What's New in Accounting Software; Enhancements to Look for in New and Upgraded Programs

By Needle, Sheldon | Journal of Accountancy, October 1991 | Go to article overview

What's New in Accounting Software; Enhancements to Look for in New and Upgraded Programs


Needle, Sheldon, Journal of Accountancy


In the past year the software field has experienced major design advances in both power and utility. Accounting software is no exception. New and upgraded professional programs are performing a wider range of functions faster and in a more user-friendly way.

Such software advances open important opportunities for CPAs in industry and in public practice, not only because the programs automate accounting tasks that otherwise would consume much of CPAs' time but also because they provide an opportunity to apply information-enhancing functions, which make reports more useful.

In the early 1980s, most accounting software generally was limited to performing essential, but still relatively basic tasks such as transaction and reporting functions. Computer systems could prepare and print invoices, paychecks and monthly financial statements.

A few years ago, accounting programs began to incorporate helpful enhancements such as pop-up windows, full-screen editing, on-line help and customizable financial statements. Today, such features are standard in most programs. This article describes these functions and explains what accountants should look for when shopping for new and upgraded software.

THE SOFTWARE TOOLBOX

Accountants want a software package that produces a visually pleasing work screen, is easy to learn and has enough power to help run a business effectively.

But when CPAs serve as consultants, another element is added to the wish list: The software package should be well supported by the vendor's technical staff; the technical team should be available and competent to handle problems; software customization software tools should be available; upgrades should be frequent enough to keep the software abreast of the competition and developing trends in the industry; and the qualified installer programs (the vendor program in which consultants are certified as expert installers) should not be too demanding, in cost or in time.

The listing on pages 80-81 includes accounting programs that incorporate many of the enhancements described below.

USER INTERFACE

* External program shell. This feature lets the user temporarily suspend the accounting system, either access an entirely separate application or execute a DOS command, and then, when finished, reactivate the accounting system.

This is a tremendous convenience. Until recently, the user had to completely exit one program before launching another. Not only was this time-consuming, but upon reopening the initial program, the user had to move through all its preliminary functions in order to reach the place where work had been interrupted.

* Menu options. Many users want to use only certain selected portions of a program; some of today's programs allow the user to hide or even unload unwanted functions, thus saving memory for other applications.

In addition, the user may have the option of using either pull-down or traditional function menus. Pull-down menus allow quicker movement through the program screens by conveniently presenting all the related options to a particular overall function. For instance, if the user selects the posting feature< all five posting options immediately flash on the screen. And then, with the press of a button, the desired posting option is selected.

Compared with the function menu, a pull-down menu provides more flexibility and speed. It offers more command options and there is no need to switch from screen to screen to access new commands.

LOOK-UP,

DATA-ENTRY FUNCTIONS

* On-the-fly function. Adding an item (name, product, etc.) to the database of an older accounting program is an awkward process, since the accountant first has to evoke a special maintenance function of the program.

Newer programs have on-the-fly entry functions, which means that new file records can be added without exiting the current function--for example, adding a new record while working in the order entry function. …

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