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Hosted accounting options

Apr 06, 20064 mins

* Online options for QuickBooks and Peachtree ease aggravation

After I wrote about Outgrowing QuickBooks and Peachtree in February, I wondered about the millions of small businesses not ready to upgrade from either package. What issues do they struggle with every day? Well, I know of two aggravating technical problems, and maybe I can help relieve them for you.

No small business protects their critical business data as well as they should. Period. That’s Pain No. 1. Pain No. 2? Getting access to your data when you’re not sitting at your office computer. Both problems have solutions, but not easy or cheap solutions. And I believe if the Backup Fairy paid people to back up, only one in five would do it right even with money waved in front of their noses.

Enter QuickBooks Online Edition (QBOE) and ePeachtree. These products (and quite a few others) soothe both previous pains: the hosts back up your data, and you can access these applications from any browser anywhere on the Internet.

Paul Rosenfeld took over as general manager of QuickBooks Online about three years ago. He enthusiastically promotes QBOE, but laments it remains “the best kept secret in small business.”

“The two founders of QuickBooks set off in 1999 to create an online edition,” says Rosenfeld. “They wanted to bring the benefits of the Internet to small businesses, and they launched the online version in December 2000.”

Interestingly, QuickBooks designed the system for business users with broadband access, even though less than 5% had DSL or cable Internet access in 2000. They also made this a true subscription product, including technical support and upgrades included in the basic subscription price. Yes, all technical support. QuickBooks Pro 2006 offers technical support for $299 per year, but QBOE includes support in the $19.95 (and up, depending on the number of users and some extra modules) per month fee. When QuickBooks Pro upgrades appear at $199, online users keep paying their regular monthly price and get all upgrades to the online service.

Rosenfeld admits that QBOE doesn’t have all the features of QuickBooks Pro 2006. “The online product is a different product with a new code base. We don’t get as many switchers as new users.” Payroll services just launched for the online version last November, for example. Rosenfeld says “you can sign up and be up and running in 30 seconds and try it free for 30 days.” Did I mention he’s enthusiastic?

While over 3.5 million small businesses use QuickBooks, only about 70,000 use the online version. But that’s up from about 3,000 customers in July of 2004. Rosenfeld says 400,000 people every year buy accounting packages for the first time, and “we’re eating up a fair portion of new users to accounting.”

Interestingly, Peachtree launched its ePeachtree online accounting product about the same time as QuickBooks, back in the Spring of 2000. The company wouldn’t tell me how many customers it has, just that “uptake continues to remain slow around that service, but we do have customers signing on for our online accounting.”

Both services do something clever: allow you to grant your accountant access to your online accounting application for free. Both services offer data conversion options to upload your desktop files into your new online package. QuickBooks also allows users to download their data files in case they don’t trust the QuickBooks data centers.

Of course, users should trust the QuickBooks data centers because it’s part of the same data centers handling all the TurboTax online processing. Every piece of equipment in the data centers has multiple redundancies, including the data center itself because QuickBooks has multiple sites. Rosenfeld proudly says he guarantees “four nines” uptime (up 99.99% of the time or better) and two months ago had 100% uptime.

How good are the online tools? QBOE customers don’t switch back to the desktop version. The ability to check financial details anytime from anywhere, along with the automatic data backup feature, makes accounting a good candidate for a hosted service. And if QuickBooks or Peachtree don’t fit, check out the 420 other accounting packages with Web interfaces at