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Review: Microsoft Small Business Accounting 2006

Microsoft's entry into the small business accounting software arena is a serious contender, if still a little rough around the edges.

InformationWeek Staff

January 17, 2006

3 Min Read

Individual activity areas are accessed by clicking the buttons along the left side of the screen. Selecting one of these options -- Customers, Vendors, Employees, or Banking -- brought up a workflow type display that showed the relationships between functions and activities. This kind of display makes understanding which activity to do next more obvious for inexperienced users. For example, the Customers display shows the sequence; New Quote, New Sales Order, New Invoice, New Credit Memo, New Finance Charge, Write Letter, Receive Payment. Once you're familiar with the tasks you need to accomplish, you can use the alternate view that simply lists the various tasks that can be performed.

The Customer workflow screen shows the sequence of steps and available options associated with customer transactions.

Features like recorded transactions and adding accounts on the fly have become standard fare in small business accounting applications like QuickBooks, and are part of SBA as well. This makes it easy to add customers, vendors, and products when necessary without having to quit the current task and find the right menu.

SBA's integration with Microsoft's Office suite is a great feature and really shows up in the connection between Outlook, Business Contact Manager, and SBA. All contact information, whether it is customer-, prospect-, vendor-, or employee-related is stored as a contact in the Business Contact Manager which acts as a middleman between the other two products. Aside from making it simple to handle correspondence, all interactions are tracked in the record. This interaction makes it easy to see and consider the history of a contact when you are on the phone or composing a letter.

Limitations and Drawbacks

The Business Contact Manager is loosely connected to both Outlook and SBA, meaning that it is possible to import contact information, but once the data has been transferred it is no longer linked to its source. Contacts that originate in Outlook are moved (not copied or linked) to the Contact Manger. From there, they are copied (not linked) to SBA, meaning any changes in either record need to be manually updated in the corresponding record.

SBA's reporting capability is both its strength and weakness. There are predefined reports for all major functions from inventory to trial balance, and it is possible to modify any and all of the basic formats to suite your company's requirements. In addition, all reports can be exported to Excel for extended processing. The weakness is that generating reports is generally slow. The fact that the report previews are simply images of dummy documents rather than live data tells me that Microsoft recognizes this shortcoming. When viewing the reports, it is possible to drill down on any summarized line item to reveal the underlying transactions, however this process takes just as long as generating the original report, making the function less than usable.

Microsoft Small Business Accounting 2006 as part of its Small Business Management Edition 2006 is a solid offering that is likely to work well for a wide range of businesses. It has an advantage in using the Microsoft Office style interface that will be familiar to most users. And its integration with tools that are already in use makes it fit in to most office environments. As with any version 1.0 release, there are improvements that need to be made. Microsoft needs to concentrate on enhancing the usability of its reports by generating them faster. And the integration between Outlook, Business Contact Manager, and SBA needs to be more interactive in order to further reduce manual data updates.

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