domenica 18 settembre 2011

Mid-Market Accounting Systems

I was following a threaded conversation the other day regarding what products a firm should be looking at as they migrated off of a small business accounting system.  Virtually all of the suggestions pertained to what I would call full ERP systems that large companies typically evaluate and which cost in excess of $50,000.  I think it’s unfortunate that many firms (and consultants) automatically assume that an ERP system is their only option.  In actual fact there are any number of very good middle-market products that should be evaluated.

What happens when a firm requires more than a small business package but really doesn’t need the power, complexity and price of higher end systems? Actually there are any number of products from which they can select.  Some products are very well known.  Others might require an introduction.  The fact that they may not be as well known as others does not mean they should be dismissed without further analysis. 

Without doubt, the single most striking feature of many middle market products is that they make source code available to users and developers.  Source code availability has led to a large number of industry specific applications that can make these products very attractive to firms with a limited budget, but somewhat complex functional requirements.

Having said all of this, how do you select the most appropriate product? The selection process is no different than selecting any other accounting or ERP system.  You must create as comprehensive a needs definition as required, and then make sure that the products you select for more intensive examination meet your critical needs as well as the broadest range of needs.  Finally you must look at your finalists in detail. 

Don’t take other people’s recommendations regarding ease of use.  They don’t have to use the system, you do.  Look at these systems.  Determine whether they will be a friend or foe.  While this might sound rather melodramatic, it’s true nevertheless.  These products (as well as any other accounting or ERP system) differ widely in terms of menu structure, terminology, processing sequences, and features.  If you select a system which is perceived as difficult by one or more people, their frustrations with the system will promote that system to the rank of foe.

As a group these products are similar, and yet dissimilar.  Menu structures vary from module oriented to process oriented.  Some products offer sophisticated functionality and report writers.  Others provide a basic set of accounting features, relying instead on third party products to round out their feature set.  Some have the ability to compete feature for feature with high end products.  Others have been designed as stepping stones to a higher end product. 

As a group, middle market products offer sufficient diversity and power that users should not discount them, even if they believe that their needs are complex.  In actual fact, it is very likely that these products offer more potential than higher priced alternatives.  The only real difference between these products and those costing significantly more is the fact that these additional features might be standard in the higher end products while add-ons in this class of products. 

What is a conclusion we might draw from this analysis then? If you require a more robust set of features, you can purchase a high end product which might provide what you require plus additional features which you do not.   The alternative is to purchase a product that has a solid set of standard features, all of which you need, plus purchase specific additional features to bring that product up to your requirements.  I might opt for the latter, but the final decision must rest with you.


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