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Netting Numbers

QuickBooks goes virtual.

Business happens, even when you're not at your desk. If you travel a lot, but you still need to keep an eye on your company's numbers, why not keep your books on the Net? Intuit's new QuickBooks for the Web could be your answer.

For $14.95 per month, QuickBooks for the Web offers many of the features you've seen in other Intuit products, such as access to checking and credit card accounts, check-writing, accounts payable and basic accounts receivable. If your business is service-oriented, this Web-based service lets you and your company's managers access key information anywhere, any time. That can be invaluable in today's fast-paced business environment. Because it lacks a solid inventory module, however, this service wouldn't be the best choice for a manufacturer.

The good news is, you don't need to have a background in accounting to use it. QuickBooks for the Web's interface is even more streamlined and easy-to-use than the packaged version of QuickBooks from which it was derived.

Incredibly, it has an even simpler look, fewer menu choices and very few graphics, allowing Web pages to load faster. This may not matter when you're operating from the broadband connection in your office, but you'll appreciate it if you use a dial-up connection when you want to check numbers from your home office or on the road from your laptop computer.

The sparse interface makes navigation easy in most areas. For example, when writing a check, the clean page setup leaves no room for confusion. But other areas, such as the reports section, are overrun with text, which can be hard to scroll through. Still, you do get several ease-of-use features that can speed up your work. For example, the AutoFill feature draws on the information you have already entered, making filling out forms and writing checks quicker. The automated billing features allow you to schedule recurring payments, which can save time.

QuickBooks for the Web is a multiuser service, so your company's administrator can grant access to as many individuals as necessary-all for the $14.95 monthly fee. (By comparison, Web-based rival NetLedger charges $4.95 per month per user.) QuickBooks for the Web could be the better deal if you have a lot of users. But then, NetLedger offers payroll and inventory and also allows you to upload your QuickBooks files. QuickBooks for the Web, on the other hand, doesn't let you upload the files from its sister accounting package.

To share information company-wide, simply assign passwords and designate user-access levels. Then your marketing department in Los Angeles can share information with your sales office in Chicago-although, without an inventory function, your sales staff won't be checking price changes or supply levels on products, a common remote activity.

Like many software-based accounting programs, QuickBooks for the Web is not necessarily meant to replace your accountant. Instead, it's an easy way to grant him or her remote access to your books. As a manager, you want to be able to stay on top of your accounts payable, receivable and cash flow. But you don't want the drudgery of quarterly tax accounting and reporting. Give that to the accountant.

While QuickBooks for the Web's remote access comes in handy, Intuit hasn't gone quite far enough. Specifically, this service doesn't synch with QuickBooks Pro or any other desktop software, so your access is always through the Internet. That means if your Net connection is down, you're out of luck. Not to mention, all your data is stored on Intuit's servers, so get ready to relinquish control. A natural disaster, or Intuit changing its mind about its Web-based business model, could spell trouble down the road.

And then there's security issue. intuit says the data is protected with encryption and each company's data is kept in separate physical partitions on Intuit's firewall-protected servers. The company insists the data is backed up, but is a little fuzzy on the details. It's up to you whether you want to leave your financial data in the hands of someone else's-completely. of course, Intuit's hands have proved to be reliable in the past (See "Buyer Zone," December, for more information on choosing an ASP.)

Bottom Line, quickBooks for the Web is a good collaborative tool with solid accounting features for your business. With a few tweaks, it could be a lot better.


Liane Gouthro, a former technology reporter at PCWorld.com, freelances from her home in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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This article was originally published in the January 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Netting Numbers.

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