Accessibility for these packages can take many different forms. It might refer to how a user accesses the software or to when and where they need information. As Dr. Seuss might say, access could be from a plane in the North of Maine, from inside the house without a mouse, or maybe even with a supplier while watching Wayne Dyer. While one mid-market customer might need system access for employees working in multiple locations, another company might want to give his suppliers access to his inventory information via EDI (electronic data interchange). A retail shop owner might need his system to start with a Point of Sale device in downtown Petaluma and flow all the way to the General Ledger in Santa Rosa. A nonprofit organization might want to make sure information can flow from their base of operations in Schenectady to a goat herder in Africa. And they want to quickly find critical business information including Key Performance Indicators without need of a programmer or fork lift operator to wade through the details.
Visibility is a huge issue for businesses today. From managerial insight to audited financials, the need for timely, accurate information has become increasingly important to the success of a business. Bankers are demanding more and better information (which apparently they don’t have to provide for their own operations), auditors are being asked to dig deeper, even to the point of considering fair market values for certain assets, and business owners have to make timely decisions. In an apparent attempt to take a page out of the LensCrafters handbook, the solution providers in this space deliver visibility to their customers in a number of different ways. Whether you want to improve your vision via reports, raw data, dashboards, or integrated triggers and alerts, these solutions strive to help business owners and managers bring critical information into focus.
Flexibility is important for mid-market organizations that are expanding and innovating. Just like the clothes being designed for their middle-aged counterparts, these solutions need to be built with plenty of spandex. They have to adapt and grow to meet the changing needs of business. Flexibility might include easy integration to third party applications (via API’s or similar connectivity tools), different language options, or even modifiable fields. Mid-market businesses might want to manage consolidated financial statements, handle intercompany transfers, or move goods between multiple warehouse locations and they expect their mid-market systems to deliver, with no visible means of support.
Let’s take a more detailed look at some of the mid-market solutions (in alphabetical order by bolded name) to see how they deliver on the promises described above.
1. Sage Accpac 200
2. Cougar Mountain
4. Sage MAS 90 / 200
5. Microsoft Dynamics NAV
7. QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions
Sage North America
Price: Starts at $3,475.
Much like the members of the Microsoft family of products, software children living within the Sage software family often have a hard time getting enough individual attention (and getting their fair share of food at the dinner table). The Sage Accpac product, by virtue of its Canadian roots, manages to distinguish itself from other Sage North American products with its international capabilities. While you would expect the product to be able to cross the North American border to meet the needs of its poutine-loving compatriots, you might be surprised to find out that it comes in flavors suitable for the tastes of businesses in 18 other countries including foreign language versions in Spanish, French and Simplified and Traditional Chinese.
Sage Accpac makes it product accessible by providing a number of different deployment options. Data can seamlessly move from the Sage Accpac online product to a more traditional Sage Accpac desktop deployment. Application integration between the web-deployed Sage CRM product and either flavor of Sage Accpac also happens with a minimal degree of technical wizardry via the Sage Accpac Extended Enterprise Suite. Numerous third party applications have been the historical way to extend the product’s depth, although there seems to be less of this happening in recent years.
The recent release (in version 5.5) of the Sage Accpac dashboard using Business Objects Xcelsius has given the product a slick business intelligence feature that is visible via the web. Using the dashboard, business owners can get insights into sales, receivables, and payables. This tool provides another option that goes beyond the power of existing reports and charts and graphs available across all product modules using the Sage Accpac Insight product.
Flexibility for Sage Accpac takes the form of database choices – including Linux, SQL, and Oracle. The ability of the application to perform on top of different databases, which might be thrilling to geeks like me, is also an important indicator of the intelligent design underlying the product. You will see specialty resellers like CodePartners in Dallas, Texas, taking full advantage of this design to insure the product meets the unique requirements of individual businesses.
Sage Accpac combines a global reach with the freedom to choose how to deploy the product.
Cougar Mountain Software
Price: $1,954 (single user); $3,376 (four users); $4,838 (unlimited users), all prices include software assurance.
Cougar Mountain offers two solutions designed to meet the needs of growing businesses – Denali and CMS Professional. Aimed at the lower end of the mid-market, CMS Professional is a networked product that incorporates all of the core modules. The product is probably best known as a solution for Non-Profit organizations but has all of the functionality needed to run a for-profit organization (if there is such a thing in today’s economy) and to meet the needs of retail businesses.
For retail businesses, CMS Professional offers a POS solution with quick access to customer and inventory information as well as configurable screens and multi-level security. POS solutions tend to be the Achilles heel of the software industry, so having a system that is tightly integrated with the accounting application is a plus.
CMS Professional makes financial information visible to a business owner via its “Cougar Dtails” dashboard. (Apparently these folks in Idaho are as good at spellin’ as those of us who hail from public schools in South Carolina. Or maybe they’re trying to make the name shorter so they can fit it on Twitter.) Funny name or not, this tool which was released in version 2010, pushes information about Profit and Loss, Cash Flow and other financial indicators to a business owner from within the application. This is in addition to snapshot reports and graphs and a three year financial analysis report that are standard fare in the product.
When it comes to customer data, Cougar Mountain offers flexibility via its integration with Act Software. CMS software allows a business to generate sales orders via a special link built directly into the Act toolbar. By using their CRM bridge, you can keep your sales people out of your accounting application while eliminating duplicate data entry.
Cougar Mountain offers a streamlined solution for non-profits and other companies who have outgrown their small business accounting package.
CYMA Financial Management Systems
Price: $645 per module (System Manager, GL, AP, AR and Payroll).
With an installed base of around 5,000 companies, Cyma is a fairly small player in the mid-market. The product has a good depth of features, and a straightforward interface that can meet the needs of many mid-market businesses. It offers a workflow view, or the more traditional drop-down menu option and also sports some strong functionality for Non-Profit organizations including integrated Grant Tracking. Cyma has also considered the needs of CPA firms by including a number of “After-the-Fact” functions that can be used to provide write-up services.
While Cyma is a little behind in providing graphical access to much of its information, they have helped make financial modeling accessible via a number of financial calculators that reside on their “eDesk” . These calculators include some graphical tools to help an owner see the impact of a number of different business decisions and include definitions for common terms. While the calculators don’t appear to be integrated with the underlying data inside the application, they do provide a valuable forum for planning and discussion for anyone who is charged with running a business.
Note: The company could do with a look at its product naming – as the software is still called “Cyma IV Accounting for Windows” and they are using the dreaded ”e” in front of the “eDesk” product. Since Microsoft Windows first appeared on the scene in 1995, it’s a bit trite to still be mentioning your Windows functionality. I imagine the naming experts responsible for “XBRL” and “Cognitor” are available for hire, if anyone’s interested.
When it comes to visibility, Cyma serves up critical information via alerts. Their Cyma Alert includes five predefined alerts: GL Over Budget Condition, AP Invoices Due Today, AR 30 Days Past Due, Inventory Low Stock Notification and Job Costing Budget to Date. The standard alerts can be modified and additional internal and external triggers can be created for each company.
Cyma offers flexibility via its list of third-party add-ons. These solutions address specific industry requirements (like those of the golf club and golf course industries) or offer feature extensions (like shipping with Starship and timekeeping with TimeForce.) In addition, Cyma is one of the few products still supporting F9 integration to Excel.
Cyma is an affordable solution for companies who are looking for a straightforward, no-frills option when they outgrow their small business accounting software.
Sage MAS 90/200
Sage North America
Price: starts $4,500.
And speaking of product naming, I find it confusing that there are three MAS products in the Sage family, two of which are basically the same product running on different databases (MAS 90 runs on Providex, MAS 200 on SQL) and the third one (MAS 500) is a totally different product. Most of my CPAs, however, are not confused, as they have loved the MAS 90 brand and product for a long time. Ever since State of the Art (as it was known back then) came up with the idea of sending free software out to all of the CPA firms in the country, MAS 90 has been the product most recommended by CPA firms. Recommending a product to your clients is different from supporting it because all of your small business clients already have it, by the way. MAS 90/200 has had something of an identity crisis as the middle child in the Sage family and has felt the squeeze from both its small-business sibling Peachtree with its move to Quantum, and its higher-end big sister MAS 500. Despite the pressure, MAS 90 has continued to innovate, expand and grow to better meet the needs of mid-market companies and their accountants.
Customers can access their own information in MAS 90/200 via the e-Business Manager. With this module, customers have controlled access to basic information so they can place orders over the Internet, review their account, and update their information at any time of the day or night. Meanwhile, sales employees can review customer information via the integrated Sage CRM product that is delivered as part of the Sage MAS 90 Extended Enterprise Suite.
The Business Insights Dashboard was one of the first visual reporting tools to surface in the mid-market. It can be configured by each user to present information from a number of critical business areas including finance, sales, and purchasing. Graphical screens link to supporting reports within MAS 90. The dashboard resides inside the MAS 90 application which makes it less of a business owner's tool and more of an accountant’s communication tool. The Business Insights Explorer tool which was introduced in version 4.2 of MAS 90, presents data from every module for easy access via drill downs, filtering, and sorting.
MAS 90 shows its flexibility through its user defined fields, more than 1,500 “extended solutions”, and a smattering of industry verticals. JobOps, one of the best known MAS 90 verticals, automates job management for manufacturing, installation, and field service organizations.
MAS 90/200 is a well-established solution with a long list of modules, a number of reporting tools, and a wealth of product extensions make it suitable for many mid-market organizations.
(888) 477-7989 Opt. 1
Price: Business Essentials Edition, $2,250 per user; Advanced Management Edition, $3,980 per user, both for 10 users or less.
This solution owes it success to intelligent design. In the hands of Danish developers, the product was built as a flexible toolkit that could be modified by country, by business or even by user. Like Accpac, NAV has at times struggled to find its rightful place in the Microsoft Dynamics family of products. But as you might expect, as a member of that family the product benefits from tight integration with the Microsoft Office product sets and an extensive marketing budget. It also takes advantage of one of the best demo tools available to showcase its product and its role-based orientation via an online test drive.
Dynamics NAV uses Microsoft SharePoint to make information accessible to employees via a Web portal. The portal makes limited information visible and editable by employees who don’t need access to the full system. It also reduces the number of full licenses that a company needs to purchase. Using its role-centered home pages, the product makes it easy for each user to access information important to them in both tabular and graphical form. It also facilitates communication and collaboration via Outlook integration on these pages.
Real-time information is made visible to a business owner via the customizable “Business Analytics Web Client”. This Web-based tool displays virtually unlimited data in a three-dimensional visual format or color-coded table.
Dynamics NAV has all the flexibility of Gumby and can be bent and twisted to meet the unique needs of businesses in many different industries. NAV, at the core of the Serenic Navigator nonprofit and Elypsis application for wineries, has been tailored to meet the needs of those entities.
A global solution, Dynamics NAV can be customized to meet the needs of any mid-market business.
San Mateo, Calif.
Price: Starts at about $10,000 per year
NetSuite, the only Software as a Service (SaaS) solution in this review, is also the only product offering a single database for accounting, e-commerce and customer relationship management data. NetSuite also shares the distinction of being something of an industry bad boy as it often takes direct aim at its competitors via aggressive marketing and recruiting campaigns.
As a Web-deployed system, NetSuite excels at providing anytime, anywhere access to information. It can be tailored by role so that each user accesses a dashboard displaying information relevant to them. In addition to standard accounting activities, the product also helps users track and manage their time with icons for events, tasks, and phone calls. NetSuite can also be accessed from an iPhone, Blackberry, or other mobile device.
NetSuite pushes information to users via a number of customizable real-time dashboards. Dashboard options include Key Performance Indicators, reports, snapshots, and graphs which can be tailored for each role or individual in a company. The dashboard can also highlight activities that are scheduled for a given employee.
When it comes to flexibility, Web-based applications have historically come up short as they are normally standardized across all users. NetSuite has overcome this limitation and offers a SuiteFlex toolkit to encourage partners and users to tailor the application for business needs. Using SuiteFlex, users can even customize the application’s look and feel. The system also exposes its API (Application Programming Interface) so that legacy applications can also be integrated.
NetSuite has eliminated the silos that exist between accounting and sales and has made it easy for mid-market companies to access all of the information they need to manage their business.
QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions
Mountain View, Calif.
Price: Starts at $3,000 (five users)
No review of mid-market software is complete without a mention of QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions. Traditional mid-market software companies have ignored this product at their peril. For fast-growing small businesses that started out on QuickBooks, QBES with its multi-user capabilities is a dream come true. The addition of more features and advanced capabilities like Field Service and Warehouse Management has lead more than 70,000 mid-market companies to select QuickBooks Enterprise to run their business. With that many users, this product can no longer be relegated to the kiddie table at the mid-market holiday feast.
When it comes to accessibility, QuickBook’s user friendly design and simple terminology helps put business owners at ease. With 13 pre-defined user roles including permissions and support for up to 30 simultaneous users, the application can meet the user needs of the mid-market. Access to Customer Relationship Management ( data is not currently a component of the Enterprise offering and doesn’t appear to be coming any time soon - Intuit’s Sales Management ES beta project was terminated on September 17.
QuickBooks Enterprise helps push information to its users via the company snapshot and the newly released Intuit Statement writer. Report options on the dashboard include a yearly expense and income comparison, detailed expense and income breakdown, and a top customer list.
A fixed number of user-defined fields allow users to track additional information in selected areas within QuickBooks Enterprise while the Software Developer Kit lets external developers create integrated solutions that further extend the product’s functionality.
For companies seeking an affordable multi-user accounting solution, QuickBooks Enterprise is a great place to start.
No longer content to just produce balanced financial statements, mid-market business owners have forced software companies to provide features that give them more ways to access their information, better visual tools to make the information meaningful, and the flexibility to adapt to changing business requirements. Each of these vendors have delivered solutions that meet these requirements, although in different ways and at different price points.
For mid-market businesses seeking a new solution, it is extremely important to understand what is unique about your business and processes so that you can determine which features and functions are absolute requirements and which ones are nice to have. It is equally important that you work with a qualified solution provider who can help ensure that your software fits your mid-market business like a glove.