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Review of High-End Accounting Systems — 2006

By David Cieslak, CPA.CITP & Bob Gaby, CPA.CITP

From the December 2006 Issue

This year’s group of high-end accounting packages represents some of
the very best, most adaptable and customizable solutions available for mid-market
companies requiring systems capable of growing alongside their own businesses.
These products boast an extensive selection of integrated modules that go well
beyond the standard accounting, distribution and manufacturing modules, combining
rich feature sets with well designed, efficient and user-friendly interfaces.
With infrastructure often as the only limitation, these systems scale to handle
high-transaction volume environments and hundreds of users working across multiple
locations. While each of the systems reviewed can be used for a variety of businesses,
we have tried to identify the industries where these packages set themselves
apart from their competition.

Over the last year, these high-end accounting systems have not only added
features but have significantly improved the user experience by adding tighter
integration to Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Fixed Asset, Payroll
and Human Resource Management systems. New powerful business intelligence tools
and dashboards add to the experience by offering end users an almost infinite
number of ways to easily view and analyze the enormous amounts of data contained
inside these accounting systems.

As each of these products has matured, more third-party solutions have become
available to provide complete robust vertical solutions for businesses that
require specialized service management, rental, manufacturing, project accounting
and job costing solutions. In addition, high-end features such as available
to promise, soft and hard inventory allocations, deferred revenue tracking,
vendor performance tracking, matching tolerances for purchase order receiving,
multi-lingual screens, intercompany accounting and consolidations continue to
set these systems apart from their mid-range peers.

All of the products reviewed here provide a variety of tools, including source
code in some instances, which allow functionality to be extended through customization
or integration with third-party applications. A few of the vendors offer programmatic
access to the respective application’s business objects through Visual
Basic. This powerful approach allows for customization or integration that is
not invasive to the native programming code, provides some level of upgrade
protection, and also ensures the integrity of data added to the database.

To provide consistency among the reviews, the following areas were evaluated
for each package:
Modules/Scalability — This section breaks down the available
modules as well as any other significant features that merit highlighting. This
section also mentions new modules and enhancements that have recently been added.

Usability/User Experience & Security — This section
evaluates the overall user experience in using the software, from the menus
to transaction entry. A requirement for any system in this class is the ability
to tailor workflow to meet a user’s needs and how that impacts the overall
user experience. As expected, each of the systems uses some form of role-based

Extensibility — This section examines the availability
of third-party vertical solutions and integration to solutions that extend the
product’s base functionality to include payroll, human resource management,
fixed assets, CRM, Point of Sale and other applications. All but one of the
solutions reviewed has a moderate to extensive list of add-ons. While the quantity
of available add-ons is certainly a plus, our evaluation also focuses on the
quality of the integration with these additional modules.

Integration/Customization — The ability to tailor,
customize and integrate high-end accounting solutions with other critical applications
is key. Each of the systems we reviewed provides extensive tools to accomplish
this task. This section describes import and export capabilities, screen customization,
integration, and custom programming tools available for these systems.

Reporting — Each product reviewed provides a large
variety of quality reports. Several provide built-in custom report writers that
let the user create reports based on specific formats and needs. Other systems
include Business Objects’ Crystal Reports, which has become the standard
for many mid-market and high-end accounting systems. Financial statement report
writing tools vary from product to product, and each offers a dashboard of some
sort as well as a variety of business intelligence tools.

Support, Training & Help — This section evaluates
each program’s online Help system, as well as the availability and methods
of product support and training. Reasonably priced classroom or web-based training
should be available for new users at convenient times and locations.

Overall Assessment — This section looks at the strengths
and challenges of each of the products reviewed. Every system will excel in
some industries and fall short in others. For that reason, we have attempted
to identify the best industry fit for each of the systems and assess the quality
and value of the system based on its best fit.

In closing, the reader is reminded that, while software reviews provide valuable
insight to a system’s features, strengths and weaknesses, it should never
be the final authority for selecting a system. For that reason, a thorough needs
analysis and system evaluation is absolutely essential for selecting an ERP


We would like to give special thanks to the membership and leadership of
the Information Technology Alliance (ITA) for partnering with us on a survey
that provided feedback on the accounting systems included in this year’s
review of high-end accounting programs, as well as insight into the partner
programs of many major accounting software developers.

As the premier association of technology advisors to mid-market and small
businesses, the ITA’s membership includes CPAs, EAs, CIOs, CTOs, value-added
resellers, specialty technology consultants, and the developers of technology
products and services. By partnering with them, we can pass on part of their
extensive knowledge and experience to our readers, providing additional
insight into the strengths and weaknesses of these systems. Along this line,
each product review includes a section that lists some of the specific “competitive
advantages” and “competitive disadvantages” that were
cited by ITA members as well as areas for improvement if noted. More data
and information about the ITA
survey can be viewed here

Once again, we appreciate the assistance of the ITA professionals who
participated in this survey, providing us with valuable knowledge that we
have been able to pass on to you, our readers.

~~ Gregory L. LaFollette, CPA.CITP, Executive Editor



Intacct Corporation —
Intacct On-Demand Financial Application Suite
Intacct On-Demand Financial Applications are the
first Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) SAS70 Type II certified financial management,
supply chain management, business intelligence and project management
suite available on the Web. According to its website, Intacct is available
in three versions — Intacct Express, Intacct Small Business and
Intacct Enterprise — for a monthly usage fee. A review of the Help
facility reveals
a fourth version designed for accounting firms called E-Practice. E-Practice
appears to include some additional tools for practice management.
Microsoft — Microsoft
Dynamics GP
Microsoft Dynamics GP (formerly known as Microsoft
Great Plains) continues to be one of the flagship products in Microsoft’s
mid-market accounting lineup. And version 9.0 of Dynamics GP further strengthens
its already rich feature set and builds on its strong position in the
marketplace. At the same time, Microsoft is working to position all users
of its various mid-market products for the successor product, simply referred
to as “Dynamics,” due to roll out over the course of the next
few years.

Sage Software, Inc. —
Sage Accpac 500 ERP
Sage Accpac 500 ERP (enterprise resource planning)
is one of the most powerful members of Sage Software’s mid-market
business management systems portfolio. The system includes a full suite
of modules including core accounting, distribution, project accounting,
and a number of enhancements called “Accpac Options.”
Sage Software, Inc. —
Sage MAS 500 ERP 7.0
Sage Software MAS 500 ERP targets the upper mid-market
space and represents the most powerful member of Sage Software’s
strong lineup of mid-market accounting solutions, which also includes
Sage Accpac ERP, Sage Pro ERP, Sage MAS 90 and MAS 200 ERP, and Sage PFW
ERP. First released in 1997, the system has grown to a full suite of modules
that includes distribution, manufacturing and project accounting.
SouthWare Innovations, Inc.
— SouthWare Excellence Series, Rev.12
SouthWare Excellence Series is a comprehensive
product with an impressive feature set that incorporates over 20 years
of development and refinement. SouthWare’s development philosophy
seeks to continuously enhance the mature product with recent technology.
Revision 12, released earlier this year, focuses on helping people perform
their various roles in a more efficient and simple manner.

2006 Review of High-End Accounting
Systems — Executive
Whether a small one- or two-person professional practice
or one of the Big 4, time and expense management systems provide firms with
much more than just the ability to bill clients appropriately.