. Many successful mid-range businesses start with only one or two employees and grow to hundreds of employees within a short period of time. If the accounting package you start with supports a maximum of five users, you’ll be looking for a completely new package when your business outgrows it, which could be potentially expensive in terms of data conversion and retraining.

Ease of Use/Transaction Entry. This section is fairly self-explanatory and simply evaluates the overall user experience in using the software, from the main menu to the data-entry screens. As a general rule, all the products reviewed here are very modern and pose no specific problems in this area. I found them all easy to use and navigate, although some are more mature and refined than others.

Customization/Security. Most vendors in the mid-range market have made a deliberate attempt to keep their products simple. The ability to customize the product is generally focused on the reporting area. However, several vendors do provide the ability to customize for layouts and terminology to match specific industry needs. One other thing that should be highlighted is the ultimate customization tool: source code. A number of products do provide program source code either as part of the purchase price or as a separately purchased feature. Security is very similar across these products, with most having a menu-level system that restricts users to specific menu items and tasks.

Integration/Import/Export. Many mid-range products rely on third-party add-ons for functionality that might be built-in or integrated in a high-end product. For instance, point-of-sale, e-commerce and EDI are functions that may be provided by the vendor as an integrated module, or may be provided by third-party add-ons. If third-party add-ons are supported, it is important to have a relatively simple way to move data into and out of the program using import and export capabilities.

Reporting. Generally, all of these products provide high quality reports. Several provide built-in custom report writers that let you create reports based on your own formats and needs. My preference is the products that have standardized with Crystal Reports as their report engine. This implies two things: First, the database is an ‘open’ database structure that allows direct access to the data files for reports and queries; second, you can purchase the Crystal Reports professional designer and create your own custom reports using an industry-standard format. Many third-party developers specialize in Crystal Reports design and can provide assistance to meet nearly any need.

Support/Training/Help System. This section is also fairly self-explanatory. It is an evaluation of the program’s online help system, as well as the availability of product support, whether through live telephone support, e-mail support or an online knowledgebase. Of course, the best products provide a combination of all these methods. Classroom or web-based training should be available for budget-conscious new users at times and locations that are convenient.

Company History. When purchasing most accounting packages, you are certainly buying a tangible, installable CD, which will be used by people in your company to do their work. However, you are also establishing a business relationship with a company that is expected to provide updates, enhancements, bug fixes, training and support. How long has the company been in business? How many times has ownership of the company changed hands? Is the company based in the United States, Canada or overseas? All of these factors will change the nature of your relationship with the vendor you choose.

Relative Value. Basically, this is the ‘bang for your buck.’ Generally, the more sophisticated products that offer more modules will have a higher cost. This is to be expected. However, this category attempts to consider the big picture. With the feature set and cost considered, does the vendor offer a competitive product at a competitive price?

We hope you find these reviews informative and helpful in your accounting software search. Each product reviewed here is a high-quality product that is worthy of consideration. As I have always encouraged, you should get a demo package from the vendor, install it on your system and try it out! Ask questions, evaluate your needs, compare it with your existing system, and pick a product that fits your budget.