One lesson that has become clear in the past year is how important having up-to-date accounting records are for any organization. Whether applying for loans, government assistance or making informed decisions about operations, those with access to real time data have an edge over the competition. The marketplace has an abundance of choices for accounting packages and the new user might be forgiven for believing that they are all pretty much the same. These four questions should help make the selection clearer.

Q1:      What functionality options are deal breakers?

Best in class accounting systems can all perform the basic accounting functions of accounts receivable, accounts payable and adjustments, but what advanced options are important to you? Complex inventory management, item builds, job costing, allocation of expenses across jobs or departments, industry specific requirements, multi-currency needs and complex report writing capabilities are just some of the many options that may or may not be present in any given solution. Knowing which functions are necessities is critical to making the best decision.

Q2:      Do you want your accounting system in the cloud?

While cloud-based accounting systems are seen as the future looking choice, there are still plenty of desktop solutions which may be a better fit. What matters most in either circumstance is ensuring the proper security is in place. The biggest benefit of cloud-based programs is the ability to access data from anywhere there is an internet connection. That being said, make sure you have a reliable internet connection, or a cloud system is not for you. A cloud system also requires less IT infrastructure, makes collaboration easier and it is where the application developers are spending their development time and money.

Q3:      Is the system scalable?

No matter the reason for switching or implementing an electronic accounting system the best solution is one that is scalable as your business grows or needs change. While outgrowing an accounting system is an issue that every organization may like to have; nothing is more frustrating than growing out of a system that is less than a few years old and took a long time to learn. Like a chess player, think ahead and try to envision what you might need in the future.

Q4:      Can it produce the data you need to make decisions?

Reporting and key performance indicator (KPI) management is one of the most rapidly improving areas in accounting software today. Many electronic systems have dashboards, customized reporting and even benchmarking capabilities built into their interface. Identify what types of metrics are most important and make sure they can be pulled easily or even automatically from your chosen system.

In summary, the most important part of the accounting system selection may be the planning that goes in to how you would like the system to perform before you choose the system. Sitting with a qualified business advisor who can help you make that decision may not only save you money but something even more valuable, time.

For more information please contact Ellen Marvin at

About the Author

Ellen Marvin is a Director in the Client Accounting + Advisory Services (CAAS) Practice at SobelCo. She has been at the Firm for 21 years and has spent over 30 years as an accountant in New Jersey. She has a tax specialty in "CAAS" functions, making Ellen the ideal person to help create and launch this practice area. Ellen developed her technical expertise while working with clients, helping them with accounting and compliance issues, selecting accounting software, implementing efficiency and te...