Three popular general ledger packages. (ACCPAC PLUS, MAS-90, Solomon III) (Software Review) (evaluation)by Lifset, Robert H.
There are a number of high-end general ledger (G/L) software packages available. Three popular packages (ACCPAC PLUS, MAS-90, and Solomon III) will be compared and contrasted with respect to set-up, data entry, posting, audit trail, financial reports, back-up and recovery, and data storage.
The packages are general purpose, and suitable for a wide variety of clients in different businesses. The G/L modules are reviewed here, however, additional modules (such as Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable that automatically feed into the G/L) are available.
Chart of Accounts. The first step in implementing a GA, is the definition of the Chart of Accounts. Each package has a provision for an account number followed by some sub-division of the basic account number (this might be a division, department, profit center, or some similar breakdown). ACCPAC and Solomon both have a six-position account number followed by a second six-position field (ACCPAC calls it a "Department," Solomon a "Sub-Account"). MAS-90 has a nine-position account number that may be divided into two or three fields, known as segments (i.e., five- position account number, four-position department; four-position account number, two-position division, three-position department).
Copying Existing Chart of Accounts. From time to time, it might be necessary to copy an existing Chart of Accounts from another company. For example, when doing write-up work a firm may start with a standard chart and make minor changes to it. MAS-90 and ACCPAC make this easy to do by providing menu options (in MAS-90, "Copy Setup From Another Company," in ACCPAC, "Export/Import Accounts"). Solomon will permit the copying of a Chart of Accounts with difficulty. it is necessary to use an add-on module, Report and Graph Designer, to export the chart to an ASCII file, reformat the ASCII file using a text editor (e.g., EDLIN in DOS), and then import it into a new company.
Source Journal Set-Up. These packages use codes to designate source journals. The source journal code is associated with each entry, in the system and appears when the entry is posted to the G/L. MAS-90 and Solomon each have a two-position alphanumeric source journal code, allowing over 1,000 different source journals. ACCPAC has a one-position numeric code, permitting 10 different source journals.
With ACCPAC and MAS-90, source journal codes are defined during system set-up and only the valid, pre-defined source journal codes are permitted in data entry. Solomon does not provide for the predefinition of source journal codes and accepts any source code during data entry.
MAS-90 and Solomon require that all lines (debits or credits) entered for a given journal entry have the same source journal code. Because each entry must be in balance (debits equal to credits), this will ensure that every journal is in balance. ACCPAC permits different source journal codes for the same entry, therefore source journals may be out of balance at any point in time.
Consolidation. The three packages have the capability of consolidating financial data of subsidiaries into a parent company and producing consolidated financial statements.
Data entered directly to the G/L is entered in data entry screens. Combinations of debit and credit entries to different accounts are grouped together. These groupings are called "batches" in ACCPAC and Solomon and "Journals" in MAS-90. The packages require that these groupings be in balance (debits equal to credits) before they can be posted.
The data entry function should be both fast and convenient-fast in that an experienced person can learn to operate the package and rapidly enter a large number of transactions and convenient in that the package parallels the way people work. Typically, 1) data is entered, 2) data is checked on the screen, 3) data is saved and printed out, 4) printout is reviewed for proper accounts and amounts, and 5) data is posted to the G/L.
Data entry is reasonably fast in all three packages. There are several differences in convenience, however. ACCPAC and Solomon have separate columns for entry of debits and credits, MAS-90 requires that credits be entered in the debit column preceded by a minus sign (although it then moves the credit over to the credit column). MAS-90 and Solomon permit the display on the screen of several lines of entry (accounts with debits or credits) while ACCPAC permits only one entry at a time. Having multiple lines of entry on the screen makes it easier to check data entered, determine where the user left off, and is less prone to errors.
ACCPAC, MAS-90, and Solomon require that all groupings entered be in balance and error-free before any posting can occur. In ACCPAC and MAS- 90, there is no selective posting (i.e., post some groupings but not others). Solomon, however, allows selective posting, which is more convenient and provides greater flexibility. It allows for "hold" status, which prevents posting to the G/L while other groupings are posted. This permits a grouping to be set aside for review.
ACCPAC and Solomon have a separate posting function, while MAS-90 posts after printing a specific journal. It is advantageous to have a separate posting function as it enables the user to control the timing of posting.
A report will print out (or display on the screen) the status of each batch or grouping of entries (in Solomon, for example, batches may be on hold, in balance, released for posting, or posted). This report facilitates the control of batches or groupings within the system. ACCPAC and Solomon have batch status reports, MAS-90 does not.
A good audit trail permits individual transactions at data entry to be traced to the G/L, and, conversely, details posted to the G/L to be traced back to individual data entry.
In ACCPAC, transactions may be traced by Source journal, Date, Description, and Reference. For accurate transaction tracing, the user must assure that reference numbers and descriptions originally entered are unique. MAS-90 and Solomon permit transaction tracing by using a system-assigned sequential number: an entry number in MAS-90 and a batch number in Solomon. Use of a system-assigned number is more reliable and less error-prone than a manually-assigned number. in addition, Solomon's G/L detail report has more information (eight fields versus five each for ACCPAC and MAS-90) which can be used for transaction tracing.
All three packages have customized financial reporting capability within the G/L. This capability consists of entering a series of terse codes that describe to the package the detail format and data of the report. Once this report definition is saved, it may be used to produce the report. Mastering the customized reporting language requires learning above and beyond the knowledge required to operate the package on a daily basis.
The customized reporting capability of MAS-90 and Solomon ask for entries at reporting screens, and then edit the entries (this prevents entering incorrect codes). ACCPAC, on the other hand, is free-form. The screen entry of MAS-90 and Solomon is less error-prone and easier for the novice user to use.
Back-up and Recovery
Because the packages use regular DOS files for data storage, a back-up utility program (i.e., Fastback Plus, DOS Backup and Restore) may be used to back up the data files. ACCPAC PLUS recommends using the DOS Backup and Restore and walks the user through these utilities in its documentation.
MAS-90 and Solomon make things easier for the user by permitting the DOS Backup and Restore to be invoked from menus inside the packages. This approach eliminates the need for the user to understand and invoke these DOS commands directly.
None of these packages enables the user to invoke a non-DOS backup and restore program, such as Fastback Plus, from within the packages, although they may be used directly. Fastback and other similar utilities are far more efficient and less time-consuming than the DOS Backup and Restore.
These packages require a hard disk for both program and data storage. To measure the amount of disk space required to store the data for a single company, the same company, with identical charts of accounts, opening balances and journal entries, was created using each package. The disk space requirements are shown below:
Given the disk requirements shown above, Solomon would not be a good choice if many companies were planned and disk space was very limited.
While all three packages are suitable both for client use and firm write-up work, MAS-90 and Solomon are stronger packages than ACCPAC PLUS (see accompanying Comparison Table). Of these, Solomon gives the user more and better controls in the data entry and posting functions and provides for a larger Chart of Accounts. MAS-90 makes it easier to copy an existing Chart of Accounts to a new company (a feature that comes in handy when doing write-up work) and uses disk space more efficiently.
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