Evaluating Accounting Software:
Print A Financial Statement To the Screen
This article is part of a series entitled
“Evaluating Accounting Software” in which J. Carlton Collins explains
his quick and dirty 20-minute guide to evaluating an accounting software
package. The article series starts here:
The process of printing a financial
statement to screen can be very revealing. To start with, this allows
you to see how many default financial statement formats come standard
with the system. Some products provide a balance sheet and income
statement while others provide numerous standard reports including a
Statement of Cash Flows which, last time I checked, was a required
financial statement according to FASB 52. This process also allows you
to see the flexibility of reporting options prior to printing. For
Can you define the desired
Can you easily report on a
single a department, division or fund?
Can the report be scheduled to
print automatically at regularly scheduled intervals?
Can the reports be printed to
someone’s e-mail address or fax machine?
Can multiple reports be
grouped together and printed as a single group, instead of selecting
reports individually each month?
Can the report format be
easily customized to add new columns or rows?
Printing a report to screen also allows you
to see how fast the product produces reports. Some products are much
faster than others. For example, Navision produces reports very
fast because of the way it was designed. Each time transactions are
posted in Navision , all necessary day end, week-end, month-end,
quarter-end, and year-end balances are updated. In this manner Navision
produces financial reports simply by grabbing the balances and
instantly constructing the report. Other products such as Great Plains
are designed to tabulate all transactions to calculate the
necessary balances. Only then is the system able to grab the balances
and build the financial report. Because you will typically be using demo
data, most financial statements should print in a few seconds. If the
product you are evaluating requires more than 30 seconds or so to
produce a simple financial report, watch out.
It is important to be able to print
financial reports to the screen. If you come across a product that does
not provide this capability, don’t walk away – run away. Without this
capability, users are forced to print reports to paper every time they
want to read a few bits of data. Printed reports, of course, take time,
waste paper, fill landfills, cost money for paper and toner, and result
in wear and tear on your printer. It is true that printed reports are a
necessity – especially when it comes to month end reporting. However,
for day-to-day tasks, printing reports to screen should be the preferred
approach. Reports printed to screen are available to everybody
quickly and always reflect the most current data and adjustments. Paper
reports may be obsolete which could lead to other problems. Further,
reports printed to screen can typically be cut and pasted into other
tools such as Microsoft Excel for easy “what-if” analysis or charting.
Another important feature to watch for is
fixed headers. Some products allow the user to scroll reports on screen,
while the column and row headings stay fixed – only the data scrolls. In
other products the column and row headings disappear completely when
scrolling the data, which makes it impractical to read financial reports
Once the report is visible on screen, some
products provide the capability to e-mail the report to a mail
recipient, or group of mail recipients. In many cases the report can be
exported or saved to a web page (HTML) format, an Adobe Acrobat (pdf)
format, or to one of many popular delimited formats. Many products, such
as QuickBooks Pro 2004, Peachtree Complete Accounting, and Great Plains provide one-click export capabilities which instantly transfers
the report to Microsoft Excel and Word.
The final feature to look for in a report
printed to the screen is “drill-down” and “drill-around” capability.
Some products allow you to double-click on any number, such sales, and
instantly drill to a list of all sales orders and entries that comprise
the sales balance. From here, the user can drill further all the way
down to the underlying invoice, and in some cases, to a scanned in image
of the hand-written source document. The more powerful products will
then provide “drill around capabilities that would allow you to drill to
data in other modules. For example, clicking on a line item on the
underlying invoice displays purchase and sales statistics on that
particular inventory item.
Presented below are two screens taken from
MAS 90, the first is the options screen for printing a financial
statement, and the second is the resulting financial statement itself.
In this options screen,
MAS90 does a great job of providing the user with complete control over
the format, periods, departments, and locations. Other options allow you
to specify footnotes and other attributes. This options screen is fairly
The resulting financial statement in MAS 90
is fairly basic. There is a nice copy button that makes it easy to copy
the contents of the financial statement and paste it into Microsoft
Excel, but the data is pasted as text, and must then be parsed to
perform additional calculations. As an alternative, MAS 90 offers ODBC
connectivity, an Export Utility called exchange, as well as strong
integration to Crystal Reports and other tools. The rest of this
financial report is rather basic. The titles scroll off the top of the
screen when you preview the data, there is no button for easily
e-mailing this report to other users (although MAS 90 does offer this
functionality from other screens), you can not drill down from the
As you can see, the
simple act of printing a financial statement to the screen gives you
many opportunities to digest the various capabilities of a given system.
Still, analysis of this feature is merely an appetizer. Keep reading
below as we get to the main course.
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