Microsoft Targets Small Business Accounting Market

Small Business Manager 7.0 offers more than basic acccounting without forcing users to lay out big bucks.
Business accounting seems to come in two flavors: small time and big time. Targeting the middle ground, Microsoft on Thursday launched Small Business Manager 7.0, an accounting, inventory, and sales application for small and some midsize companies.

Squeezing between Intuit's QuickBooks on the lower end and the higher end of dedicated (and costly) software such as Microsoft's own Great Plains, Small Business Manager 7.0 contains several new features for companies that need more than basic accounting but don't want to lay out a big chunk of change.

Small Business Manager 7.0 is built on software and services acquired when Microsoft purchased Great Plains Software and Navision. It uses the same code base as Microsoft's Great Plains line of financial software, according to Karen Engel, product manager for Small Business Manager, but relies on a different "fit and fitness to make it appropriate for smaller businesses."

Its new sales and purchasing tools, which integrate with inventory, deliver quotes, sales orders, invoices, statements, and payments throughout the complete customer life cycle. On the vendor side, Small Business Manager furnishes integrated purchase orders, item receipts, and payment processes.

Inventory features include multiple cost methods, multiple price levels, serial and lot number tracking, and cost and quantity tracking. In the financial-analysis arena, Small Business Manager 7.0 offers cash flow forecasters, and can electronically file payroll information to federal and state governments.

Data importation has been beefed up, as has export to applications such as Excel. Small Business Manager 7.0 also integrates with a variety of Microsoft software, including Office and the company's IM client, Messenger, and Microsoft's bCentral online services.

But cost was the key for one company that's made the switch. "To be honest, we chose Small Business Manager 7.0 because of its price," said Stephen Bonnema, CFO and chief operating officer for Wunderlich Securities, a 120-employee securities broker in Memphis, Tenn. "There was this huge difference [in price] between QuickBooks, which was way too basic, and higher-end packages, which ran all the way to $40,000. There was no in-between until we stumbled upon Small Business Manager."

Wunderlich needed a more robust solution because it outgrew its ACCPAC accounting software as it went through a substantial expansion. "It was apparent that ACCPAC wasn't effective. We'd opened a couple of branch offices, and [ACCPAC] wouldn't let us do sub-accounting for those branches," Bonnema said.

Although Bonnema's expectations weren't high--"we weren't looking for a lot," he said--he's pleased with what Small Business Manager 7.0 has delivered. "It's a nice little accounting package," he said.

More important, Small Business Manager offers both advanced tools, including data importation and links to SQL databases, that he plans to implement in the future, as well as a clear and inexpensive upgrade path to Great Plains if Wunderlich continues its growth and needs something with more oomph. "We're looking to cover ourselves," Bonnema said. "We don't want to wake up and find out we have the wrong accounting system again."

"The data structure is identical [in Small Business Manager and Great Plains]," Engel said, so someone like Bonnema, who may upgrade down the road, doesn't have to migrate his company's financial data. Other similarities ease the move to the more capable, and costly, Great Plains, she said. "Core chores, such as how to set up a customer or how to set up a vendor, remain the same, which helps reduce the learning curve."

Available immediately, Small Business Manager 7.0 is priced at $995 for single users, and $2,495 for up to five concurrent users. A 60-day free trial is available for download from Microsoft's Web site.

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