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by Daniel Harris,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: December 9, 2016


Every company has basic accounting needs, such as general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventory and payroll. Accounting for manufacturing companies carries additional requirements. For example, it's important to have features to support job costing, work-in-progress (WIP) reports, change orders and job payroll tracking. However, the market for these systems is complex due to consolidation, new entrants and the increasing demands of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. We wrote this buyer’s guide to untangle the web of this technology.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is Manufacturing Accounting Software?
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Benefits and Potential Issues
Market Trends to Understand
The Vendor Landscape

What Is Manufacturing Accounting Software?

Manufacturing accounting software manages all of the financial transactions and operations for manufacturers. Generic programs, such as manufacturing software for Quickbooks, don't have the unique capabilities that manufacturers require.

Additional features found in accounting software for manufacturers include support for sales orders, purchase orders, change orders and work-in-progress (WIP) reports. For engineer-to-order and make-to-order manufacturers, job costing modules are especially beneficial. These modules help manufacturers track actual project costs by materials, equipment and labor, and determine cost differentials by comparing actual costs to estimated costs.

Most systems are offered in a suite of modules that include customer relationship management (CRM), material requirements planning (MRP) and manufacturing execution software (MES). This complete suite of modules is often referred to as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and can manage the entire operations of an enterprise. 

Beyond standard accounting modules like accounts payable, accounts receivable and general ledger, a manufacturing accounting system will have additional features such as:

  • Raw material costing. Allows users to project current and future costs for raw materials based on historical data.
  • Bill of materials. Allows users to calculate total costs for assemblies and subassemblies, with parts and materials lists.
  • Purchasing. Allows users to track inventory and automatically place orders for raw materials when quantities reach a threshold set by the user.

It is this integration with other modules that is a key difference between a generic system and manufacturing accounting programs. For example, inventory requirements determined by the MRP system pass through to the inventory system to check availability, then to the procurement system to create a purchase order, and on to the accounts payable system for payment. The MES system tracks workers time on projects and reports that information to the payroll systems.

Most accounting systems manufacturing firms use is still installed on-premise. In a production environment the workstations are networked, usually with a mix of wired and wireless connections. One of the cost justifications for cloud-based systems is the reduced cost for infrastructure, but that is often offset by the added networking infrastructure requirements of the environment. Even so, cloud-based accounting software for manufacturing company support has long-term business benefits. While the shop floor needs a network, it does not necessarily need to have servers. With the server in the cloud, the facility does not have to have staff to maintain it or back it up.

What Type of Buyer Are You?

It is the “manufacturing” part of manufacturing accounting systems that is hard. Buyers need to match the enhanced functions to shop floor needs. Over 90 percent of buyers fall into one of these three groups:

Enterprise resource planning suite buyer. These buyers value the seamless integration of data and processes that comes from having one system for all functions. For example, they prefer a full-suite system for estimating, work-in-progress management and accounting that can automatically turn an estimate into a budget for project management, and then match invoices to project status and allocate job costs. These buyers favor integrated suites like Oracle, SAP, Sage ERP or Microsoft Dynamics.

Specialist buyer. Specialists in one function, such as job costing or inventory management, may value the feature depth of best-of-breed solutions designed for their function. These buyers may need specific functionality, like the ability to interface with an MRP system.

Small manufacturer. Small organizations often have limited budgets and fewer IT resources to dedicate to a system. They may be deciding between a new system and a new piece of equipment. These buyers need cost-effective tools that are easy to implement and use. Some will prefer full-suite systems, while others may just want one application, such as bill-of-materials production or shop equipment scheduling operations. These buyers typically prefer to use a small accounting software package such as Quickbooks or Peachtree. 

Benefits and Potential Issues

There must be specific benefits to justify the additional costs of a industry-specific system over a generic system.

Any system is a challenge to implement. Because of the increased complexity and the interfaces to other company and operations systems, accounting systems are more challenging than most. This can lead to delays in installing the systems. Worse, a bad installation can yield incorrect results down the line.

Better cost control. Accounting systems for manufacturers gives a much better view of costs due to the MRP integration, MES integration and job costing functions. Increased information lets managers understand and control costs better.

Increased business visibility. Because the systems keep information at the job-cost level, managers have a view of costs and profits of all operations and can judge profitability at each level.

Better compliance reporting. Since these systems interface with systems throughout the firm, it serves as a convenient library for all of the compliance reports. This can significantly reduce the cost of preparing compliance documents for government agencies.

Market Trends to Understand

You could consider these market trends as you research the market:

Use of cloud-based computing. The use of cloud-based systems is growing. NetSuite, for example, is only available as a subscription service. While the cost of running a network is the same as as an on-premises system, there are security and cost benefits to having their systems managed and replicated in the cloud.

Use of Web-based front ends. Whether it's on-premise or in the cloud, more and more systems are allowing the use of Web-based technologies like browsers to run the systems. This means that the computer power can be centralized and workstations only need to be able to run a browser.

Integration with other systems. As manufacturing software evolves, accounting systems must change in step. More information is generated by newer MES and MRP systems than previous versions. As such, these systems are constantly evolving to keep pace.

The Vendor Landscape

This type of buyer... Should evaluate these systems
Enterprise resource planning suite buyer SAP, Oracle, Sage, Microsoft Dynamics
Specialist buyer Microsoft Dynamics, NetSuite, Sage
Small manufacturer Intuitive, SYSPRO, Intuit, Geneva, ECi, Exact

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