|If truth be told, it may be
easier to find a spouse with these credentials than
an ERP product. Nonetheless, the search goes on, and
to help you find the package that most closely meets
your requirements, we’ve looked at 10 leading brands
designed for the so-called midlevel market. That
market is variously described as organizations with
annual revenue of between $2 million and $20 million
or more than 100 employees. |
Years ago, when the
personal computer was just coming into its own,
accounting software was relatively simple: Its
single function was to automate the task of
double-entry accounting and produce a
straightforward balance sheet. As computers became
more robust and integrated databases standardized,
accounting software developers added more
functions—including cost accounting, manufacturing
resource planning (MRP), customer resource
management (CRM), human resources (HR) and
payroll. To differentiate these superproducts from
the simple accounting programs, marketing-minded
vendors christened the new packages enterprise
resource planning (ERP) software.
|Exhibit 1: Software Vendors
& Co. ||www.carillonfinancials.com
||100 N. Central
Expressway, Suite 1300
Richardson, TX 75080
||One Lone Tree
Fargo, ND 58104
| ||E by
Irvine, CA 92618
Associates Plaza |
||Enterprise IQ ||IQMS
||4250 Aerotech Center
Way, Suite A |
||333 E. Center St.
P.O. Box 1824
Marion, OH 43301
||400 North Ashley
Tampa, FL 33602
||300 International Parkway,
Suite 300 |
||200 East Hardin St.
P.O. Box 414
Findlay, OH 45840
||1157 Valley Park
Shakopee, MN 55379
2: Service, Support, Price, Implementation
3: Manufacturing Process
4: Core Financials
5: Purchasing and Sales Processes
6: Human Resources Process
7: Tax and International Processes
Many accounting software
vendors, while eager to jump on the ERP bandwagon
but unwilling or unable to develop their own
complete ERP functionality, choose instead to
license the very best special modules developed by
other software companies. This option has gained
popularity as advances in Windows and
compatibility tools have made it easier to
seamlessly link new modules to existing software
Using such best-of-breed,
third-party products was a boon to ERP vendors: It
saved them money and made their products more
powerful and more competitive. Further, it meant
that the customer was getting an already proven
(read that debugged) product.
customers agree that plugging in third-party
products is a good idea. If the licensed product
malfunctioned (and what software product is
perfect?), the customer now had to deal with two
vendors—the ERP vendor and the third-party vendor.
More often than not, when such a problem arose,
each vendor tended to blame the other, leaving the
customer uncertain where to turn for help. In our
reviews, we have not provided separate evaluations
of any third-party products.
THE NEW COMPETITION
In recent years the
ERP market has undergone major changes. The
high-end accounting software vendors (SAP,
PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards, BAAN and Oracle, for
example) saw the potential of the midlevel market,
and in order to edge into it, they’ve been scaling
down their expensive and complex products. By
removing some high-end functions and restricting
users’ ability to customize the remaining ones,
the vendors can trim prices, and, they claim,
because the products are less complicated,
implementation can be speeded up from an average
of two years to anywhere from three to six months.
For a midsize organization, that is a major plus
because they usually lack the information
technology staff required to customize and tweak
an ERP package.
And as an added fillip to
lure the smaller businesses, the high-end vendors
are coming out with special preconfigured software
packages for particular industries (for example,
repetitive manufacturing, health care and retail).
Not to be outdone, vendors of accounting software
for small organizations—Peachtree, for example—are
adding sophistication and special modules to their
products in an effort to expand into the midlevel
All these moves are good news for
customers: Not only is the competition driving
vendors to make their accounting software smarter,
easier to use and more flexible, it’s keeping
prices in check and giving users more choices.
This activity is producing yet another
reaction: To differentiate the new, more
sophisticated accounting software products from
the older ERP brands, some vendors are coining yet
another name for their packages: back-office
Because ERP software is essentially a package
of many complex interrelated modules, shopping for
the product that meets your special needs is
especially difficult. This complexity poses
problems for the vendor, too, for rarely can one
person in the vendor organization know everything
about a package. Consequently, most vendors use a
sales team approach, which can be frustrating for
the customer who has to go from one sales
specialist to another to get answers or a
When a business begins a
search for new accounting software, it typically
lists all the business processes it wants the
software to do and then evaluates how well each
function performs. The exhibits accompanying this
article constitute that list. To be sure, not
everything in the exhibits will relate to your
business, so examine only those functions that do.
The evaluations are based on information
vendors provided as well as our own hands-on
experience with each product.
Pettit & Co.
If your business
or client has special accounting software
needs—beyond those of conventional manufacturers
or retailers—consider Carillon. With two
exceptions, its off-the-shelf modules offer
primarily basic functions. The exceptions are the
Financial and Contact Management modules. Because
it’s bare-bones, users must customize the product
to fit their needs, which is why it’s good for
those with unusual requirements. It’s often easier
to design what you want from the bottom up than to
change existing functions.
Financial and the Contact Management modules are
well designed. Financial comes with a superior
audit trail function that allows users to print
any part of the trail, as of any period, at any
time. Contact Management contains ample fields for
storing mailing lists, sales leads and planned
sales activities, among other things.
Carillon is a real-time system; as such, there
is no batch processing to contend with, which will
disappoint accountants who prefer batch processing
as a control mechanism.
interface, while unusual, is efficient. For
example, each module is accessed via an icon on
the start menu. The interface for journal entries
also is unusual, but not so efficient. The general
journal entry screen contains only one line for
debit and credit entry even though all journal
entries require at least two lines; thus users
must double-click in the account number field or
use the Enter key to move to a new line.
Microsoft Great Plains
Great Plains package, eEnterprise, works well for
companies that do custom work. But it’s not as
well suited for make-to-stock or repetitive
manufacturers because it cannot handle standard
The software comes with good
documentation and many training options, making it
easy to set up. Screens are uncluttered, well
designed and consistent from one business process
to another. It’s easy to build new reports or
modify existing ones.
provides CRM functionality with a sales prospect
function the user can customize by configuring the
screens and developing reports to support
callbacks, visits and follow-ups.
Payroll and Manufacturing modules work
particularly well. Payroll supports multiple
unions, cost centers and job costing. The
Manufacturing module contains inventory management
and forecasting based on both sales history and
One annoying feature: When
the software generates a “Not all required fields
have been entered” error message, it provides no
clue to what’s missing.
E by Epicor
E by Epicor is suitable for most
manufacturers but is not a good candidate for
certain retailers (because it can’t handle
specific identification inventory) or construction
companies (because it lacks retainage capability).
The software is
sufficiently integrated so the user can drill down
from an FRx report to the underlying journal entry
and make adjustments while leaving the original
entry intact for a complete audit trail.
Period-end closing and recurring entries are very
effective. To move from one period to the next
requires just one mouse click. Recurring entries
can be set up with different amounts per period to
accommodate amortization entries.
Epicor has a consistent interface, configurable
speed buttons and output options that include
publishing to the Internet.
eIntelligence modules may be the strongest
argument for implementing E by Epicor because
graphical analysis and executive reporting
functions are built in. However, it does not
contain standard financial statements; customers
need to build them. While it’s not particularly
difficult, it’s an inconvenience.
Third-party software products handle HR,
payroll and e-commerce and aren’t included in this
division of Computer Associates
As the name implies, MK Manufacturing is
designed for manufacturers, and the functions work
well. Forecasting can be based on user demand,
internal consumption or sales history.
Manufacturing and material requirements budgets
But for a
complete ERP system, the product needs the
following Computer Associates modules: CRM,
E-Commerce, Human Resources and Payroll. These
Data tables are
accessible with a spreadsheet, which then can be
used for further analysis. The software also lets
you attach almost anything including CAD
(computer-assisted design) drawings, spreadsheets,
charts and text documents.
audit report is excellent, disclosing what was
changed, by whom, when, the record number and the
But retailers should
beware: Because of the transaction-oriented
interface, a cash sale takes 19 steps, each on a
separate screen. While the process at first seems
intimidating, users can customize the process to
display just necessary screens.
Enterprise IQ is designed for companies that
are repetitive manufacturers. The software doesn’t
need to be custom-configured no matter what kind
of manufacturing the company does—extrusion,
injection, stamping, outsourcing, blow molding or
production of subcomponents.
The vendor also
offers its own computer hardware that integrates
with its software to update accounts every time a
shop machine cycles. The product complies with the
standards of the Automotive Industry Action Group.
Another module, IQVoice, monitors and announces
when machines aren’t operating within tolerance
limits. It graphically displays the bottlenecks.
The Forecasting module contains graphics
Input screens typically are
designed for production people—not accountants.
However, they are consistent and easy to learn.
The help menus are very effective.
vendor generally will not customize its product
for an individual user. However, if a customer
request has wide applicability, IQMS will modify
the software and ship upgrades to all its
customers. In addition, it offers a unique
one-year, money-back guarantee to unsatisfied
Exact Macola Software
standard accounting functions are quite adequate,
but its e-commerce and payroll features are
exceptional. The package uses Macola’s Web.Order
product as an add-on to handle the
business-to-customer, e-commerce functions.
Third-party vendors supply its CRM, purchasing
and HR modules.
Forecasting, based on
sales history, can be done using polynomial
regression, exponential smoothing with trend
analysis or time series analysis. Within the
Distribution module, bar coding is standard, but
it cannot handle personal digital assistants or
radio-frequency tools. The Labor Performance
module schedules work, polls time clocks and
gathers information from the shop floor about
scrap and units produced.
functionality employs multimedia technology and
can handle electronic catalogs and order entry via
The help menus worked well
within a screen or form, but the index or search
functions have limited use because they do not use
This was the only package
that provided database table information (see
below) on its help screens. That’s useful for
programmers, but it raises attest problems because
that information can be used to change data.
Standard reports use terminology that is not
generally used by accountants. The detail general
ledger, for example, is called General Ledger
Trial Balance with Detail. In addition, some
conventional reports—like a trial balance—are
missing; however, they can be created by the user.
Don’t try to install the software yourself;
an expert needs to do the job.
ERP Plus is a good choice for made-to-stock or
made-to-order manufacturers. The product has
built-in functionality that is extraordinary for a
midlevel package. The MRP and CRM components are
particularly effective. The output choices are
comprehensive and easy to use.
of the MRP’s completeness is the inventory value
report, which shows inventory in terms of both
quantity and dollars; it has drill-down capability
and with a single mouse click a user can see
inventory for the total plant, by product class,
by product line and by commodity. There is also
KanBan (or parts-movement) scheduling and
simulation of scheduling changes.
Not only does
the software lack context-sensitive help, each
screen required a different action to evoke a help
The package’s interface is not
accounting intuitive—that is, nothing was where we
expected it to be. However, required fields are
Although the software
lacks an HR module, users can key in employee data
to allow job-cost accounting. The software also
lacks a fixed assets module.
This is not
software for retailers. To add a new item to
inventory, for example, one has to input it in
Item Master Maintenance, Item Master Production
Control, Item Master Purchasing and Cost
Accounting—a cumbersome process.
Scala Business Solutions
Scala is designed for retailers or
manufacturers that do global business.
Headquartered in the Netherlands, the vendor has
offices in more than 25 countries.
It takes just
one setting to change the terminology displayed on
the software’s screens to match the country where
it’s being used. For instance, U.S. employees
would see “accounts receivable” while U.K. or
Canadian employees would see the British term,
Users can set up
consolidation among divisions as continuous or
periodic. In addition, an optional Consolidation
module can balance data from a source division to
a target division, such as headquarters, and
consolidate up to 34 companies at one time.
The context-sensitive user assistance is well
designed, and it can be turned off once a user no
longer needs it.
Scala features promissory
notes and direct invoicing functions. Direct
invoicing allows a customer to be billed without
interfacing with inventory or production. Thus
industries other than manufacturing will find
Scala a suitable candidate.
Microsoft Great Plains
Solomon IV is a good choice for
businesses with special inventory needs. Every
possible type of inventory is supported by
Solomon, including Fifo, Lifo, average cost,
specific ID, standard cost and user-specified
Every report carries the traditional
accounting name and looks exactly as an accountant
would expect. The general ledger report gives
users the ability to access individual accounts by
double-clicking the account number in the left
window of the screen.
When a user keys
in a customer ID on the sales order screen, the
system provides information about whether this
customer is, say, a c.o.d.-only purchaser or has
overdue invoices. Information about product
availability can be accessed here as well. Users
can schedule production or write a new purchase
order without leaving the sales order screen.
The MRP and CRM modules are less
satisfying—they have considerably less
functionality than some of the other packages we
evaluated. Nevertheless, MRP is adequate for job
or project costing with cost center capability.
Multicompany transactions must be entered
manually, and general ledger updates vary from
automatic to batch-by-transaction type, which is a
little disconcerting. There is no integration
between the general journal and the subsidiary
ledgers, which is essential to be sure that
subsidiary ledgers agree with the general ledger.
Open Systems Inc.
Traverse is suitable for retailers
or light manufacturers, especially those that do
not have the resources or inclination to deal with
SQL Server or other large database management
systems. By using the Microsoft Access database,
it keeps its functions simple and easy to
Traverse is a
single-solution ERP package—it contains all the
modules needed to run a business. There is no
specific manufacturing module; instead, there are
Bill of Materials and Job Costing modules. Bill of
Materials is designed to handle kits and kit
components particularly well. Job Costing allows
for payroll and overhead allocation assignments to
jobs. The Fixed Assets module contains a
well-designed amortization and lease/buy analysis
The general journal does not
interface with the subsidiary ledgers and the
accounting reports are not always labeled
traditionally. For instance, the general ledger is
called the “activity report.”
module is excellent and also provides good HR
functionality. Pictures of employees can be
attached, career planning is built in and all
relevant employee information is available quickly
and easily from one employee screen.
Roberta Ann Jones, CPA
(inactive), PhD, is an associate professor of
accounting at California Polytechnic State
University at San Luis Obispo. Her e-mail address