Selecting SaaS accounting software need not be intimidating

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Cloud accounting software an option for scalable financials

Organizations that outgrow their on-premises software have more choices in SaaS apps that cover most accounting and financial management needs -- without the overkill of ERP.

Back in the day, after outgrowing their legacy on-premises accounting software, such as Quicken or QuickBooks, Solomon or Great Plains, many organizations bought their first ERP systems to access the accounting features and greater scalability of those systems. Now, however, more and more organizations are moving their on-premises business processes to the cloud because it offers the security, uptime and flexibility that they need. And many are taking a hard look at cloud accounting software -- general ledger, accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll and reporting -- separately, rather than as part of a monolithic ERP system.

"We are in a postmodern ERP era" and what that essentially means is that the ERP "megasuite" no longer exists, according to John Van Decker, a research vice president at Gartner, based in Stamford, Conn.

One of these cloud accounting software products is Quickbooks Online, which targets individual accountants and small businesses. It helps with such tasks as bank reconciliations, expense tracking, drafting invoices and monitoring financial reports, among others.

"We strive to make QuickBooks that centerpiece of a small business's experience that's extremely, extremely flexible," said John Shapiro, director of product management at QuickBooks Online, which is owned by Intuit, based in Mountain View, Calif. "There are lots of pieces and parts of QuickBooks that you can use, but you don't have to."

Shapiro said that QuickBooks offers users the ability to get every dollar that they're owed as quickly as possible, visibility into their entire financial picture, and advice from accountants and business insights from features such as machine learning. He added that there are hundreds of apps that integrate with the QuickBooks platform.

Juna Financial Solutions LLP, a Boston-based provider of outsourced accounting, finance, CFO and consulting services, uses QuickBooks Online for its clients, which are SMBs.

"QuickBooks is pretty ubiquitous in the small-to-medium-size business field," said Alicia Amaral, a partner at Juna Financial Solutions. "I think QuickBooks desktop is better than QuickBooks Online, but it's not in the cloud, so it's more difficult to work with, with our clients. And QuickBooks Online is improving its functionality. Right now they're putting all of their R&D into QuickBooks Online to compete."

Breaking off a piece of ERP

Larger companies that need cloud accounting software but don't want or need a full-blown ERP system could look to SAP S/4HANA Finance (formerly SAP Simple Finance).

The system is a subset of SAP's full ERP that can be purchased and implemented on its own, without having to take on the full weight of the expanded ERP, said Thack Brown, general manager and global head of line of business finance at SAP, which is based in Walldorf, Germany.

"That gives a lot of flexibility and options to our customers, who start out with just financials and accounting, but may want to add in revenue and billing systems or inventory management [in the future]," he said.

Brown said S/4HANA Finance brings all of an organization's data into a single data set. Then the system can run transactional processes and analytics off that information, providing true real-time visibility into performance, revenues, cash flow, profitability, expenses and projects, he said.

"The whole point with our platform is that it can do the transactional and analytical capabilities in that single tool, and therefore you don't have multiple versions of the truth," Brown said. "The key thing to me that is changing is that financial systems are becoming true information decision-making business management tools, in addition to performing the basic functions of keeping the books and making sure we can do financial reporting."

Another cloud accounting software offering, NetSuite SuiteSuccess Financials First, lets companies quickly migrate their legacy financial systems to NetSuite's cloud-based platform, according to Tom Kelly, senior director of product marketing at NetSuite, which is based in San Mateo, Calif.

Financials First enables businesses to automate their financial processes, accelerate the month-end close, improve reporting and get real-time visibility into the true financial status of their organizations in 100 days or fewer, NetSuite claims.

Financials First includes predefined roles, key performance indicators, dashboards and workflows, all designed with finance departments in mind.

Additionally, Financials First includes fixed assets electronic payments, enabling automated payments to cut down on payment processing times, improve payment accuracy and timeliness as well as automated tracking of fixed assets to account for depreciation.

"NetSuite has implemented core financials thousands of times, and they know the best way to do it [for each] organization," Kelly said.

Cloud accounting software for verticals, SMBs

Other cloud accounting software products -- some geared to the needs of specific industries -- include the following:

  • Sage Live, a mobile-ready accounting platform for SMBs. It includes a core accounting module with integrated applications to manage billing and invoicing, fund accounting, expenses, work orders, budgeting, forecasting and reporting. Sage Live integrates with third-party applications, including time tracking, job management and project accounting, as well as Salesforce CRM.
  • BudgetPak by XLerant Software, an accounting system that includes stand-alone budgeting and forecasting and integrated financial reporting. It's geared to midsize to large companies in various industries, including education, insurance and property management. XLerant's financial reporting tool provides real-time, bidirectional integration with Microsoft Excel to exchange data.
  • Flexi Software, a financial accounting and process-driven workflow system for all size companies in banking, insurance, financial services, healthcare and other service industries. This system lets users drill down to get a detailed view of their financial statements. Its accounts payable tool enables organizations to capture images of invoices, automate data entry and route invoices to the right contacts for approval.
  • SBS Financials, a system for multi-entity accounting targeted at a number of industries, including healthcare, real estate and finance. You can add SBS Payroll and HR and SBS Procurement to create an integrated financial management system. The core accounting applications of the system are: general ledger, accounts receivable, accounts payable, billing, fund accounting, bank reconciliation, budgeting, consolidations and expense management. Dashboards, budgeting and financial reporting enable companies to monitor and analyze financials by cost center, division or region.
  • M3 Financial offers hotel-specific cloud accounting software designed to improve efficiency and visibility to help drive financial performance. M3's platform works with other key systems and tools in the hospitality industry, including property management systems, HR and payroll systems to support end-to-end hotel management.

Dig Deeper on ERP accounting software