Whether a CFO or the founder of a new start-up, financial managers of all stripes and in every type of business have an obligation to clients, employees and even shareholders to always work towards cost reduction and improved efficiency. This has meant letting go of antiquated accounting and business management practices in favor of the newest accounting software and business management systems.
Since small to midsize business accounting software was first pioneered more than ten years ago, a considerable number of software manufacturers have developed products marketed to small and medium sized businesses. All these software companies now vie for a piece of the market share. Among the software packages offered by the most recognized names in software development, are brands that have themselves become highly recognized in the world of small business, and beyond. Products like Epicor, Sage, QuickBooks, Netsuite, Microsoft Dynamics, SAP, and Oracle E-Business Suite, to name a few, have all become part of entrepreneurial and small to midsize business vernacular in recent years.
Competition has brought innovation as the many manufactures out there have continued to increase functionality and ease of use. Seasoned business owners and fresh entrepreneurs alike continue to keep the pressure on software manufacturers to develop more practical and user-friendly functions with the end goal of saving time and money by doing away with costly business management consultation and accounting services.
These tools help business owners achieve a level of certainty in an uncertain economic climate. No matter what level of accounting education, proprietors strive to build customer loyalty and become innovators within their own industries. Accounting and business management systems have become mechanisms used to free up time so it can be better used on the creative and strategic aspects of business growth.
The newest business software goes well beyond the original accounting and payroll functions of earlier products. These tools now provide comprehensive business systems and financial management functions that include business planning, forecasting, and financial analysis. From the convenience of a single platform, business owners now have access to a full suite business management system, along with the traditional payroll, time billing, accounts payable/accounts receivable and point of sale features that have traditionally been the foundation of these increasingly capable software packages.
Business planning functions allow users to gain instant access to multi-year projections that show how their balance sheets will look years into the future, revealing projected profit, loss and liquidity. Forecasting features allow for a quick comparison of actual profits against forecasted earnings. Analysis functions eliminate guesswork as business owners look to identify performance trends.
The evolution of business accounting software into full-suite business management systems has allowed these systems to serve vital functions outside the exclusive domain of the office. This has come to include the logistical components vital to business management, including inventory, transportation and shipping, supply-chain, and procurement. These logistics management functions allow sales teams to create and track sales orders, while allowing supply chain and logistics managers to monitor both product and raw material inventory levels in real time.
Cost accounting functions allow for fixed and variable costs to be factored into determining a break-even point. Beyond standard costing and activity based costing functions, throughput features maximize efficiency by alerting proprietors and their management staff of bottlenecks that might exist in fulfillment, or along the supply chain. Cost-volume-profit analysis functions track actual production as it occurs in real time to determine total fixed and variable costs at any point during production.
In addition to providing commerce solutions, and financial, enterprise and logistical management functions, some of these highly customizable systems even make human capital management a breeze. Most business owners and managers can attest to the fact that human resources are key to a successful business. Most will also go on to admit that they are also some of the most difficult to manage. Although conflict resolution and pay negotiation will always be responsibilities that fall to managers, business management systems allow HR and staff mangers to forecast the demand that will placed on their employees so as to build schedules around specific company objectives. This is in addition to the more conventional HR management functions used to track time worked, absences and schedule adherence. These tools ensure the most efficient scheduling practices are in place and that labor laws and overtime pay requirements are adhered to.
Software and business management systems are often customizable, or otherwise designed to be applied to the unique needs of specific industries. Independent practices run by nurse practitioners and physicians rely on healthcare specific applications to offer patients the assurance of safety and quality care through electronic record maintenance and informatics designed to help medical personnel implement best practices supported by evidence-based data on patient outcomes. Insurance producers use industry-specific tools in everything from actuarial accounting to tracking claims resolution and reimbursement in real time. Without industry-specific business management tools, investment advisors would be lost trying to keep track of client assets under management in the evolving regulatory environment of the financial services industry.
Inevitably, these systems, and the stacks of data organized within them, have moved to the cloud. This has given users the same functions they’ve come to rely on, while getting the greater level of flexibility and accessibility that comes with cloud computing. The attributes that have always been characteristic of cloud computing - security, flexibility and easy maintenance – combine with these business management systems to further reduce cost and increase efficiency.
For business owners from every industry, and organization leaders from every sector, the question is no longer whether or not to make use of technology to maximize efficient operations – the question is simply which system fits the individual business needs best. With the many options available on the market, and with software and systems management companies continuing to compete with one another by offering more innovative and individually tailored solutions, the decision isn’t getting any easier. These systems have been used to replace many of the services that management consultants have traditionally provided. However, with the countless options and variations of features to consider, business owners may still have one more reason to retain a consultant: to help them decide which accounting software and business management system to go with.