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Business + Management: Marty Mcghie

Making Business-Software Choices

From accounting and front-end software to tools for the back end.




This month, we'll examine three general software areas:
accounting software, front-end software, and back-end software.
Keep in mind that we're discussing business software here, not
graphics-production software. It's somewhat misleading to consider
these three types of software as separate and distinct products
(and buying decisions). Actually, all three areas need to be
compatible with one another in order to create an effective software
solution. It would be very cumbersome, for example, to have a
fantastic database application
built to track prospective
sales, but have it not interface
with your customer and
sales-order database.

Number crunching
Accounting software is probably
the easiest area to find a
solution for your specific
business needs. A score of
accounting-software options
are available, including wellknown
products such as Peachtree, MAS 90, and Platinum for Windows
(all from Best Software), as well as Microsoft Great Plains and

No matter which accounting software you choose, it should
perform the basics: book sales into accounts receivable, record
accounts payable, cut checks, process payroll, produce financial
statements out of a general ledger package, and so on.
The level of accounting software you invest in should depend
upon your company's needs. That is, the amount of transactions
you're processing and the level of detail you may desire from
your accounting software will help you to determine how robust
the software needs to be.

Be wary, however, of over-buying”?don't get trapped into
purchasing expensive accounting software because it can “do
so many wonderful things.” High-end accounting software can
be very expensive, so it's better to buy a package that will provide
you with only the information you truly need.

The front and back ends
The second area of our focus is front-end software. This type of
software may include several features or elements, including a
quote system, an estimating system linked into job costing,
order entry, client interface, sales-prospecting modules, data
mining, and other applications.

Again, depending upon your needs, you may purchase a
heavily loaded front-end package, or simply opt for something
that will enable you to enter clients and can process and bill
orders. Front-end software that's well conceived can provide you
with some very useful tools in tracking customer and marketing
data. If you decide to purchase a front-end system, such as a
sales-contact management program, independent of a back-end
system, you may want to look at a customized database application
such as Microsoft's Access; another option is to pursue a
specific package like GoldMine from FrontRange Solutions or Act!
from Best Software.


Of the three general areas, it's the third area”?back-end
software”?that provides the broadest range of solutions. This
type of software offers tools for order tracking, job tracking,
job costing, inventory tracking, inventory costing, material
allocation, fulfillment, shipping and handling, labor-cost accumulations,
equipment and machinery allocations, overhead
burden costing, and other more specialized applications.
Examples include the E2 Shop System by Shoptech, the System
from CRC Information Systems, and Thoroughbred Software's
Solution Repro IV.

You can choose a package that provides just one or a few of
these solutions, or one that gives you a multitude of options. As
with accounting and front-end software, your best bet is to purchase
the application that provides you with the right mix of
tools to help you compete more effectively. Otherwise, you may
spend a lot of money, gather volumes of irrelevant information,
and end up being worse off than you were previously, due to the
extensive capital investment.

Past, present, future
In the end, software is about providing accurate measurements
and generating data that makes sense for your business. The
software you implement will only be as good as your ability to
make decisions based on the output. If your current software
provides you with the necessary information to make you competitive,
you probably don't need something new.
,p>But the ability to gather more information about how your business
operates will generate greater advantages. We all operate in
a competitive industry with high technology expenses and significant
overhead costs. If you're to succeed in such an environment,
it's critical to have accurate, detailed, and timely data. Your information
systems must provide you with an accurate picture of how
your business has operated in the past and how it functions in the
present, and it must assist you in planning for the future.



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