ISSUE 379: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE--Alan
Finding software aimed directly at the business
market might be getting easier
Jan 28 1997
What makes the computer on your desk different
from, say, a 1970s-era word processor, or your bank's ATM machine, or
your kid's Nintendo-64?
If you said 'software,' give yourself a point. Like
your computer, those other gadgets all use basically similar hardware,
but your computer lets you easily change its function by running
But where does the software on your business's
computers come from? You've probably got a word processor, maybe a
spreadsheet--probably parts of a large office-type suite. In other
words, you likely have software that's packaged for use at home and
school, as well as in the office. On the other hand, you may also have
some custom-made applications--perhaps a front end for your company's
sales or inventory data, written by a consultant just for your company.
There hasn't been so much software in
be-tween--products aiming particularly at general business users.
Sure, there's always been some business-oriented
software--accounting or payroll products, point-of-sale products, or
special-function products aimed at narrowly defined market niches like
dentist-office management. But now, it looks as if more software
developers are aiming to serve the business market directly, especially
small businesses, which are less likely to be able to hire consultants
to create customized applications.
Here are a few products that have come my way lately:
* Business Focus describes itself as a 'small business
planning program.' It's distributed in Canada by CIBC--yes, the
bank, not your typical software source. Running on Windows only, it has
modest computer requirements. It is designed to help small business
operators develop business plans, and seems clearly laid out and simple
to use. Users can start by evaluating their current budget and assets,
evaluating a target market, determining a proposed business site, and
tallying their start-up or expansion costs. It can be used to produce
balance sheets and income statements, and to calculate loan costs.
The modest but useful documentation includes several
typical case studies and sample reports. The software looks useful for
people looking to start a small business, develop a business plan, and
sell their idea to a bank manager. It costs $49.
* Also aiming at small to mid-sized businesses are a
pair of products from Quebec's Dynacom (1-800-565-2266):
Accounting Pro ($69.95) and Acounting Gold ($159). The lower-priced
product includes standard general ledger--accounts receivable and
payable, invoicing and inventory modules. It also includes budgeting
and forecasting features, along with bank reconciliation, forecasting,
and custom form design. The higher-priced version adds job-costing and
payroll modules and a report generator. Both versions support multiple
users over a network, and up to 99 separate companies.
* You know it's getting to be that time of the
year when the income tax software packages start appearing. CanTax (1-800-265-3800)
has expanded its line of products beyond the original basic package.
Their new product, the Canadian Tax Tutor ($59),
developed in collaboration with the Evelyn Jacks Institute (EJI),
aims to train users in the intricacies of tax law. The software
includes an examination which can be sent in to get a certificate from
EJI (for an additional $35 fee). This package can't be used to file
your 1996 tax return, but registered users will receive a free copy of
the standard CanTax 97 package for filing purposes. Don't expect to
learn to do your company's tax return from it--it's aimed instead at
helping you gain the tax skills to maximize your own return, to run a
small business on the side, or to help with others' returns.
* Thought of conducting a survey? Apian Software
(1-800-237-4565) has some software for you. Survey Pro works behind the
scenes when you design a questionnaire, linking your questions to a
database to help analyze the results. The approximately $1,000 package
is designed to create attractive paper-based forms; questionnaires
can't be filled in directly on computer.
Once the data is entered back into the computer,
however, Survey Pro includes options to produce attractive reports or
presentation slides. Data can be analyzed using frequency distributions
and cross-tabulations. For more intensive analysis, the data can be
exported to spreadsheet or statistical packages.
Apian has also produced an add-on, Net.collect (about
$700). This allows Survey Pro users to produce surveys for posting on
the Internet. The collected data can then be imported back into Survey
Pro. Documentation does a good job of covering the issues of conducting
surveys over the Web, including dealing with forms on a Web server. It
also has a well-written 'how-to' guide, walking the user through
building a sample information-gathering application.*