Although new to the small business accounting software arena, Microsoft Great Plains has successfully created an accounting package that bumps heads with comparable Peachtree and QuickBooks packages. According to Gartner analyst Mika Krammer, Peachtree and QuickBooks are the two major players that own the automated accounting software market for small businesses. From her perspective, two key factors—low cost and ease of use—drive the choice of which accounting package is right for the majority of small businesses.

Her assertion may be true for small businesses with no significant growth prospects, but another group of small businesses values scalability more than price. Businesses in this category are either rapidly growing or are larger small businesses that plan to make the transition to medium-size businesses. These organizations have the resources to exploit the storage of their accounting data in a Microsoft SQL Server database. For example, they may need to generate custom reports or integrate accounting data with operational data. For this high-end segment of the small business market, Microsoft Great Plains Small Business Manager may represent a better fit than the two most popular small business accounting packages.

In a previous article, I gave details about the SBM product and explained how to install SBM onto your server and connect to it with your client systems. Now I’m going to cover the following:

  • The process of setting up a new company
  • Instructions on migrating legacy accounting software to SBM
  • A case study on how one CPA accounting firm (RSM) is deploying SBM to its 5,000+ business clients using its custom template, without physically touching any client’s computer

Author’s note

You can go to the Microsoft Great Plains Web site to get a 60-day trial offer of SBM.

Setting up a new company in SBM
SBM allows you to create up to five separate companies. The data pertaining to each company is separate and secured from other companies based on a password within the accounting package. However, you can copy general information, such as a chart of accounts and payment and shipping terms, from one company database to another.

To create your first new company, follow these steps:

  1. Start SBM by clicking the icon if you have it on your desktop or by clicking Start | Microsoft Great Plains | Small Business Manager.
  2. In the Company Login page, select Name Your Company to launch the Company Information Setup Wizard, and then click Next.
  3. Fill in your company data and click Next.
  4. Enter your registration keys (they are among the materials you receive when you purchase SBM) and click Next.
  5. The wizard automatically generates your fiscal calendar, but you can change it if you prefer. Click Next twice.
  6. Your company is now created, so you can click Finish.
  7. Now, you get launched into the meat and potatoes of accounting—the Account Setup Wizard welcome screen. To get started, click Next.
  8. Unless you are a professional accountant who enjoys fine-tuning account structures, select the first radio button to copy an existing chart of accounts.
  9. The next screen offers selections to determine which chart of accounts will suit your business needs. To set up my company, I selected US Services, since we’re a computer services company. Then, I selected Corporation as the business type because we’re incorporated.
  10. Deciding how to format the account numbers was trickier. We have three departments in our organization: training, group members, and technical writing. You can select from several predefined formats and then click Next to see the results that best suit your organization.
  11. On the next screen, designate how your transactions will post. Since our business is a services firm, Sales was the most appropriate choice for us. Click Next and then click Finish to finalize the draft selections for your new company.
  12. The next screen contains your Checklists. You can now make changes to any company data, and/or more importantly, start entering customer, supplier, employee, invoices, and so on.

Migrating files from QuickBooks or Excel
If your company plans to migrate data from QuickBooks or Microsoft Excel, you’ll be happy to know that SBM has a built-in Data Migration Wizard. It reads QuickBooks’ .iif files and uses the Excel IIFFile.xlt template, which was designed specifically to work with SBM’s migration wizard. This wizard uses a two-phase process: First, a tab-delimited file is created from the data in the QuickBooks.iif and/or Excel IIFFile.xlt file. Once the data is collected, it is moved into SBM data tables. If errors result during the migration, they are recorded to log files, which you can view from the last screen of the Data Migration Wizard.

Performing data migration involves these steps:

  1. Open Small Business Manager, select File | Import Data to open the Small Business Manager Data Migration Wizard, and then click Next.
  2. The next page offers the option to export from QuickBooks or Excel. Make your selection and click Next. If the wizard encounters account names with account numbers missing, it will present a screen to run an Excel macro that creates account numbers based on names in the migration file.
  3. Click Next, choose the type of file the data is being extracted from, select a location for the data, and then click Next again.
  4. The wizard will identify the types of records contained in the migration file, such as a chart of accounts. You can choose all files or select just the ones you want to migrate to SBM.
  5. The last step presents two views: Status Log and Error Log. After viewing the migration logs, click Finish to exit the wizard.

An SBM deployment case study
RSM McGladrey, Inc. is a Microsoft Great Plains Partner. The firm is also an application service provider (ASP) that specializes in hosting SBM. RSM has already deployed SBM to about 100 of its client companies, but its goal is to deploy it to 5,000 more clients over the coming year. Its clients are from many diverse industries. Some are small, while others have annual gross revenues exceeding $20 million.

Robert Larson-Hughes, head of the RSM deployment services, sees many benefits to SBM. In particular, the product can scale down to accommodate his company’s smallest business client and still offer enterprise capabilities for medium-size businesses. He also notes that if a business outgrows SBM, its accounting data can easily be migrated to Microsoft Great Plains Dynamics—the next step up from SBM in the Microsoft Great Plains accounting software family.

What’s special about the RSM deployments is that they are based on RSM’s data center. Clients log in over the Internet to get their accounting solution from the office, at home, while traveling on business, or anywhere they have access to an Internet connection. This solution relieves the clients of any concerns about management of the system, security, data backup, and recovery. In addition, RSM installs SBM product updates for all its clients as they become available.

For clients who need to migrate from another accounting package to SBM, RSM developed a custom migration tool that is a superset of SBM’s built-in migration tool. This product was initially developed based on experiences with clients using the QuickBooks and Creative Solutions packages. The migration package offers a convenient method for exporting accounting data from any package to an Excel spreadsheet, Access database, or a SQL Server database. One especially attractive feature about the package is its ability to trap records that do not migrate successfully.

SBM is the new kid on the small business accounting block. This entry into the market offers interesting options for selected small businesses. For example, those with the resources to administer and manage SQL Server databases will find special value in the fact that SBM stores its data in a SQL Server database.

Those with plans to grow rapidly from a small business to a medium-size business will appreciate the option of tapping Microsoft Great Plains partners to help grow their accounting capabilities along with their business. Still another group of small businesses will find value in the capabilities of an ASP firm, such as RSM, that can manage SBM without the need for in-house database or accounting employees.