Microsoft acquired Great Plains Software in December 2000. The offspring derived from this marriage is a brand-new accounting software package for small businesses called Microsoft Great Plains Small Business Manager (SBM). Small Business Manager is not just any run-of-the-mill accounting software package. SBM ships with Microsoft SQL Server Desktop Engine 2000 (MSDE), which is a noncommercial version of Microsoft’s popular SQL Server 2000 database management system. If you already own one of the commercial editions of SQL Server 2000, SBM can use it as well. Any small business with sufficient network resources and computer expertise can install and set up SBM without going through a Microsoft Great Plains Partner.

Overview of SBM functionality
Microsoft suggests SBM for businesses with up to 25 employees or annual revenue of up to $5 million. SBM has a hard limit of up to five concurrent users, even if SBM uses one of the commercial editions of SQL Server that permits more than that. You can have user accounts for more than five users, but if five users are simultaneously working in any five modules and another new user attempts to open any module, that user will be denied access. The new user will have to wait until someone closes his or her SBM session to have access. Alternatively, the system administrator can drop a lower-priority user to make room for the new user.

Because Microsoft SQL Server is the back end, businesses can manipulate the data stored in the data tables, which allows for the generation of custom reports. SBM supports XML and tightly integrates with Windows XP. More important, SBM is compatible with the .NET Framework. This enables customers and suppliers to work more closely via the Internet and greatly enhances business-to-business information sharing.

Installing SBM on the server and client
As we mentioned earlier, installation of SBM does not require users to contract a Microsoft Great Plains Partner. However, if you are the system administrator, or if this is your first time installing an accounting package like SBM, you should set aside some time to go through the online training session or consult a professional accountant. If you choose to use the online training, the registration keys that you need to access it are part of the materials in SBM’s support package.

To install SBM, follow these instructions:

  1. Insert the Small Business Manager CD.
  2. Read the agreements on the next two screens and click Next in each one.
  3. Choose between U.S. and Canada and click Next.
  4. The next screen asks you to choose between Server and Client. You must select Server the first time.
  5. The wizard checks to see if you have any version of SQL Server 2000 on your computer and offers a drop-down list from which you can choose an existing SQL server. You can also create a new SQL server. If you choose an existing SQL server and it has password protection, you’ll need to add the password. If no password exists, leave the space blank, and click Next. If you choose to have the wizard create a new SQL server, the wizard generates a folder and adds the pathname. If you prefer, you can click Browse and select a different folder and path. Click Next.
  6. The wizard stores the SBM application into a program folder. Once again, you can choose a different folder if you prefer. Click Next.
  7. Click the Install button to start copying SBM files onto your computer.
  8. Once the installation is complete, you will need to restart your computer. At the end of all this, you will have three new databases (DYNAMICS, SBM01, and TWO) on the selected SQL server.

You can now load SBM client files on other workstations connected to the server you just installed. The steps are the same as those required to install SBM on the server, until you get to the Select SBM Paths option, which lets you specify paths for your system files and online documentation.

The next screen requires the network name for the server computer. This is actually a two-step process. First, designate the name of the computer running a SQL Server instance that stores your accounting data. Second, name the specific SQL Server instance on a computer storing your accounting data. If you used the installation defaults and installed SBM with a new MSDE 2000 installation, your server name is most likely MSGPSBM. The remaining steps are the same as above.

It’s a good idea to work with the Sample Company just to get familiar with SBM. The Sample Company is a fully designed electronics store with employees, customers, suppliers, and payroll. I found it instructive to create invoices, enter payroll data, and add new customers with the Sample Company.


My next article will go into detail on how to set up a new company, as well as the steps for migrating legacy accounting software into Microsoft Great Plains Small Business Manager.

Final analysis
My assessment of SBM comes from numerous interviews with SBM product managers, hours of hands-on use and training, and interviews with industry analysts and practicing accounting professionals. Microsoft Great Plains Small Business Manager is well suited for any small business with professional accounting needs. If your firm has an in-house computer professional or a computer consultant, SBM offers an effective means of integrating automated accounting into your current business systems. On the other hand, small businesses with limited financial and computer resources and no prospects for growth are probably not likely candidates for trading up to SBM from a less full-featured accounting package.