Not surprisingly, one of the first sessions on Day 2 of Microsoft's Small Business Summit was a Small Business Accounting (SBA) Demo presented by Larry Garcia, a Small Business Technology Specialist with Microsoft. In the light of the recently released AMI-Partners report looking at the impact of Microsoft's SBA on the small business accounting market, I was really looking forward to seeing an expert put it through its paces.
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The webcast, which was conducted using Microsoft's Live Meeting, was essentially an interactive PowerPoint presentation with audio. At least I could read the slides this way. And the issue with audio feedback totally vanished for me, but I gather from some of the questions and comments I heard/saw in that session and others, I was lucky. Live Meeting also has a great feature which lets questions be submitted during the presentation and be answered privately, so at least I knew my questions were being answered. The session also featured some application sharing, which was very useful in seeing what SBA really looked liked.
The key sales point of SBA were highlighted early and often. These include tight integration with Microsoft Office 2003, wizards to help guide users through setup and streamlined, one-click functionality for many common processes. Much was made of the ability to easily import and export data, not just between Office and SBA, but also between other small business accounting software, most notably QuickBooks.
I asked about integration with older versions of Office, and it was suggested that I should upgrade because the integration was so tight with Office 2003, rather than waiting for Office 12 (or whatever it is being called these days). This was a disappointing answer, since, having waited this long to upgrade, I don't see any compelling reason to do so with Office 12 perpetually on the horizon. The way I see it, I will pay to upgrade and the next week or month, the new version will come out. Nevertheless, the implication was that if I was going to use SBA, I needed to be on Office 2003.
There were some interesting features, including the ability to create inventory kits, which are groups of products that are frequently sold together, integration with Microsoft's point-of-sale (POS) applications and a utility for exporting payroll to ADP. The simplicity of exporting data into Excel spreadsheets and producing reports was also interesting, especially since I've wrestled with both of those functions myself in other applications. There seemed to be some features designed for the needs of accountants, however, these were not discussed in any detail during the session.
AMI-Partners predicts that spending on accounting software by small businesses in the United States will grow by more than 5 percent CAGR through 2009. Based on the demo, it is likely that Microsoft will capture a portion of that market, especially those who rely heavily on Office applications.
âAccounting software is the first strategic business application that many small firms purchase, making it an important on-ramp for business applications, which need to integrate with the accounting solution, and a first step towards higher end financial solutions,â Laurie McCabe, author of the report, and AMI-Partners' Vice President for SMB Insights and Solutions said announcing the release of the report. âIntuit has long been the undisputed leader in the small business accounting space with its QuickBooks product line. But Microsoft, which has a solid base in the mid-market financials arena, wants to build volume in the small business accounting market.â
The Small Business Summit session was interesting and made me want to know more, however, it really didn't provide enough information to make an informed choice among small business accounting software applications. For that, perhaps the AMI-Partners report, which examines:
- Current adoption, plans, trends and brand preferences for accounting solutions in the U.S. small business market, based on AMI 2005-2006 U.S. small Business survey data;
- Comprehensive synopses of Intuit's and Microsoft's small business accounting and related products and services, marketing strategies and channel programs;
- Analysis of each vendor's strengths and weaknesses in the small business accounting space; and
- Short and long-term perspectives about the impact of Microsoft's entrance into the market
More information about the AMI-Partners report is available at www.ami-partners.com
Written by Jay Hammond, Managing Editor, AccountingWEB.com