The recent news of Hewlett-Packard looking to unload its PC division in a spin-off is a clear sign that we are entering a new age of computing.
No one is predicting the demise of traditional PCs, exactly, but their dominance is clearly waning. Increased market share of Apple computers (I now own a MacBook Pro laptop and an iMac), smartphones, and tablets signal the true beginning of an era in which hardware will not be the primary factor in information technology decisions.
The move toward a this "Post-PC" environment is producing positive changes in the financial applications area. For many years, PC desktop-based programs ruled this market with an iron fist. QuickBooks was, and is, the de facto accounting standard, while Business Plan Pro has been the leading software for forecasting and business planning.
But web-based software is making significant dents in this model, at all points in the value cycle. The rise of the virtual workforce, and the expense of Citrix-based platform services, is opening the door for browser-based accounting and planning software. Two strong, web-based alternatives to the QuickBooks-centric world are WorkingPoint and Xero. Both applications provide strong accounting controls, including inventory management options, in a browser-based environment. I personally recommend Xero to my coaching clients because of its strength in mobile computing and excellent built-in invoicing capabilities. However, both programs are strong alternatives to QuickBooks. If your organization requires a higher-end system, IntAcct and NetSuite are alternatives to review. IntAcct is a strong alternative for companies with no assembly or manufacturing capabilities, while NetSuite offers more inventory and manufacturing capabilities.
Web-based business planning software still has something of a "features gap" to close, relative to applications like Business Plan Pro and PlanGuru. But many businesses can still find them valuable.Two services I have used are iPlanner.net and LivePlan.
iPlanner's user interface is somewhat difficult to grasp at first, but the program allows you to build an investory-ready business plan and forecast all three primary financial statements. iPlanner.net also allows you to show forecasts by month, quarter, or annual results for future years. LivePlan is from Palo Alto Software, the makers of Business Plan Pro. I really like LivePlan's user interface and ability to format the organization of a business plan. The sales forecasting ability of LivePlan is also easy to grasp and calculate based on operational results like pricing and unit shipments. LivePlan does not currently have the ability to forecast balance sheet and cash flow statements, but I expect this feature as a part of future updates given the features of Business Plan Pro.
The focus on mobile workforces and fast access to information will make accounting and finance applications become more mobile. Competition between the established leaders like Intuit and Palo Alto Software, and new companies that come along, will only produce better applications that will help us do our jobs better -- from anywhere.
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