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Microsoft Business Solutions — Small Business Financials

From the September 2005 Review of Mid-Range
Accounting Software

Formerly known as Small Business Manager, Microsoft has geared Microsoft Business
Solutions Small Business Financials North America Edition to be a step up from
off-the-shelf small business programs, with modules for managing financials,
sales, purchasing, inventory, payroll and reporting that offer greater depth
than those programs, while maintaining a focus on the core needs of closely
held businesses. Additional add-on options for fixed asset management, payroll,
magnetic media, FRx Designer and Crystal Reports are also available for specific
industries, and the program integrates with Microsoft’s Office programs.
The program organizes tasks around three primary objectives: Financial Management,
Supply Chain Management and E-commerce. Small Business Financials includes Microsoft
SQL Server 2000 Desktop Engine (MSDE 2000) and is also compatible with Microsoft
SQL Server.

The program is available in a suite that combines core modules for GL, AP,
AR, Inventory, Sales Orders, Purchase Orders and Bank Reconciliation, or modules
can be purchased individually. The suite costs $995 for a single user and $400
for each additional seat, making the software cost for a five-user system $2,595.
Support costs 18 percent of the software cost.

Microsoft may get panned by the hardcore techies and certain government agencies
when it comes to some issues, but it generally receives rave reviews for the
usability of its products. The company has dominated the operating system and
office productivity market and, as such, people are accustomed to how their
programs work. Small Business Financials (SBF) is no exception, sporting an
intuitive interface with a traditional Windows look and feel. The system uses
horizontal menus across the top, including an icon bar for accessing the system’s
various modules, and houses a selection of tabs on the left for accessing customized
shortcuts and lists of customers, vendors and items. As with other Microsoft
programs, these menus are customizable and moveable, allowing users to set up
their desktop as they desire.

Setup of the program is very easy, with wizards for creating new companies,
configuring the chart of accounts, importing existing data from other applications
and setting up suppliers, customers and inventory. Templates for traditional
company types also expedite setup tasks. Most data-entry screens open into tabbed
subwindows that provide very intuitive navigation and grouping of related tasks
and strongly resemble data entry in Outlook, with calendar access when entering
dates and lookup lists as well as pull-down menus where beneficial. The system
provides overviews of key data through its SmartList function that can also
be customized, enabling users to keep tabs on back-ordered inventory, open POS
and AR issues, or whatever the user wishes it to track. The program was designed
with an open architecture, which means that there are a number of ways that
software developers can add-in features or otherwise tweak the application for
the needs of specific niche markets.

SBF’s core financial management modules include Banking, Financials, Fixed
Assets, Foundation Services, Purchasing, Reporting and Payroll. A full-time
audit trail and a variety of security options are available through the system.
SBF supports up to 13 fiscal periods and can manage an unlimited number of companies
with any number of subsidiary departments or entities. The program offers Excel-based
budgeting tools to help manage vendor relationships and inventory. Additionally,
it supports flexible account structures, intelligent transaction processing
and advanced financial reporting capabilities. The system maintains historical
information for an unlimited number of years.

SBF’s inventory functions allow multiple item types such as stock, kit,
labor and service, as well as the ability to set up user-defined fields. Costing
methods include FIFO, LIFO and average, and the system has the ability to assign
specific pricing to individual customers, back order management, real-time adjustments,
and integration with sales and purchasing processes. Items can be assigned lot
and serial numbers or users can group separate items sold as a single unit into
kits. The program includes a cashflow calendar that automatically provides current
and projected information, as well as forecasting future inflow and outflow.
Transactions can be posted either by batch or individually.

Integration with other Microsoft applications, specifically Excel and Word is
exceptional, generally with one-click access. The program also enables import
of data from Great Plains, QuickBooks and Peachtree. Information can be imported
or exported by other databases or applications utilizing ODBC.

Small Business Financials includes 150 customizable reports that include analysis
tools and other methods of monitoring key business financial statements and
planning reports. Users can also build cross-company financials using the FRx
add-on, and have enhanced reporting features with Crystal Reports. Reports output
to Excel, Word, HTML, *.PDF and plain text, and can be e-mailed from within
the system.

The program houses an excellent help utility with context-sensitive assistance
and right-click menu options, as well as system user guides and tutorials. An
online knowledgebase provides further information, and technical support is
available through subscription agreements. Initial online training is included
with the purchase of a service plan. The program is sold through Microsoft Certified
Partners who also provide service and training options.

Small Business Financials is built on the Great Plains database, so the product
can provide a stepping stone to that larger accounting suite if the business
grows to need more financial management capabilities. Its intuitive navigation
and integration with Excel and Word are outstanding.

2005 Overall Rating — 4.5 Stars