If you're keeping business books using Excel and Word, you'll be happy to learn there's a better way. Microsoft has announced Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting (Office SBA for short), aimed at making life easier for spreadsheet bookkeepers.
Although it's still in beta, I had a chance to put the new software through its paces. I found that Office SBA plugs a yawning gap in Microsoft's product line that Intuit's QuickBooks has very successfully exploited. Office SBA is aimed at businesses that have outgrown Excel for spreadsheet-style books but aren't quite ready to move up to Microsoft's more capable Small Business Manager Accounting ($995 for a single user).
Office SBA permits up to five concurrent users, and it can import QuickBooks data. Microsoft has already targeted small-business users with Microsoft Office Small Business Edition 2003 and Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager.
This same small-business market now served by Intuit's QuickBooks and by Peachtree and Simply Accounting, both from Best Software. However, Office SBA offers a user interface with the familiar look and feel of Microsoft Office 2003, along with a high degree of integration with that suite.
Microsoft plans an extended beta test period, with the U.S. retail product scheduled to ship in late 2005. The beta may be downloaded soon, although Microsoft could not guarantee that the link would work today. The software pricing and its availability for other countries has not yet been determined.
All Tied Together
Office SBA will work as a stand-alone application, but it really shines when used together with Microsoft Office 2003 and an updated version of Microsoft Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager. These will come bundled as Microsoft Office for Small Business Management.
In my tests of the beta, I found that if you create invoices using Word, track product inventory in an Excel spreadsheet, and maintain customer information in Outlook, Office SBA can tie this information together in an integrated accounting system. It does this using Microsoft's SQL Server Desktop Engine database, which is included with the program.
Office SBA lets you design forms using Word, so you can easily add a custom logo to your invoices. It also supports transfers of financial data and calculation formulas to Excel, to make "what-if" forecasting easier. You can track customer information in Outlook, adding products to a sales quotation, then transfer that quote to Office SBA to prepare an invoice and bill the customer. You can even convert Outlook appointments to billable time in Office SBA, a neat and simple way for professionals and service personnel to track chargeable hours.
The new software also offers capabilities for tracking sales and customer accounts receivable, disbursements and vendor accounts payable, along with banking and financial reporting. Employee payroll is handled by integration with a special version of ADP's online payroll service. There are also plans to link to credit card services, online banking, and check and forms suppliers.
Who Should Use It?
Office SBA is easy to install with attractive flowcharts that guide nonaccountants in its use. However, Office SBA in its current form doesn't have all the capabilities of QuickBooks, particularly for specialized businesses. Microsoft is also releasing today a Solution Development Kit so independent software vendors can create product add-ons.
If you're happy using QuickBooks, I see no reason to switch to Office SBA. However, if you find Intuit's software counterintuitive or if you keep your current business records in assorted Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, then Office SBA could be just what you need.
Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting
Preproduction, not rated
If you keep your current business records in assorted Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, then Office SBA is worth a try.
List: Free beta trial
Current prices (if available)