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Sage Software — CPA Practice Manager

From the October 2005 Review of Mid-Range
Accounting Software

CPA Practice Manager includes time and expense entry, client and project management
and a large selection of pre-sorted lists for reporting. The software was designed
for mid to large-size firms, but can easily be adapted for small firm use. Many
firms will benefit from the numerous means to access information, though the
interface may feel cumbersome at first.

Wanda Hooper is the office manager at Modesto, California-based Grimbleby
Coleman CPAs, Inc. (,
a 30-employee full-service accounting firm that has used this vendor’s
practice management and accounting software for at least 20 years, from Unix
to DOS and now Windows. “We have been a beta test site and worked with
the programmers on features to enhance or add, most of which have been done,”
she said. “This was before they became a part of Sage, but many of those
people are still with the company, which I feel shows it is good and solid.”

Hooper says the program has good reporting for managing their firm, is user
friendly with many capabilities, and offers great project management features.
She advises prospective users to put a lot of thought into service code structures
if starting new and to plan the transition or implementation at a time when
it is not busy in order to learn the program and train staff: “I highly
recommend using the Sage training programs and especially having anyone doing
the billing attend training in this area as it has so many features and shortcuts
that are not obvious to speed you through keying billing. It takes time to learn
it all, so be very patient and have staff share their findings with others.”

Ease of Use/Flexibility — 4 Stars
At first glance, CPA Practice Manager is a very simple program with a basic
splash-screen menu from which to access all features. However, each item available
on the menu links to an in-depth series of interfaces for handling time entry,
generating invoices and statements, looking up client information, and managing
project schedules and budgets. These interfaces are less intuitive and are not
resizable, which is more than an annoyance when menu item labels are wider than
the column available for their display. (The company noted that all forms in
the upcoming Sage Practice Management, due out in early 2006, are resizable.)

Time entry is extremely easy, and timers can be set directly from the time
and expense entry tab. Multiple timers can be set up and run simultaneously.
Appointments can be set with the Appointment interface, and each new appointment
can be tracked in six different categories. Notes can be kept with each appointment,
and color-coding is available for the different meeting types. Data is updated
in real-time across a SQL server connection. Hundreds of lists, sort/filter
methods, and reports are available, and the database appears to be quite robust.
Firms that collect and enter data about their clients and projects will have
access to a wealth of information over time that can be readily accessed and

Client codes can be customized, making it unnecessary to have fully sequential
listings of clients. Billing codes are created under specific user categories,
such as Audit, Tax and Expenses, and subcategories can be created beneath that.
Improvement is necessary to create intuitive forms for handling billing processes
when compared to major competitors in this review. However, functionally, the
product does support multiple methods of time entry, approval of time from multiple
parties and a bill review process. No limits were found for the number of clients,
timekeepers or projects. The “Quick Setup Guide” provides a roadmap
for firms to follow when installing the software, though the process itself
is quite extensive.

Scalability/Stability — 3.5 Stars
CPA Practice Manager is designed to be robust enough to handle larger firms.
Sage Software offers a Time & Billing Edition for smaller firms that do
not require the functionality of a full practice management system. The SQL
database back-end has been known for high stability. Dedicated firms with rigorous
training will be up and running in a matter of days, though only with extensive
planning and preparation. Luckily, Sage Software provides multiple training
options for firms to quicken the learning curve of a comprehensive firm management
tool. As noted earlier, Sage Practice Management, a new practice management
product developed using VB.NET technology is scheduled to be released in early

Productivity Tools/Features — 3.5 Stars
CPA Practice Manager includes many of the standard features for calendaring,
note taking and project management. Employee schedules can be viewed in the
standard daily/weekly/monthly/yearly settings, and separate due-date and free/busy
views are also available. The due-date view provides relevant information about
each task with the ability to change date listings and status of each entry.
A timesheet lookup provides both the timekeeper and management with an overview
of how the employee has spent their time during the specified reporting period.
A report is available to assist in scheduling multiple employees, and an in/out
log allows employees to notify others of their present status around the office,
which is a really useful feature provided employees are honest. I noted that
users can possibly enter nonexistent times such as “Back At: 4:65 p.m.”

A notes section is provided for recording correspondence as notes or items
for follow up, with the option of tagging the item as a marketing tickler. Each
record can denote if it refers to an e-mail, phone call, fax or other contact,
though no ability to append files exists, which would be useful for scanned
faxes or the original e-mail. The contact manager includes numerous lists regarding
referrals, leads and business affiliates. This can be a valuable tool for those
firms that provide training for local businesses or regularly attract potential
clients at fairs and conferences.
Certain features such as integration with Palm-enabled devices allow for remote
time entry, and a web time entry product is available as an add-on module for
remote time entry. Remote installations are possible, and a basic export/import
process allows for the sharing of data between home and branch offices.

In the way of document management, invoices and statements can be archived
without the use of any additional tools, but for advanced document management
you’ll need to purchase add-on modules. Research tools are also not included.
Project Management, however, is rather thorough. Templates for projects can
be created, and teams can be set up for assignments. Customizable fields are
available for projects, giving management the ability to better define projects
and associated tasks. A wide range of status-tracking labels can be assigned,
and lists are again available for sorting and viewing ongoing projects. New
projects can be added by means of the Setup Projects listings.

Reporting — 4.5 Stars
A custom report writer is available and provides the option to create tabular
and two-column reports. Overall, these reports can be tailored to provide very
specific information, though the formatting may not be the best seen among the
products in this review. Luckily, the software has a large selection of useful
standard reports that can be accessed from the reports feature. Multi-level
sorting capabilities are provided. Management reports can be used to gain information
about profitability, billing status, project status and due-date monitoring.
Firms with devoted marketing staff will appreciate the section devoted entirely
to marketing reports. As well, Hooper notes that it’s “easy to export
anything to Excel, and databases can be pulled into Access for special reporting.”

Support/Help/Updates — 4.5 Stars
In speaking with support representatives, the company is listening to customer
feedback and incorporating such into its upcoming Sage Practice Management product.
This product is expected to provide a new look and feel for complete Practice
Management software, the newest application in the Sage lineup, and will address
custom reporting with a new tool based on Crystal Reports. The company has always
been known to provide useful support and regular updates for its products. The
built-in Help system is antiquated and provides limited assistance, but the
newest version of help tools will be available in the forthcoming Sage Practice
Management product. No documentation was provided for this review, though the
Quick Setup guide is included in Help, and is an extremely thorough manual.

Integration — 4.5 Stars
A variety of tools has been integrated into CPA Practice Manager. Palm handhelds
can be used for remote time entry, and Outlook can be synchronized with the
contact manager. CPA Practice Manager is one part of the CPA Software suite
that includes write-up software, document management, payroll, accounts payable,
and accounts receivable. CCH ProSystem fx Tax can be integrated as a tax tool,
and bridges are available to Lacerte and ProSeries. Integration is also available
with all of the MAS products and Abra.

Relative Value
CPA Practice Manager is priced at $230 per seat for SQL. Larger firms with multiple
offices looking for a robust solution for timekeeping will find this product
to be a potential solution. Contact and marketing management tools are both
strong points in this package. Regrettably, scheduling (a key element in a practice
management product) is significantly weaker. If your company is looking for
a powerful database and a vendor with a strong reputation, it would be wise
to watch for the 2006 release of Sage Practice Management.

2005 Overall Rating — 4 Stars