- Jeremy Brown, CPA
Is it time to move on from QuickBooks? Maybe not yet...
There's no shortage of accounting systems in the marketplace vying for a piece of your business revenue and it seems every one of them has a marketing campaign that includes the question "Is it time to move on from QuickBooks?" It's a good question, there's certainly a point where #QuickBooksDesktop is not the right solution, but I've often found that companies tend to jump ship much earlier than needed and before they really take advantage of the full potential.
Over the past 20 years I've worked in depth with several accounting systems in addition to QuickBooks. This list includes some recognizable players as well as some specialized systems that most of you probably wouldn't recognize. Of these systems the most expensive required an initial investment of well over $100k not to mention the annual commitment that wasn't that much less, so a bit more expensive than QuickBooks Enterprise.
My accounting system experience started with several of the bigger/expensive names and it has only been over the last five years or so that I have started working in depth with QuickBooks Enterprise. In many ways, it's been a breath of fresh air! That said, QuickBooks absolutely has its challenges. User and rights management is high on the list of frustrations and that comes from what seems like QuickBooks' general philosophy of "do whatever you want". You can change, delete, or add transactions regardless of how old they are and there is little by way of a change log. You can close periods and prevent changes by establishing a password, which does work, but it's still very easy to make changes if that password isn't closely maintained by someone who recognizes the value of closed periods. Reconciled transactions also have no protection which has been a frustration as I have gone to start a new bank rec just to find out the beginning balance is off. I will say; however, that this has improved significantly over the last couple releases. Intuit has added a lot of depth to the user rights area and I've become much more comfortable with the ability to establish reasonable controls.
The database that QuickBooks uses on the back end is another significant weakness and I don't see that being improved soon. QuickBooks uses a proprietary file based database that is built into the company file. When this file gets over about 1 GB for QuickBooks Enterprise the system may begin to strain. This is a pretty hard line, but there are things that can be done to manage it, keep reading for some potential solutions.
Setting those challenges aside, let's talk User Interface or UI. Don't underestimate the value of a well designed and efficient UI. This is the part of the software that we sit face to face with and spending a lot on software does not guarantee that it will have an efficient one. The QuickBooks UI is actually pretty efficient and easy to move around in. There are generally multiple ways to navigate to any particular function so "to each his own". It's simple to find transactions and drill down functionally is built in almost everywhere. Customer and Vendor management is decent, but almost all required functions are built in and included in the reasonable price. Earlier I mentioned the relaxed view of controls as a criticism, but it's probably worth mentioning that it does make it easier to get things done. You can change or delete transactions in the open period without a problem where other systems require adding additional adjusting entries to fix errors or make changes. I recognize that preventing changes is more in line with best practices but there's no denying that QuickBooks makes it easier to do, and easier to review account details. These functions help QuickBooks hold it's own, but I believe the most underrated feature is the availability of the Software Development Kit or SDK.
The functions of the SDK are freely available to anyone who wants to use it to interact with the company data through programming. Additionally there is a healthy community of developers willing to implement solutions that go a long way to extend the usability of QuickBooks. Full disclosure, I have developed and made a few solutions publicly available for QuickBooks desktop so my support of the development community may sound self serving, but even after paying for some of the most expensive software that expands the usability of QuickBooks, you will likely still be paying less than a similarly equipped competing software. Here are just a few examples of ways the SDK has been implemented to improve QuickBooks:
- Bills and related Payments are entered by an offsite team into a custom spreadsheet that is then imported through SDK programming.
- Completely custom Accounts Receivable systems were developed to meet the specific needs of the company which communicates the transactions to QuickBooks through the SDK.
- A Bank Reconciliation Database was developed to collect all bank transactions electronically from over 150 unique bank accounts. This database has an "Auto Reconciliation" function that reaches into QuickBooks and finds matching transactions according to criteria we set. A vast majority of bank transactions get reconciled without human interaction.
- All QuickBooks transactions get exported and synchronized with an external SQL database. This allows for easy external reporting, including BI dashboards. Additionally, this allows us to condense the data file which removes the transaction details for previous years, keeping the company file a workable size and still allows us to have the data available for reporting.
This list goes on. Every company has unique bottlenecks where automation would make processes more efficient, so as you consider the point where it makes sense for your company to move on from QuickBooks, make sure you also evaluate everything the SDK offers. You may just find out that you are really in the sweet spot where cost is low and potential productivity is high, and why not just hang out there as long as you can!