Choosing a new accounting software package is not a decision to take lightly. The smallest firms may be able to use QuickBooks or Peachtree or a similar program right off the shelf without much support. But for larger businesses, it's critical to bring your software-savvy accountant into the decision. There are some great programs available, but an enthusiastic salesman may convince even the sharpest businessperson that he or she can buy a program, push a few buttons, and pop out a set of balanced books, robust financial statements, and a loaf of home-baked bread.
The truth is, no accounting software is ready to use as-is. Decisions have to be made. And the bigger and more complex your business, the more decisions there are. At a minimum, the right system should:
- Mesh with your current business practices.
- Adapt to technological innovation.
- Scale to the changing size of your business.
- Integrate the various elements of your cash management program, such as accounts receivable, accounts payable, billing and inventory, in order to improve cash flow.
- Assist you in managing your assets by providing accurate timely data.
- Provide a snapshot of your business's financial condition as well as detailed reports for long-term strategic planning.
On the other hand, buying the wrong program could mean that the software will drive your business growth, rather than the other way around. Your CPA will recognize the features of an accounting program that will deliver the data and the answers you need when you need them. If your accountant is not familiar with various programs that are available, ask him or her to help you find a consultant with technological expertise. "It's not enough to know debits and credits," says Susan E. Bradley, a CPA with Tamiyasu, Smith, Horn and Braun, a professional corporation in Fresno, California. Bradley is also a Certified Information Technology Professional and a GIAC Security Essentials Certificate holder. According to Bradley, the best adviser is an accountant who not only knows the output a program provides, but also understands the tricks and shortcuts it offers. Business owners need process efficiencies, says Bradley. Your CPA can help pinpoint the program that will let you achieve efficiencies so that you can:Concentrate on business, not on record keeping. Get your money in the bank faster. Handle month-end and year-end closing duties more efficiently. Save money on tax preparation, because the year-end information you provide to your CPA will be cleaner. Don't be lured by the many bells and whistles offered by some programs. They may be helpful, or depending on your business, they could amount to little more than expensive toys. "You have to decide and balance between the needs of your accounting processes and your pocket book for affordable accounting software," says Bradley. An adviser who knows how you do business and how you could do business with a better program will be able to help you choose features that you will use and avoid the ones that may seem cool, but won't pay off. For example, some accounting programs include the ability to map out the most fuel-efficient and time-saving delivery routes. That's a great, resource-saving tool if delivery is a significant part of your business. Your accountant can help you determine which features are worth the cost for your business. Bradley urges business owners who are looking for new software to focus on these points:
- With your CPA, seek an accounting package with the elastic expandability that will keep up with your growth even if you plan to double or triple in size.
- Ensure that you have a system that saves transactions in a database with enough growth potential so that you will not soon end up looking for a more robust package.
- Choose a package that can work with multiple data systems, such as Access, SQLexpress, and full SQL.
"The bottom line," says Bradley, "is that it's not just about the software, it's also about the accounting processes that are important to establish. It's about growth factors." An outsider who knows accounting and knows software has the advantage of perspective. Distance from your firm, combined with the experience of working with other clients makes your CPA able to recognize the patterns and practices that will help you make your business processes more efficient.