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Microsoft — Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting 2006

From the June/July 2006 Review of
Small Business Accounting Systems

It’s finally here. Microsoft has made a few forays into the small business
market in the past, but this time they may have gotten it right — the
future will be the judge of that. Microsoft Small Business Accounting 2006 (SBA)
is offered as an expansion to the software vendor’s Microsoft Office suite
of products, integrating with most of the primary components of the suite, including
Excel, Word and Outlook. The program is geared toward companies with up to 25
employees, with support for up to five concurrent users. A single-user license
of the program costs about $149 at retail stores such as Staples and CompUSA,
with one free year of full technical support.

An upgrade of the Office suite called Microsoft Office Small Business Management
Edition 2006 costs about $499. The bundled package includes Small Business Accounting
plus the latest versions of Excel, Word, Access, Publisher, Outlook, PowerPoint
and Business Contact Manager for Outlook. Professional accountants who join
Microsoft’s free Professional Accountants’ Network receive a free
copy of SBA, with one year of free support and 27 hours of CPE credits.

Ease of Use/Basic Functionality — 5 Stars
Microsoft has long been the standard bearer for interface design. SBA follows
this tradition, using an interface that strongly resembles Outlook with several
panels for accessing various data. A left panel provides tabs for the program’s
key modules. When selecting a function area, such as Company, Customers, Vendors,
Employees, Banking and Reports, the program provides icons and links in a workflow
diagram in the main area of the screen, allowing access to features and tasks
related to that function area. For the Company tab, this includes a graphical
overview of financial indicators, unfinished tasks, cash flow and items needing
attention. Similarly, the other function areas provide overviews of those areas.
All of the function dashboards and the data they show can be customized to provide
user-specific links and functions.

Data-entry screens are very user friendly, with drop-down lists that aid in
selection of clients, accounts, employees and many other fields, as well as
drilldown report access. The program includes a simple setup wizard that guides
users through selection of chart of account templates and company, vendor and
customer data entry. All program features are very easy to access and utilize,
with intuitive design features and the familiarity of a Microsoft Office program
further easing program operation.

Modules/Customization/Expandability — 4 Stars
SBA’s general accounting functions include GL, AP and AR, while additional
functions include inventory, employee management, job cost tracking, payroll,
and customer and vendor management. The system uses a traditional double-entry
method and allows closing out of periods, with further protection offered by
a full-time audit trail. The program has excellent vendor and customer data
screens that offer the ability to store deep levels of data that include account
histories, financial summaries and the ability to add custom fields.
The program’s banking features have simple checkwriting and printing functions,
as well as the ability to use electronic banking and reconciliation. Microsoft
also offers add-on services for credit card acceptance.

The inventory system offers the ability to create and track multi-part items
and kits, but only supports FIFO and is somewhat limited on pricing levels and
doesn’t support serialization or subcategories for items. Similarly, the
program’s payroll system offers barely the basics for those wanting to
manage their own payroll, but SBA integrates with ADP, which offers various
service level options. A variety of third-party add-ons are available to enhance
inventory, billing and checkwriting functions and to give more vertical customization
for construction, VARs, retail, wholesale and other industries. There are no
higher versions of the program to move to when growth requires more than five
concurrent users or a more robust system. However, migration tools are available
to ease the transition to Microsoft Dynamics, the mid-range Microsoft accounting

Reporting & Management Functions — 4 Stars
SBA offers a decent supply of pre-built traditional reports such as balance
sheets, P&L, trial balance, transaction details, cash flow, sales, AR and
AP aging, as well as a variety of specialized reports for customer, vendor,
inventory, employee time and banking. Reports offer drilldown capabilities and
can be easily output to Word and Excel, making customization or reports and
client correspondence letters very simple and enabling the e-mailing of invoices
and reports directly from the program.

Audit Trail, Integrity & Accountant Control Tools — 4.5 Stars
SBA maintains a full-time audit trail that cannot be turned off, monitoring
all transaction entries and changes, noting user, time and data changed. Security
is also available, enabling management to limit access to specific areas such
as payroll, financial reporting or any other area of the system. Period closing
is supported.

Import/Export/Integration — 5 Stars
SBA was designed as a Microsoft Office product, so integration with Word, Excel,
Outlook and Access are probably the best on the market for accounting systems.
The mail-merge function simplifies creation of customer letters and envelope
generation, and outstanding Excel integration is a boost with list export. Customer
and vendor management functions are also enhanced by the Outlook integration.
The program can import company data from QuickBooks 2004 and earlier releases,
and can also pull data in Excel, Access, XML and text formats. As noted earlier,
the system integrates with ADP for payroll services.

Help & Support Options — 4.5 Stars
As with any Microsoft program, SBA houses an excellent built-in Help utility
replete with right-click menus, assistance panels and query tools. The program
also comes with an actual printed user’s manual. Microsoft is currently
offering one year of full technical support, which includes live phone assistance
as well as an overwhelmingly comprehensive online support network.

Relative Value — 4.5 Stars
Considering its price point and capabilities, SBA is probably better compared
to the mid-level versions from the other major small business accounting vendors.
It offers strong core accounting features and a full-time audit trail, along
with outstanding integration with Word and Excel, but reporting options are
middle-of-the road and the system is still not as feature-rich in some of its
other modules, specifically inventory, employee management and payroll. It is
very simple to learn and use, with design elements that only Microsoft could
develop and the instant familiarity of an Office product. The program can support
up to five concurrent users.

2006 Overall Rating: 4.5 Stars