Accounting package add-ons

If you feel stuck with an accounting package that doesnít quite fit your requirements, there are a number of options to extend the functionality of what you already own — without doing a forklift upgrade. From application add-ons to software as a service, there are ways to handle specific tasks that aren’t taken care of automatically in your accounting package, no matter what the brand.

Several Tier 1 vendors offer add-ons or extensions to their software suites. SAP, for example, has more than 100 add-ons to its Business One software suite, designed to provide SMBs with end-to-end process visibility. SAP has a partner network that develops add-ons to “verticalize” and extend the functionality of Business One, including different payroll packages.

“There isn’t a green button you press and you buy a solution,” says Jeffrey Watts, vice-president of SMEs in North America for SAP. He says smaller companies often rely on trusted advisors to find the right applications and estimates about 60 per cent of the SMB market is running point solutions or homegrown applications, the majority without an integrated approach.

“They don’t want to hit a wall where they see IT as being a barrier as opposed to an enabler to growth,” says Watts.

The core of Business One includes traditional accounting, customer relationship management and integrated reporting. Business One — The American Express Edition includes specialized vertical industry editions for partners and small businesses. Additional functionality includes applications for integrated wireless warehouse management, electronic data interchange, document management, as well as sales tax and credit card payments.

Another option is to have the additional functionality provided by an application service provider. Avalara, for example, offers a sales tax application through a software-as-a-service model to both Canadian and U.S. SMB customers.

Performing sales tax research is one task that may not be handled by your accounting package automatically — or if it does, it may not be easy to use or leave any margin for error. “Sales tax is the one [application] that most SMB businesses have problems with,” says Marshal Kushniruk, vice-president of sales and marketing with Avalara. The company provides sales tax calculation, reporting and returns as a service that customers pay for on a subscription basis.

If you’re looking for this type of solution, make sure it integrates seamlessly with your current accounting package so users won’t notice anything else running in the background.

Avalara integrates into most major accounting products, including QuickBooks, Great Plains, ACCPAC, Navision and iScala, and replaces the way these products attempt to handle sales tax. You install a connector as an add-on to your accounting package, then go into the administrative dashboard to set it up. Everything happens in the background so there’s no change to what users see in the accounting package, says Kushniruk. A software development kit allows an SMB to tie into any third-party application, shopping cart or e-commerce application.

Handling sales tax calculations is a major challenge for any business, says Alan Salmon, vice-president of Canadian operations for K2 Enterprises. In a perfect world, you want an accounting solution that does everything, he says, but that rarely happens. Your choices are to go with a vertical package, which is usually expensive, go with a general solution and add the enhancements you need, or go for a custom solution. “The third choice is almost always doomed to failure. The first is too expensive,” he says. “I generally recommend going with a solid established accounting solution and find the add-ons that a client needs.”

If you do require customized add-ons to your accounting package, finding the right partner is important. This was the case for Island Hearing Services, a network of hearing health-care clinics headquartered in Victoria, B.C. The company supplies hearing aids primarily to senior citizens and wanted to reduce the amount of time its employees were spending on accounting transactions.

After upgrading to Microsoft Business Solutions Great Plains, it required some customized features. Its partner, The RSC Group, developed a data warehouse and login screen for each of the company’s offices, so when users entered accounting and finance information, it would default to the proper location code. A pop-up alert system was also created to help eliminate errors by advising users — who are not trained accountants — what to do at certain points of each transaction, such as applying a warranty to a hearing aid. This means employees have more time to spend with patients, as opposed to figuring out how their accounting software works.

Whether buying an add-on or extension, turning to software as a service or asking a reseller partner for a customized application, the trick is figuring out which option fits your business model and your resources so you can make the most of the accounting package you already own.

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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