Q&A: Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007 and Office Accounting Professional 2007 Build ‘Onramp’ to Internet Economy for Small Businesses

REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 29, 2006 – Financial software and the ability to access the internet have made it easier for small business owners to spend more time on growing their businesses. According to AMI-Partners 2005 data there are about 19.5 million small businesses in the U.S. A majority of these millions of small and home-based businesses in the U.S. are still using the shoebox-and-paper accounting method instead of software.

Microsoft has now provided such small business owners with a complete portfolio of easy-to-use and affordable accounting software and services that can increase their business efficiency and expand their customer base.

Rajat Taneja, General Manager, Small Business Applications and Services

Rajat Taneja, general manager of Microsoft’s Small Business Applications and Services organization, spoke with PressPass about the release of Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007 – available as a no-charge download, and Office Accounting Professional 2007 – available for a trial period as a download through Office Accounting Express and available at retail in early 2007.

Taneja also discussed how each of these products fits within the company’s strategy for addressing the changing needs of small businesses.

PressPass: How have the needs of small businesses changed in recent years?

Taneja: The core challenges of small businesses continue to be in maintaining, managing and servicing their customers, as well as managing their cash flows, employees, and, of course, complying with numerous regulatory requirements. Above all, they must manage their business professionally once they’re incorporated in order to file taxes in a structured manner.

These are still the top challenges, but changes in the environment are providing additional challenges as well as growth opportunities for small businesses. Some of these challenges include the ability to attract and service customers 24×7 via the Internet, and the ability to supply their products to customers not just in the local vicinity, but also around the world – because the on-line marketplace now connects customers and suppliers ubiquitously.

With the next release of Office Accounting Express and Professional 2007, small business owners will enjoy the capabilities of ramping up to the Internet in an efficient manner that is integrated with their accounting solution, taking away the pain and potential mistakes of double-entry bookkeeping and creating an easier way to manage significant revenue and marketing opportunities. With the Professional version, they will also have multi-currency support to help them with international sales.

A great example of a small business that needs these services is a cookie store I was at just the other day. The shop owner sells cookie cutters from Seattle, but has begun receiving orders from China – all because someone searched for “dragon cookie-cutters” on the Internet and her shop appeared. This example shows how fast the world is changing and how fast the span of influence of small businesses is evolving. There are going to be many opportunities for small businesses to expand and grow in this environment as they acquire and service customers 24×7 from any part of the globe. Of course the challenge many small businesses will go through will be in the operational aspects of billing, obtaining payments, and paying taxes for a product sold to a customer in a foreign country. This is where the design and functionality of Office Accounting and its web services can help businesses quickly adopt and grow in the dynamic marketplace.

PressPass: What makes the launch of Office Accounting Express 2007 so unique in the accounting software market?

Taneja: First of all, Office Accounting Express 2007 was built to help the large majority of small businesses move from paper/pencil, Microsoft Word and Excel, to a more comprehensive business management solution. Second, the design of the software incorporates several critical services to enable customers to take advantage of the economics of the internet. And finally, the core Office Accounting Express software is available free of charge, while the optional services are billed either as subscriptions or as transactions. With a choice of seven rich Web services integrated with the software, small businesses can select and use only those that best meet their goals and strategy. Small businesses can now integrate Office Accounting Express 2007 with what I call the “on-ramp” to the Internet economy: on-line services from eBay, PayPal, Equifax and ADP that help businesses sell product, monitor and manage customers’ risk profiles, and adhere to government guidelines for payroll.

Office Accounting Express also has several new features to help small businesses analyze cash flows, manage banking credit card transactions on-line and access financial data directly from the Business Contact Manager in Outlook.

Another great feature is that Office Accounting Express simplifies the sharing of financial information with an accountant; by providing a hard cut-off date, an accountant can now close the books while the small-business owner can continue working on transactions following that date. Small business owners can also share data with their accountant on the Microsoft Office Live Web site, rather than cutting a CD or e-mailing the file.

Finally, because Office Accounting Express is built on Microsoft .NET, it has role-based security that can be customized for each user’s needs, it scales to however many items, customers or employees a business must accommodate, and it can be extended through add-on applications or third-party integration to address industry-specific needs.

PressPass: What are the differences between Office Accounting Express 2007 and Office Accounting Professional 2007?

Taneja: As I mentioned earlier Office Accounting Express is the product meant for companies just starting up who have simpler needs and business processes, and don’t face the same constraints and regulatory issues as those small businesses that are more established.

So what we’ve done is to put in the Professional version those features, appropriate for more established companies, including the concepts of sales orders, financial charges, inventory management and fixed-asset management, to name a few. Office Accounting Professional 2007 also contains several additional financial reports that can be customized and are more applicable to growing businesses.

A general rule of thumb is that if multiple people need to access the software and use it, then Professional is the right product. However, for more information on the differences between the two products, please go to http://www.ideawins.com.

PressPass: Why did you make Office Accounting Express 2007 available free of charge, and what online integration services are available in the product?

Taneja: Our goal is to provide innovation to the vast majority of small businesses that aren’t using any accounting software today. We have developed an innovative, easy-to-use tool that can allow the majority of the small businesses to run their business in a more structured manner.

At the same time, we recognize that the marketplace is changing, and the definition of software is changing to become more of a combination of both desktop software and on-line services to run a business. So in terms of our product, the fees are based on on-line services that the customer can pick and choose to subscribe to – either on an annual or month-by-month basis if they get value from them. Those services are the seven I mentioned earlier that integrate with the product: payroll, credit-card processing, marketplace selling, electronic payment and presentment, credit monitoring and online collaboration.

PressPass: How will accounting professionals benefit from Office Accounting Express 2007 and Office Accounting Professional 2007?

Taneja: There are many new features in Office Accounting 2007 that can benefit the accounting professional. I touched on some of these features earlier, but other innovations include providing an accounting navigator that allows accountants to manage multiple clients without having to constantly change the version of their software, to provide wholesale payroll services to their clients, and to share data for all their clients in a very structured manner online using Microsoft services and hosting.

Office Accounting Professional also allows accountants to access financial reports and journal entries of all clients in a single location, and to do batch journal entries without having to switch out of their navigator.

Also, as mentioned earlier, the cut-off date feature makes it easier for an accountant to reconcile a business’ books. Normally when a CPA has a small business owner’s file, the owner can’t use the software. Now, customers can give their books to their CPA up to a certain cutoff of date. The CPA closes books, reconciles and does all the month-end closing entries for everything prior to that date.

Meanwhile, the business owner continues using their version of Office Accounting to issue invoices to receive payment, to do banking and payroll from that date onward. That means no longer having to use different accounting processes while waiting for the CPA to complete his work.

PressPass: How do Office Accounting Express 2007 and Office Accounting Professional 2007 align with Microsoft’s small business strategy in meeting customer needs?

Taneja: Our promise to customers in the small business space is to provide innovation in software and service offerings to allow them to grow and thrive. Both Office Accounting products – the Express and Professional versions – are based on this promise, and give small businesses features that not only span the financial space, but also provide value to help them to become more efficient in their marketing, sales and customer service. This is done in part by connecting to the other products they would be using to run their business, such as Microsoft Office, Dynamics Point-of-Sale, and Business Contact Manager.

The integration of the products is part of a full lifecycle of software that Microsoft has created to help meet a business’ needs as they grow from a small business to a large-scale enterprise. Office Accounting Express and Professional, as well as the other small business applications, are a subset of the features and capabilities that you might find in Microsoft’s other products, such as Microsoft Dynamics. This allows small business owners to migrate their data and expand their software’s capabilities as their business needs expand.

What we are doing specifically with Office Accounting Express and Professional is providing an easy-to-use solution for small businesses based on where they are in their life-cycle. Generally speaking, this would include a new company, a start-up, or a side business that has no more than 25 employees, and with needs that are quite different from those of a larger business.

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