Ray Richards is founder of Mindspan Consultants and a technology journalist hailing from Ottawa, Canada

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QuickBooks the Final Chapter

As you may remember, last time around, we delved into the standard features of Intuit's SOHO accounting package, QuickBooks Pro. As we continue our examination of this administrative systems software, we will look at the features that differentiate it from its popular, though less robust sibling, Quicken Home and Business.

Payroll

One of the first things I noticed when evaluating this software was the fact that Intuit doesn't seem to want to force its software's features upon the user. This is very welcome to most entrepreneurs as it doesn't require them to dramatically alter their business processes to suit the software model.  As a result, one of the nicest aspects of the payroll package is that you don't have to use it; however, if you do, you won't be disappointed. If you've ever attempted to deal with payroll manually you'll instantly appreciate the depth of expertise normally associated with undertaking this often onerous task. You have to keep track of so many things - hours, salaries, commissions, dependents, vacation, sick time, SIN numbers, bonuses, advances, pension plans, union dues, overtime, taxes - the list seems to go on forever.

Fortunately, with QuickBooks Pro, you needn't worry about all these time consuming calculations. The software handles nearly everything for you. After you've set up the payroll system to your specifications (not difficult), you simply punch a new employee's personal information and salary package and the software pretty much takes care of the rest. It handles myriad compensation packages with ease, utilising the built in time tracking to calculate hours or permitting you to specify them. It excels at automatically computing taxes and a comprehensive list of deductions while maintaining year-to-date totals of this information.  You can track sick time, vacation time, print multipart cheques and even calculate and print T4 forms. One caveat however, you should subscribe to their payroll tax compliance service in order to ensure observance to the current tax laws. Intuit will send subscribers updated taxation tables as they are required.

Inventory

A well known business truism states "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it." Should your establishment maintain a store of saleable goods, accurate inventory management is obviously of paramount importance. QuickBooks greatly eases the burden faced by many involved with this task in small enterprise and yet fails to make the grade as a comprehensive inventory management system. To Intuit's  credit, they do outline the software's limitations at the outset and of course allow you to opt out of its inclusion within your administrative system suite. For those whose inventory consists of items ready for resale wherein component parts need not be individually accounted for, and whose sales are typically of a repetitive nature, QuickBooks handles the task admirably.

Companies which are involved in componentised manufacturing or the resale of multiple unique articles vs. collections of a specific type are not well suited to this sub-application. For example, a shop which sold candles and maintained a purchased stock of several specific varieties for resale would be fine, however a computer clone dealer which primarily sold packages of its own construction and ordered many goods for just-in-time delivery would not be as well served. While the software handles basic operations tolerably well, the lack of support for bar code scanners for instance is indicative of the rudimentary nature of the inventory system overall.

Customer / Vendor Tracking and Management

If QuickBooks Pro falls down a little in its support  of inventory management functions, it makes up for it with provisions for customer / vendor tracking which most smaller concerns will find more than adequate. You can classify clients by customer and job types, set individual payment terms, associate them with sales employees, and define custom fields within the client information manager which are relevant to your business model.

The application additionally supports mail merges, the creation of contact lists, to-do notes and reminders as well as label and rolodex card printing. You can also generate estimates with ease and associate them with a prospect. Should the client purchase the goods outlined on the estimate, you need only press the print invoice button on the estimate to finalise the transaction. On the vendor side you will find all the basic functions you'd expect and additionally have the ability to define custom fields in support of the inclusion of information pertinent to your area of specialisation.

Final Impressions

Overall, I'd rate QuickBooks Pro an excellent value at $249.95 suggested retail (of course you'll find it cheaper if you shop around!). It is well targeted, includes comprehensive, easy to use reporting throughout and didactically speaking as concerns accounting, you couldn't ask for a more painless indoctrination. Stay tuned next month for the premier Connected article in a series on business graphics.

Originally published in Ottawa Computes! magazine, January, 2000, by technology columnist, Ray Richards.

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