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And now, for something completely different...
Oracle Small Business Suite (OSBS) isn't like other accounting programs. It lives online, not on your desktop, so you need only a browser to operate the suite. Its interface also differs from the competition's. Unlike its graphics-heavy counterparts, such as QuickBooks, OSBS eschews fancy icons and wizards in favor of Spartan onscreen forms and lists.
But even though OSBS's facade won't win any design awards, it's easy to operate and customize. To mold your home page, for example, you can add shortcut links to specific accounting tasks such as invoicing, alter the page's color scheme, or modify the look of the navigational tabs.
Once again, don't let OSBS's ease of use fool you. Under the hood, the suite performs myriad complex operations. Like any accounting software, Oracle requires a prodigious amount of setup, configuration, and general up-front finessing. In fact, OSBS presents a potentially baffling glut of configuration and setup options. We spent a good 15 minutes trying to find the option that turned on the suite's sales-force automation. Plan to dedicate hours or even days to creating customer lists, building inventories, constructing payrolls, and the like. Or, if you have data in another program, skip some drudgery by importing customers and inventories from Quicken, QuickBooks, or Peachtree Accounting.
High on features, low on speed
Featurewise, OSBS easily holds its own against other desktop accounting programs. It offers comprehensive forms and templates, plus all the accounting extras you can handle. The Payroll module is particularly snappy: its tax withholding tables are always up-to-date, and it automatically tracks accumulated sick and vacation hours.
Unfortunately, even with high-speed Internet access, OSBS is slower than the slowest desktop accountant. Searches are especially poky, but we also got tired of waiting while OSBS processed various forms.
Well-integrated business services
As comprehensive as OSBS is, it has one serious drawback: it costs $99 per month, or nearly $1,200 per year (which buys you only a two-user license; it's $50 per month for each additional user). For about $500, by contrast, midrange programs such as QuickBooks offer all the same accounting muscle as OSBS. There are only three reasons to buy into this online system: sales automation, customer service, and a Web store.
The new sales-force automation module is the most important addition to OSBS 7.0. You can set up sales territories and rules for processing leads, for example, so that sales rep Bob receives all incoming queries from California and Oregon, while Washington-based customers automatically go to sales rep Barbara. Sales-force automation integrates tightly with accounting procedures, which means that salespeople have easy access to all of a customer's transactions and communications and can fill out estimates or orders for that customer. Oracle even includes an integrated calendar for tracking sales tasks (each salesperson has his or her own calendar), and if your salespeople use Outlook, Act, or GoldMine, OSBS will sync its appointment and contact data with those programs.
Smooth Web selling
If you sell your products and services online, you should use Oracle. The suite's Store module helps you build a Web storefront, stocks it with products from your inventory (the store site and a catalog of up to 100 items are included in the $99-per-month fee; each additional 100 items add an extra $50 per month), and ties it to your own accounting database. A sale on the Web, for instance, automatically generates an invoice in OSBS and deducts the sold items from inventory. On the whole, however, we found Oracle's store-building tools a bit simplistic (no WYSIWYG views or drag-and-drop creation tools here), and we don't care for the resulting cookie-cutter storefronts.
With all the features in OSBS, odds are that you'll need to contact support sometime. You can reach the help desk via e-mail 24/7 and through a toll-free call 12 hours each weekday. The online support is first-rate and contains detailed documentation, Getting Started guides, and online tutorials.
Oracle Small Business Suite is a sweet deal--if you can get your money's worth. At $99 per month, you'd better be taking advantage of every aspect, from accounting and sales tracking to customer service and online selling. If not, lay down a onetime payment for a solid desktop accounting program such as QuickBooks.