Numbers on the Net

November 13, 2006

By JOANNA L. OSSINGER

With accounting, taxes, payroll and all the other financial necessities, it’s a wonder small-business owners have any time to do actual business. But some companies are creating online tools to make all that number crunching a bit less time-consuming.

A number of offerings are popping up that give small-business owners quick access to their financial data without a lot of investment in technology.

Sarah Endline, founder of New York chocolate company Sweetriot, says she likes Intuit Inc.’s QuickBooks Online Edition because “everyone [in the company] has access, and it doesn’t matter where we are in the world.” Even on the road, she can take out her computer and “pull up how we’re doing on our numbers.”

On the market since 2000, QuickBooks Online can be set up to show whatever data the business wants to see, and is designed around the simple format of “money in” (such as invoices and sales receipts) and “money out,” (credit-card purchases, cash expenditures, bills). A section for recent transactions can do an overview of all transactions, or just show a particular slice, such as sales. It is also possible to write and print checks, bill customers, set up bank accounts, make deposits, and generate reports such as profit and loss, or sales by customer or product.

To keep its customer data secure, QuickBooks Online reviews its log systems to scan for hackers and other questionable activity, has quarterly security scans by VeriSign Inc., a Mountain View, Calif., online security provider, and offers users the option of controlling the level of security for their own accounts, among other things.

The basic version of QuickBooks Online costs $19.95 a month, but upgrades are available.

Suggestion Box

The product has an online suggestion box where people can make comments and ask for additional product features. A number of people have complained about having to enter credit-card charges and other information by hand. QuickBooks Online says it’s working on these issues. According to Product Manager Kirby Freeman, the company makes weekly updates — usually small tweaks — to the product.

MyBizHomepage.com, based in Middleburg, Va., is an online accounting-reference system that launched last month. It’s a free, ad-supported service that integrates with the widely used non-Web version of QuickBooks accounting software. Registered users can see a financial snapshot of their business each time they visit the Web site. The site pulls key data from users’ Quickbooks files and puts them into an easy-to-read format.

The focus is on five key accounting areas: payables, receivables, cash, cost of goods sold and sales. Chief Executive Pete Justen says small-business owners indicated those areas were most important for them to track in order to keep their businesses going.

Several graphs show trends in the business’s important financial data at the top of the page. The site also can display such functions as stock quotes, news updates, Google search and other features that the user chooses.

It’s All ‘Right There’

Wanda Good, chief executive of temporary-staffing firm Professions in Winchester, Va., says she likes MyBizHomepage because “all the information is right there” on the screen, and she doesn’t have to take the time to run five or six reports to get it. The page makes it easier to see “trouble spots and trends” in her cash flow, Ms. Good says.

Mr. Justen says his inspiration for the Web site came in part from his background in mortgage banking and leveraged-buyout offers — or, as he puts it, “creating efficiencies in highly inefficient markets.” He was bothered by statistics showing that many small businesses close down even when profitable, and he figured if he could create something that would make the accounting easier, it might help relieve some of the burden on the small-business owners.

The site has worked closely with QuickBooks on security issues. “There’s nothing we pull out of your QuickBooks that anyone is interested in except you,” Mr. Justen says, explaining that the software doesn’t do anything with account numbers or credit-card numbers, for instance. MyBizHomepage offers the same security guarantee that QuickBooks offers its users. It uses VeriSign’s secure socket layer, or SSL, technology to preserve the security of data on the Web site. It also has a secure sign-on, as well as other security features typical of online-banking sites.

Audit Trail

SmartOnline.com is another Internet tool that can be used to keep track of finances. One feature keeps an audit trail for each stage of a customer’s transaction. Created by Smart Online Inc., a Durham, N.C., provider of online business applications, the site works mainly through partners to integrate bank services into an accounting product. It charges a subscription fee starting at $10 a month per user, which can increase if customers want to add other applications. The site’s main collaborators are New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Union Bank of California NA, a unit of San Francisco-based UnionBanCal Corp. SmartOnline.com says it is also in discussions with six more banks about possible partnerships.

At Smart Online, one person is the administrator and has full access to the accounting software. Every other user has a level of access determined by the administrator. Data are backed up regularly, and are housed on redundant servers in case anything happens to the primary server.

The banking function allows users to view deposits, withdrawals, fees and other transactions in their bank accounts, as well as reconcile various accounts. A vendor feature allows users to list their suppliers and include related information such as discounts, credits or debits. It is also possible to view supplier account histories and pay or void bills.

A similar feature for customers shows data on credits and debits, plus recorded and reversed payments. Users also can generate reports showing cash flow, shareholder equity, summaries of figures such as revenue or profit, and lists of banking transactions.

“It’s a product a small business can get into quickly at very low cost,” says SmartOnline.com customer Michael Lindsay, president and CEO of small-business technology-support company C’Bay Technologies in Yorktown, Va. Mr. Lindsay uses Smart Online and recommends it to his clients. He says he likes the fact that his accountant can access the information without having to transfer CDs.

Smart Online works with its bank partners on security. The company says SunGard Data Systems Inc. hosts its data, which are encrypted.

Banks and other financial firms are also expanding online tools that can help small businesses keep track of their money. Bank of America Corp. includes a number of features in its Business 24/7 portfolio, which is designed for businesses with 20 or fewer employees.

Payroll Program

The Business 24/7 suite offers a payroll program, which is free to customers if all payments go to Bank of America accounts. It guarantees that state, federal and local withholdings will be done accurately.

Business 24/7 also has a program that helps business owners obtain a line of credit, allows electronic billing and payment receipts, and can feed right into products such as QuickBooks and Quicken, another Intuit financial software tool. It can even send payment-reminder emails to customers.

To bolster security, the bank uses a special login that uses questions associated with a visual prompt. Also, if a customer is logging in from a computer that hasn’t been used before to access the account, there is a much more rigorous login process, in order to help prevent unauthorized account access.

New York-based American Express Co. offers customized expense-management reports for any credit cards from its OPEN small-business division. It offers different levels of account access, a way to pay bills online, and alerts that can notify a customer when spending thresholds have been reached.

 


A Fifth Startup? It’s All In A Workday

November 13, 2006

By Sarah Lacy

Dave Duffield was alone in a hotel room 3,000 miles from home when he got the news that PeopleSoft Inc., the company he had started and built over 17 years into a software powerhouse, had been snatched away. It was Dec. 10, 2004, and Duffield was preparing to give testimony in a shareholder lawsuit when the call came from longtime colleague Aneel Bhusri. “I’ve got some very bad news” was all he needed to hear.

PeopleSoft’s independent board members had voted to accept an enhanced $10.3 billion buyout from Oracle Corp. (ORCL ) Oracle Corp., the megacompetitor Duffield had taken to calling “the bad guys” because he feared there would be layoffs and product cuts if it took over. He felt like some- one had punched him in the gut. “I was in the middle of nowhere,” he recalls. “It was totally depressing.”

Duffield had put up a good fight. Three months earlier, when he returned from retirement to try to rescue PeopleSoft from Oracle’s clutches, many were amazed. Here was a wealthy, retired man in his sixties who, with Bhusri, had turned the reins over to CEO Craig Conway back in 1999. He had philanthropy and six adopted children at home to keep him busy. What did he need with running a company again? So when Oracle Chief Executive Lawrence J. Ellison finally prevailed in the takeover battle, everyone assumed Duffield would retreat to Tahoe–with the $600 million more he made off the sale.

They were wrong. On Nov. 6, following a year of industry speculation, Duffield, 66, will launch his latest software company. The startup, his fifth, is called Workday. It’s a bold attempt to tackle head-on the giants of the business, Oracle and SAP (SAP ), with Web-based “on-demand” software.

That means taking on the old PeopleSoft products, which Oracle still sells and supports. Already, Workday bears a striking resemblance to Duffield’s old company. At its offices in Walnut Creek, Calif., executives sit in egalitarian cubicles. Many are former PeopleSofties with a strong sense of loyalty: Few forget that, following the buyout, Duffield put up $10 million of his own money to help laid-off workers. Today, CEO Duffield roams the halls in jeans and a golf shirt. Just like in the early days at PeopleSoft, it’s as if a Midwestern company has been plunked down on the edge of Silicon Valley.

Attacking Oracle and SAP, which hold 65% of the market for big-company applications, is an idea that would get most people laughed out of a venture capitalist’s office. Fortunately, Duffield is worth an estimated $1.2 billion. Bhusri, who is back as co-founder, is a partner at venture firm Greylock Partners, which jumped at the chance to fund Duffield’s next act. So far he and Greylock have ponied up $15 million and expect to invest $20 million more by yearend. Why get back in the game? “I had a good life, my kids were happy, and I could hold my head up high about what I accomplished at PeopleSoft,” Duffield says. “I wouldn’t [risk all that] unless there was a real opportunity.”

AHEAD OF THE CURVE
That opportunity is to catch the software business at a new inflection point. PeopleSoft came along when human resources and other business applications were moving from mainframe computers to PCs. It quickly became a leader in easy-to-use programs that automate HR tasks such as the administration around hiring, firing, and performance reviews. For its time, PeopleSoft produced programs that were remarkably easy to use and customize. Then it rocketed to No. 2 in software for broader use in corporate applications, such as accounting, factory planning, and supply-chain management.

Shortly before its sale, PeopleSoft had 13,000 employees and $3 billion in annual revenues. In 2003, PeopleSoft attempted to widen its lead by buying a smaller competitor, J.D. Edwards. Ellison launched a hostile bid for PeopleSoft that stunned the industry. Conway resisted vigorously but alienated shareholders who felt he needed to consider the escalating offers. Finally the board fired Conway and turned to Duffield. He opposed a sale, but was overruled by independent directors.

Fast forward to today: Corporate software packages have grown increasingly complex and expensive to maintain. Frustrated employers are turning to on-demand software, which is easier to use and cheaper long-term. Sellers run programs for customers, taking on the cost and hassles of operating databases and servers. Users log onto the Web to pull down information on payroll or figure out where an order is in the sales pipeline. At the same time, a new, more flexible style of programming is emerging that takes advantage of software building blocks. As companies grow, they can move pieces around without breaking up the whole system. Workday will try to exploit those changes.

But the idea that Web-based technologies can improve software isn’t exactly original. A handful of promising young companies–salesforce.com (CRM ), RightNow Technologies (RNOW ), and NetSuite, to name a few–are gaining share with midsize companies. And SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft (MSFT ) are retrofitting their programs.

So Workday has its work cut out. The largest of its five customers is Biosite Inc. (BSTE ), a biotech company with 1,100 employees. To build customer confidence, Workday needs to forge relationships with big software and services outfits. It’s in talks with Microsoft to figure out how to get Workday software to mesh with its ubiquitous desktop programs. And Accenture Ltd. (ACN ) is building a Workday practice to help big companies evaluate and implement the programs, a sign that it thinks Workday is on to something. “We think this is a huge opportunity,” says Bob Suh, Accenture’s chief tech strategist.

Still, Workday’s best asset is Duffield’s reputation as a software legend. Early on at PeopleSoft, he did much of the coding himself and personally manned booths at trade shows. His last slide at customer conferences showed his direct phone line (and, later, his e-mail). “There really is a cult following around Dave,” says AMR Research Inc. analyst Bruce Richardson. “If anyone can do this, it’s them.”

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Web Services Hotshots

November 13, 2006

Salesforce.com

• Provides Internet service to help companies manage their salespeople

• Went public in June 2004, is up 27% since public offering

• CEO: Marc Benioff

RightNow Technologies

• Provides Internet service to manage call centers, customer e-mail, and salespeople

• Went public in August 2004, is up 92% since public offering

• CEO: Greg Gianforte

NetSuite

• Provides Internet service that duplicates general business and accounting software for small and midsize businesses

• Still private and likely to go public in next year or two

• CEO: Zach Nelson

Oblix

• Provides an Internet service that ensures the right people are accessing a company’s other Net services

• Still private, no immediate plans for public offering

• CEO: Gordon Eubanks

Grand Central

• Provides an Internet service that connects other Net services like those offered by Salesforce.com

• Still private and not near a public offering

• CEO: Halsey Minor

Source


Tech at Work: Free Web Service Offers Simple Interface to QuickBooks Data, News

November 7, 2006

By Richard Morochove

Intuit QuickBooks users who’d like a light dose of their finances topped off with the news and weather might want to check out MyBizHomepage. The advertiser-supported Web service is free (although registration is required) and lets you monitor key financial figures from your QuickBooks file while also supplying you with useful news information.

QuickBooks, of course, comes with its own financial dashboard, summarizing key financial data from your small-business accounting records. However, all these details could be overwhelming if you’re not an accountant. MyBizHomepage.com offers a simplified dashboard that may deliver just enough financial details to give you an overview of the business, without the mind-numbing detail.

In addition to financial figures from your business, the Web service can display up to six panels of other information, updated by RSS (Really Simple Syndication). There are also links to other Internet business resources, including articles and templates.

Customization Options

MyBizHomepage gives you a few customization options for the Web panel. For example, you can add up to two RSS news feeds of your choice and change the order of the panels. The other four panels feature news from MyBizHomepage, CNN, local weather, and a list of your e-mail contacts.

You can add contacts manually or import data in CSV (Comma Separated Values) or vCard format.

Importing your accounting data from QuickBooks to the online service is only a little more complicated. To link your QuickBooks data to MyBizHomepage, you must first export from within QuickBooks your chart of accounts in Intuit’s own IIF format. Then visit your account profile on MyBizHomepage and upload the IIF file from your computer to the online service. MyBizHomepage keeps track of your IIF data updates; periodically, you’ll need to repeat the export/import process to keep your online dashboard up-to-date. This could get tiresome if you want frequent updates, and it makes the service better suited for people in very small businesses who don’t use their accounting program every day.

Key financial figures from your QuickBooks accounting data, including cash, receivables, payables, and inventory, are monitored on a monthly basis for up to 24 months. You can view trends using bar graphs or display a chart of the actual numbers.

Not Customizable Enough

Aside from the problem of having to upload current data, MyBizHomepage would be more useful if you could select the items you wish to monitor from a menu. For example, a services-based business may not have any inventory to track; instead, payroll expenses may be more significant to the business and well worth following.

I’m also a little concerned about the implications of uploading confidential business financial information to an online service. MyBizHomepage says it’s secure, of course.

MyBizHomepage may not be worthwhile for financially savvy QuickBooks users. However, its dashboard is simple enough to set up and use. You can easily test this free service to see if it’s helpful to you.

MyBizHomepage

  • http://www.mybizhomepage.com
  • PCW Rating: 76
  • Value: Easy to use, free, simple financial dashboard for QuickBooks users, but requires time-consuming data export/import process to be current.
  • Price: free (registration required)

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