Accounting Software for the Geek Ranch

I hate accounting. The one accounting class I took in college proved that to me. The fact that I could get an A in the class by doing one homework problem and copying all the others during class was only part of the reason. But, it's related. I hate doing the same thing over and over and, to me, that is exactly what accounting is.

Now that my rant is over, the Geek Ranch will need an accounting system. Being, Chief Geek, that means I need to solve the problem. To make it a bit harder, our accountant will not be on the list of English speakers so the program needs to work in Spanish. That doesn't necessarily limit the choices but it makes my evaluation a bit harder.

Well, I have done a lot of looking around. Some of the useful links that get you pointed in the right direction include:

Much like with project management, I didn't find the perfect fit but I did learn a lot. For me, the most important thing I learned is that for now I need something to keep track of the money we spend while we are building the facility. What that needs to be is very different from what we need when we are in operation. It is also a lot easier to find this one year solution than try something close to the answer for the operational package at this point. So, this article is about what might make sense for now.

For 10 more months, we will have zero income (unless we decide to sell some of our coffee but I am thinking we may need all the caffeine for ourselves. (Do you think 500 lbs. or so will be sufficient for three people for a year?) That makes things pretty easy as we don't have to deal with multiple revenue sources, credit card processing, sales tax and such. In fact, all we have to deal with is:

  • Capital investment
  • Capital purchases
  • Expendables and Services
  • Salaries
To make this a bit easier, we don't have to account for the capital in any way that humors the government. So, we really just need something that allows us to be happy with where the money is going. The only possible complication is that it would be nice to handle multiple currencies as we are banking in US$ but pay for a lot of things in Córdobas, the local currency.

This multi-currency situation got me looking at KMyMoney. It is designed for personal finance but it does have a lot of pretty interesting features and is very easy to use. I started working with it but quickly realized that as it was set up for a person, things were pretty much backwards. You, for example, receive a salary rather than pay salaries.

My conclusion is that KMyMoney could do what we need for now but once you finish "turning it around" from personal to business it loses a lot of its charm. That is, it goes for clean and easy to understand to a bit confusing. That doesn't make it bad but it does suggest that a bit more looking is in order.

A very interesting program, BulmaGes, is available from IGLUES (Iniciativa de Gestión Libre Universal para Empresas y Sociedades). It is in Spanish which is an okay thing here. They also just released a remastered Kubuntu CD with it included.

It is a client/server application which uses the PostgreSQL database. It looks quite sophisticated. As it is clearly overkill for what we need today and the somewhat disorganized documentation is fairly complicated for my Spanish which is probably about as good as that of my 9 year old niece, I decided to put in on the "check it out later" list. So, the search continued.

After writing off the usual suspects (SqlLedger and GNUCash, for example) I ran into WebERP. As it didn't even say bookkeeping or accounting, it had to sneak into my perception. It's Wiki is where the documentation lives. From therthat Wiki, here is a brief piece of the story.

webERP is a complete web based accounting/ERP system that requires only a web-browser and pdf reader to use. It has a wide range of features suitable for many businesses particularly distributed businesses in wholesale and distribution. It is developed as an open-source application and is available as a free download to use. The feature set is continually expanding as new businesses and developers adopt it.

The page goes on to say there have been over 80,000 downloads with zero marketing. As I like this "use it if you want" approach rather than marketing which tends to make up for deficiencies in the product, I decided it was well worth a look.

So, what is ERP? If you ask Wikipedia you will see the following (and a lot more).

The term ERP originally implied systems designed to plan the use of enterprise-wide resources. Although the initialism ERP originated in the manufacturing environment, today's use of the term ERP systems has much broader scope. ERP systems typically attempt to cover all basic functions of an organization, regardless of the organization's business or charter. Businesses, non-profit organizations, nongovernmental organizations, governments, and other large entities utilize ERP systems.

I downloaded and installed it with no problems. The install isn't "automatic" but it is simple and explained in the documentation. You just need a web server, MySQL and PHP—in other words, pretty much what you need to do anything these days.

Upon starting it up, I was immediately impressed. It got me thinking that this was exactly what SSC needed 10 years ago to deal with all the company accounting, orders and inventory control. It looks like it could have been the one program to do everything rather than have a patchwork of solutions from web interfaces, inventory, sales and accounting only marginally talking together.

If you aren't convinced that it is different than so many hacks, read the Wiki page on contributing to the project. It starts by talking about the goals. For example, when you first run the program (there is a demo on the site) it isn't "pretty". That is, it is functional but doesn't have the fancy graphics we have all become used to. A quick look at the page I just mentions finds this:

To be "low footprint" efficient and fast, with absolutely minimal network traffic.

This is to enable dial up/low band-width connections to work with reasonable response times. This will require some compromises with the use of graphics.

Ok, that makes sense. So, it is a package that does so much more than I need that is very cool for something I used to need to do. Is it the right answer for me today? I am not sure. That is, it will clearly do everything we need and so much more. But, it offers a lot of things that will confuse a beginner. Thus, another week passes where I have discovered something pretty interesting but not necessarily what I need. Hopefully, some of you will see this as the tool you need for your business. For me, it is probably back to KMyMoney.

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