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REVIEW: New QuickBooks - Good, Not Must Have

QB 2011 box shotIntuit usually pulls out all the stops sometimes when it upgrades QuickBooks. 2011 isn’t one of those times, but the changes it did make will improve your clients’ ability to communicate with their customers, more easily access the financial minutia in their files, and help them speed up their receivables. New users can shave some steps off of setup, and everyone will be able to keep closer tabs on customers.
For those who don't have an accounting package, the QuickBooks family is still the best choice on the market. But should your clients who have the Intuit software already invest in the new version? Considering that Intuit doesn’t give users much of a price break on QuickBooks’ upgrades, small businesses must have some pretty compelling reasons to do so. We don’t think this version provides them.

Of course, if your clients are two or more versions behind, 2011 might be the year to move up. 2010 was a major upgrade, and the new features in 2011 will likely be happily incorporated into most peoples’ workdays. But in these days of thinly-stretched technology dollars, $200 to $300 or more. for just a single user makes a dent.

Flexible Contact Import

One of the most thankless, annoying jobs that software occasionally forces you to do is to enter contact records. QuickBooks 2011 has removed that drudgery by supporting the import of contact databases from Yahoo and Gmail address books, as well as Outlook.

Other upfront changes can help new users, unless you’re doing their installation and setup. Intuit has expended the startup interview to include a step-by-step assistant for entering products/services and bank accounts.

Good changes, but we’ve never understood why Intuit doesn’t pay more attention to Preferences during setup. It may be that the company doesn’t want to overwhelm new users with voluminous decisions, but it’s very likely that your clients will run into problems that would be easily solved by changing a Preference or two. AccountEdge does a better job of this during setup.

Instant Information
QuickBooks 2011 looks and works much the same as it has in recent years. No major interface changes, no blockbuster new features. But some changes have improved access to needed information, which should save time for your clients and give them insight into the businesses in their financial universe.

The Customer Snapshot is similar to the existing Company Snapshot. You access it by clicking on the Company Snapshot, then Customer. Select a customer from a drop-down list and you get, well, a snapshot of that business and its interaction with you. This page displays information like number of years as a customer and average days to pay, as well as total sales. Graphs and tables tell you about their recent invoices and payments. Others chart their sales history and best-selling items. A click takes you to that company’s page in the Customer Center, which drills down more on their data.

Another enhancement makes customer and vendor information available at a time when you’d likely want to see it: when you’re entering transaction forms. A vertical pane to the right of forms like invoices and purchase orders displays a summary of the contact - such as phone, open balance, POs to be received -, recent transactions, and contact-related notes. You can click on transactions in the list to see the original document.

And the Advanced Search feature in QuickBooks 2011 now lets you enter a keyword and get back—very quickly—a list of matching accounts, reports, and invoice details. The old Find function is still there, but that’s limited to one type of information.

Getting Paid Faster
These days, efficient collection of your clients’ debts is more critical than ever. QuickBooks users have always had access to aging reports that can tell them who’s not ponying up, but the collections process has always involved multiple steps.

The new Collections Center is a step in the right direction. Accessed by opening the Customer Center and then clicking on a link, this tabbed screen tracks two groups of invoices: those overdue and those almost due. Each entry gives you the company name and invoice number, balance, days overdue, phone number, and notes/warnings. Click on one, then on Select and Send Email, and a completed email box opens; this can be edited before you dispatch it. The original invoice is attached to the email.

Intuit continues to work on ways to get money owed you into your bank account faster. 2010 added the ability to scan checks and transmit them to your bank electronically. QuickBooks 2011 is now supported by the Intuit Payment Network. Your clients will have to do a bit of setup to activate a connection to IPN, and then they can have a link included on invoices that customers can click to dispatch funds directly.

QuickBooks 2011 also contains a new tool designed to help your clients get invoices out faster. If the same invoice needs to be sent out to multiple businesses, they can easily send them out as a batch.

Additional Enhancements
Other changes improve accessibility to subsets of information. One is the debut of a new report: Balance Sheet by Class, which organizes financial data by fund, department, or location. Mobile clients can now access customer information, create invoices, and inquire into the status of payments using QuickBooks Connect on their iPhones.

We’re a little surprised that Intuit hasn’t yet launched a major interface overhaul. The existing one works; it looks good, and strikes a balance between revealing too much and hiding critical features. But it’s aging, and as more features pile on, restructuring the burgeoning program could make the (arguably) most intuitive small business accounting solution even more engaging. Long-time users might grumble, but a smart migration of features can minimize that.

Though it’s not a blockbuster upgrade, we like the changes made to this year’s QuickBooks. They can help your clients better communicate with their customers and accelerate receivables;  get faster access to needed financial details; and locate more precise slices of data. Which adds up to time—and possibly, money—saved.

Whether an upgrade to QuickBooks 2011 would save your clients a significant chunk of time, money, and unnecessary work depends, of course, on their volume and work flow. Many small businesses would probably not see a huge return on their financial investment, but some might. It’s your call, but in many cases where  your clients have kept their versions relatively current, QuickBooks 2011 isn’t a must-have.
Kathy Yakal
Kathy Yakal has been writing about personal and business technology since 1983, as an editor and writer at COMPUTE! Publications. She writes frequently for The Progressive Accountant on technology topics.She began freelancing and specializing in financial applications in 1988. Her columns, features, and reviews have appeared in publications including Barron’s, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, and PC Magazine.
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