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How familiar are you with the accounting rules and concepts utilized by accounting systems? If you were more confident with the information generated by your accounting program, would it help you to use it more effectively to run your company? More importantly, do you understand how your Accounting Policies and Procedures integrate with the accounting rules and concepts to produce the internal controls you need?
On one hand, popular accounting programs for small and mid-sized businesses have become more widely used than ever before. On the other hand, industry consolidation has significantly reduced the accounting program choices to a handful. These choices are typically inexpensive, easy to implement, and come with little support to develop appropriate accounting policies and procedures to ensure that the data generated by these programs is accurate and complete. Entry-level software like Quickbooks® and mid-level software like MAS-90 or Great Plains share this common deficiency. “Support” documentation is long on the explanation of user features and short on accounting policy and procedural advice.
Accounting Systems – The Recent Past
Only twenty years ago, small to medium sized businesses faced daunting choices for selecting accounting systems. There were only three choices: Continue to use a full manual system (a comprehensive pegboard “one-write” system, employing many journals anchored to an imposing cloth bound general ledger book that rivaled the size of the largest Webster’s Dictionary); purchase or lease a computerized accounting system; or build your own automated system.
The manual accounting systems were not trivial. They were produced by major firms, which provided on-site implementation and training. These systems were well documented with many accounting policies and procedures built into the regimented use of the “one-write” journals and corresponding ledgers. Internal controls were manual at best.
An alternative decision was to purchase or lease an automated accounting system. But this required another decision of whether to buy a “ready made” product or build your own. To make this decision, the company would typically hire a consultant or CPA firm to perform a comprehensive “needs” analysis. The consultant would eventually select, either a commercially built multi-module accounting program (like Solomon, our Real World), or a programmer to develop the structure from custom code (RPG was a popular language used to create custom accounting programs).
Either one of these alternatives would have to run on a leased or purchased dedicated mini-computer system, (the IBM 36 was the popular mid-size business choice for many years). Both solutions required tremendous resources in time and money. Even the “ready made” solutions required plenty of additional programming to fit it into the specific company’s needs. For a half a year or more, various consultants, programmers and specialists would write code, test and rewrite code.
In either case, documentation was paramount. Hence Accounting Policies and Procedures, as they applied to the mechanics of the accounting system were well documented as a by-product of the installation and implementation process. The total costs in the purchase or lease of the hardware and software (ready made or custom built), and in the company’s own human resources, was staggering.
Accounting Systems Software – The Present
Imagine the months of decision making preparation, the months of development, the reams of Accounting Policies and Procedures documentation, and the total costs that easily went from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Compare this with current practice: The company owner (or the controller or other designee) walks into a local retailer, picks up a copy of the most successfully marketed accounting software package (i.e., the one occupying prime shelf space), drives back to the office, and loads the program on any available PC. There you have it – the decision making process, needs analysis, implementation, and installation, all for one low price…or is it?
None of these accounting programs comes with supporting accounting policy and procedure documentations. Internal controls do not exist and require manual processes and extra paperwork. Your accounting software does not come with support to help in your compliance with Sarbanes Oxley. Of course you can develop your accounting policies and procedures yourself, from scratch. But, this take a lot of time and expertise.
Accounting Systems Practices – The future
The future begins today, with your purchase of this Bizmanualz™ Accounting Policies, Procedures and Forms. This manual is needed more now than ever. Accounting systems are more accessible than ever before. Unfortunately, they come with no instructions. The user guide that comes with the accounting software only explains what the menu options do, it doesn’t explain which options result in sound accounting practices.
Accounting software is looking more and more like your own internet browser home page, (no surprise since each manufacturer is competing to be your primary web portal). New Accounting Software as a Service (SaaS) applications will make this a reality. But, in the process, the actual functions of accounting are less obvious, and as a result, less understood.
This article series will take a look behind the scenes of the “splash screen”. Hopefully, by understanding the concepts and consistent accounting rules utilized by all accounting software programs, you will develop more confidence to rely on the information generated by the program, you will have a deeper appreciation of the importance of accounting policies and procedures for internal control, and you will be able to use it more effectively to run your company.