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How Microsoft Is Going To Win The SMB Accounting Battle

(Disclaimer:  I am part of the Small Business Accounting beta – but all information provided in this post is publicly available from both Microsoft’s web site & various technology ‘first looks’ reports)

If you haven’t already heard, Microsoft is prepping a new accounting package aimed at businesses with up to 25 employees.  Small Business Accounting as it is called will be a key part of a new Microsoft Office edition tentatively scheduled to be released later this year – Microsoft Office for Small Business Management

The SMB Accounting market is pretty fierce, with several key players releasing new versions annually.  With Microsoft being the new kid on the block coming into the small end of the market, you may initially wonder how they’re going to compete against entrenched products like Intuit’s QuickBooks & Best Software’s Peachtree Accounting.  Admittedly, Microsoft has an uphill battle in front of them in this aspect – but Small Business Accounting is going to be a much needed blast of fresh air into this market.

So just how is Microsoft going to win the battle for keeping small business’ books?  Well, there are actually two answers to this question.  First and foremost, they’re giving small business users something they aren’t used to having:  native ODBC access to their financial data.  No proprietary data format, no closed database schema, no having to spend extra money on a cumbersome 3rd party product to access their data.  Since Small Business Accounting uses Microsoft SQL Data Engine (MSDE) for its data store, users have the ability to access their financials from any ODBC compliant application, allowing for advanced reporting and analysis using the entire Office suite, including Excel, Word & Access.  IMHO this in itself is huge.

The second part to this answer is that Microsoft is giving Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) the tools necessary to quickly and easily build a wide array of 3rd party solutions for Small Business Accounting – from add-ins that operate within the Small Business Accounting application itself, to industry-specific LOB applications that directly integrate with Small Business Accounting – allowing the 3rd party solution to focus on the industry-specific stuff while depending on SBA for the accounting end.  So how does this compare to what is available on the market now?  It blows it away – plain and simple.  Sure, Intuit provides a Developer SDK – but it’s very low level, requiring the developer to code most of their own functions for manipulating the data.  Best doesn’t provide any sort of SDK for Peachtree, but MultiWare, Inc.’s PAWCOM has long since been considered the best solution available for accessing and integrating with Peachtree.  PAWCOM is a top-notch product, but the one major disadvantage it has compared to Small Business Accounting is that it is a 3rd party product.  Microsoft’s Small Business Accounting team has built extensibility & accessiblity into the product from the ground up, with a complete .net solution  – with key business logic functions exposed for developers and ISVs to leverage.

The combination of open data access and ease of integration for ISVs is going to be the primary catalyst for Small Business Accounting.  ISVs will be more likely to develop add-ons and vertical market solutions for SBA than other accounting applications because with SBA being based on open technologies such as .Net and SQL, ISVs will have a diminished learning curve.  That combined with the presence of already exposed business logic functions will result in a significantly shorter development time thus resulting in lower development costs which in turn makes their solution more profitable.   Users already familiar with Office will appreciate the familiar, intuitive interface.  Admittedly, many users may not realize the benefit of having and open data store, but I would think that most advisors (accountants and IT partners) would bring this to the small business owner’s attention.

One things remains certain:  whether you love or hate QuickBooks or Peachtree (or other SMB accounting applications), the introduction of Microsoft’s Small Business Accounting is going see a flurry of competition that the market hasn’t really seen in a very long time – which can only be good for the small business customer.

For more info on Microsoft’s Small Business Accounting / Microsoft Office for Small Business Management:

Office for Small Business Management:

PCWorld.com – First Look: Microsoft Small Business Accounting:

The .NET Show: Small Business Accounting Platform:

Microsoft Small Business Accounting:

Hey all you Peachtree users . . .

You guys know all about PAWCOM from Multiware, Inc. – right?

If you’re using Peachtree (or have clients using Peachtree) and you want / need to extend it’s functionality, PAWCOM is the only way to go.  So what is it?  PAWCOM is a COM interface that let’s you connect to your Peachtree data from any COM-enabled development environment.  I’ve used this for one large on-going project with a client who had industry-specific invoicing / tracking needs, but they weren’t impressed with any of the low-end industry-specific solutions available.  We used Access 2002 to build them a custom invoicing / tracking application that uses PAWCOM to connect to their Peachtree data.  The Access solution looks up customers, inventory items, etc. from Peachtree – so there is only one set of master lists that has to be maintained.  Furthermore, all transactions are written seemlessly into the Peachtree sales journal.  Cool, huh?

And if you’re looking for any other reasons to use Peachtree, how about the fact that it runs just great in user mode without any registry hacks (unlike another popular product that shall remain nameless) . . .    :^)

New blog link added

For those of you who actually visit my blog via a web browser, you’ll notice that I’ve added a new link for Aaron Margosis’ blog.  Why should you be reading Aaron’s blog (if you aren’t already)?  Because it deals exclusively with running with least privileges on the desktop, which is one of my big goals for all of my clients over the next few months.  (Although I have to admit that all of my clients running Peachtree Accounting 2004 already are running with least privilege . . . another reason I prefer Peachtree to QuickBooks . . . no reg hacks necessary – it just works.  There you go Susan & Anne – want to light a fire under the Intuit gang?  Tell ’em that apparently Peachtree employes real developers who understand security, since they understand running under least privilege and encrypting credit card & social security numbers natively . . .   ;^)

Anyway – if you want to check out Aaron’s blog, you can find it here:

Or point your aggregator here for the rss feed:

Another new category . . .

Another new post category has appeared – Peachtree – which will contain ramblings about Peachtree Accounting for Windows.

So where did this come from?  Well here’s a little tidbit of information for ya:  right before I graduated from college, I determined that Corporate America wasn’t for me (let’s just say I have a hard time keeping opinions to myself ;^).  Throughout most of my college years, I had single-handedly computerized my aunt & uncle’s diesel repair business.  I talked to them and secured a job so I could at least eat until I decided what exactly I wanted to do, then called up my recruiter and told her that no, I would not be taking the job at IBM (in Rochester, MN).  Of course, my mom about fell over when I told her that I opted for $12/hr over a starting salary of $38,500 + benefits.

Well, I ended up becoming the Controller or the family business (yes, I was a bean counter for several years) – and was generally known to be a pain-in-the-ass because of the level of detail / paper trail that I demanded.  Eventually everyone figured out that it was a whole hell of a lot easier to just do it my way from the beginning, otherwise I was going to make their lives hell until it was my way (proof that I was right about not belonging in Corporate America ;^)  I’m quite proud of the level of accountability I was able to obtain & maintain.  We used Peachtree for the simple fact that when we were deploying the first network back in late ’96, QuickBooks didn’t have a network ready version – only a single person could be in the company file at a time, and that just wasn’t an option.  Peachtree had just come out with a network version, so I went that direction.

For the 18 months before this, I had my aunt using QuickBooks to do very basic tracking, which was limited to A/R (invoices were still hand-written, so she maually entered the customer, invoice no, date & net amount simply so we could get control of receivables) and I had her keeping the checkbook register on their as well.  Since the extent of my bookkeeping application experience up to this point was with QuickBooks, implementing Peachtree was a bit of a learning curve.  Luckily I had taken accounting in high school, so I had a rudimentary understanding of debits & credits, how the journals related to the G/L, etc, but it was still an uphill battle for the first 6 months.  However, once I got past that initial curve, you couldn’t pay me to go back to QuickBooks.  Eww, yuck!  I had a handful of small businesses that I helped on a quarterly basis to make sure everything was in place and then prepare their quarterly reports.  Several of those were running QuickBooks and I dreaded having to deal with that software.  Now, I’ll admit that the last version I was exposed to was either QBPro 2000 or 2001 (can’t remember) – but at that time there were still things that drove me batty.  Basically they assumed that you’re stupid and made you jump through their hoops ‘for your protection’ – and damn did that burn my arse.  One example was the inability to do a single massive journal entry to adjust year-end account balances (which we usually get from our accountants for things like depreciation, etc.).  Nope, you’d key that thing in, only for QB to tell you that ‘you can’t use xxx account and xxx account in the same entry’   WHAT?!?    It balances, and it’s from the accountant.  No, you had to set up a clearing account and post each individual account adjustment to the clearing account.  Nothing like drastically increasing the data-entry requirements.  Argh.    The other area that constantly burned me was payroll.  Those of you that have done payroll accounting know that you almost always have a discrepancy at the end of the quarter, due mostly to fractions of cents, because each pay period your taxes are calculated on that period’s gross wages, whereas at the end of the quarter, the tax liability on your 941 is calculated on the total gross for the quarter, and you’re bound to be off a little (for me it was usually around a dime) from the calculated value and the amount you actually withheld.  As a matter of principal, I always paid the lower amount (which was almost always the calculated value).  So when I posted the FICA deposit check, that debited my Federal Payroll Taxes Payable liability account, but since I was paying the lower amount, the effectively left a dime in that liability account.  No biggie – just post a quick General Journal entry moving that dime from the tax liability account to a rounding account and you’re good to go.  That is as long as you weren’t using QuickBooks.  I’m giving Intuit the benefit of the doubt that they may have fixed this in recent versions, but at the time they had a wizard-type interface to pay payroll taxes and even complete the 941.  The problem was that QuickBooks expected you to pay the amount that was withheld.  There was no way to edit / adjust this.  So when it hit the end of the quarter and the 941 indicated that the customer owed X, QuickBooks didn’t care – they made you send the amount they showed you owed.  As a result, you often ended up entering a fractions of cents adjustment on the 941 to ADD TO THE AMOUNT OF TAXES YOU HAD TO PAY.   Nope, I definitley didn’t like this. 

The other PITA was Unemployment.  Again, this may have been fixed in recent versions as it has been a couple years, but at the time there was no unemployment tax report in QuickBooks.  For those of you not familiar with unemployment, employers in most states pay two different unemplyment tax – Federal Unemployment & State Unemployment.  Federal Unemployment is only taxed on the first $7,000 that the employee earns.  State Unemployment naturally varies from state to state.  In 2004 in Iowa, state unemployment is taxed on the first $19,600 that the employee earns.  Since there is a cap on this tax, you need to know what the employee’s taxable earnings are each quarter, which QuickBooks didn’t provide.  We ended up keeping this in a separate Excel spreadsheet for the customers using QuickBooks so we knew taxable wages for each employee so we could complete the state form.  How did Peachtree handle this?  A simple report.  Pick your Unemployment Tax (State / Federal) and pick your quarter, then you got:

Employee Name      SSN        Gross Wages         Taxable Wages        Exempt Wages    

Which was the exact information we needed.  And don’t even get me started on inventory.  As of QuickBooks Premier 2003, the only costing method was Average!  Come on, where’ LIFO/FIFO?!  How can you do decent inventory accounting with an average costing method?  I’ll concede that QuickBooks has more gratuitous bells & whistles (Peachtree 2004 was the first version that allowed for emailing of forms from within the program).  But I am completely confident that I can get better records and have a better paper trail with Peachtree.  I guess I feel more comfortable and secure with my double-entry journals & general ledger.