Despite their prevalence, many small and medium companies struggle to find applications that support their business. Most have minimal internal IT staff, and for many of them, the suggestion of selecting and deploying a mix of business applications has the same appeal as building an aircraft from spare parts: an expensive exercise that has little to do with their business goals.
A more attractive proposition is to purchase integrated, browser-based applications sold as services via the Internet, such as business suite offerings from Microsoft and Oracle. We examined Oracle Small Business Suite, which provides consistent financials, payroll, inventory control, order entry, purchase orders, and CRM functionality - all delivered as a Web service. Oracle also offers an easy-to-activate Web presence that helps companies to sell their goods via the Internet.
OSBS has no physical limits on the number of users it can support, accommodating anywhere from dozens to hundreds of users. OSBS earned a top score of Deploy for its ease of use, support for company-wide transactions, adaptability to various business demands and low-impact investment.
An ambitious, integrated suite such as OSBS aims to track each business transaction and reflect its effect on the company's books. For example, processing a shipment should also cause inventory and accounts receivable to be updated; running the payroll should also force salary, tax and insurance amounts to be recorded in the proper general ledger accounts; and depositing a cheque should also trigger an increase in the company's bank account and reduce the customer liability.
OSBS does all that and more. The suite's best feature is that each transaction is processed with automatic records that reflect its effect throughout the company. OSBS also speaks the language of business, not technical jargon.
The import and customisation features can be set so that the suite works according to company processes, for example, to allow direct customer transactions via the company Web site, such as placing an order or making a payment online. The suite does not include online credit card processing, but you can activate it for an additional fee.
In addition, you can activate suppliers' access to your Web site to track purchase orders. OSBS also allows you to pay bills online, use the payroll system (the suite's or your existing system), authorise employees' self-managed expense reports, and track billable time. IT managers can easily import existing databases from popular financial packages and from standard file formats such as comma-delimited and XML. Global export of databases and transactions to local archives is possible at any time.
OSBS is browser-contained, which made setting up our test bed on several Internet-ready PCs simple. After we had set our company preferences, using the suite was simplicity itself. We simulated an online shop with every standard OSBS feature activated. We defined several users with different roles; OSBS accepted our role terminology, such as "accountant", and " sales person", and we set granular profiles selecting which business transactions were authorised for each role, again choosing plain-English options such as "adjust inventory", and "process payroll".
As we registered the daily events of our company, OSBS kept a relentless eye on our users, tracking every log-in and transaction. Impeccable auditing is another major benefit of the suite and should satisfy even the most demanding IRS reviewer.
We found a consistent, intelligent design behind each function that helped minimise clerical work and maximise the bottom line. For example, recording a customer payment automatically spreads the amount over outstanding bills, starting from the oldest. With a simple click of the mouse, OSBS will memorise a transaction and use it as a template and reminder for future entries. Depending on their roles, employees can find on their home pages automatic reminders for overdue payments, transactions to approve, or statements to print. Managers can monitor the status of their business with reports and charts that give an immediate overall assessment or detailed analysis.
We give our top rating to OSBS. It is easy to use, inexpensive, and effective, and it can help manage most businesses. This suite leaves little to be desired except, perhaps, more supply-chain and customer-support functionality. Nevertheless, we recommend deploying Oracle Small Business Suite to support your company's efforts.
The Bottom Line - Oracle Small Business SuiteBusiness Case: This affordable suite offers comprehensive support of business transactions, including payroll, inventory management, and sales orders.
Technology Case: OSBS is a Web-hosted service accessible from any PC with a recent Netscape or Microsoft Web browser.
+ Easy to use with competitive service fee.
+ Complete transaction support.
+ Flexible customisation options.
+ Powerful data import and export.
- Limited supply-chain and customer-support features.
Cost: $US99 per month for one Web site and five account users; increases as requirements are extended.
Platform(s): Microsoft and Netscape Web browsers on any desktop platformOracle Small Business Suite can be purchased in Australia through Oracle: 1300 366 386, www.oracle.com.