A general discussion about the modules found
in accounting and ERP solutions

By J. Carlton Collins, CPA

Accounting Software Modules

When evaluating accounting software, it is important to review a list of modules provided by the system. Too often people purchase an accounting software solution only to later learn that the product does not offer a key module that they now need. Don’t make this same mistake. When evaluating modules, I like to group them into the following categories: 1. Core Modules, 2. Advanced Modules, 3. Web Modules, and 4. Development Tools. Presented below is a detailed discussion.

  1. Core Modules – There are typically 8 core modules. These modules are considered to be core modules because they are offered by almost all top accounting software products and are needed by a wide range of businesses.
    1. General Ledger
    2. Accounts Payable
    3. Accounts Receivable
    4. Payroll
    5. Inventory
    6. Order Entry
    7. Job Cost
    8. System Manager

Many vendors purport to offer other core modules such as financial reporting, allocations, budgeting, and bank reconciliation. In my mind, these are simply subsets of the core general ledger module, and not truly additional advance modules. The publisher usually lists these sub-modules out separately for marketing and pricing purposes. Don’t get confused by this practice. 

You should always look for these 8 modules as a starting point. If the product you are evaluating does not offer these 8 core modules, then you will most likely need to compensate by adding third party solutions or manual workaround procedures. Be aware that some companies will combine two or more of these modules together – for example the Accounts Receivable/Sales Order Entry module may be represented as just one module. 

  1. Advanced Modules – After the core modules, accounting software products will offer additional modules that are designed to meet the additional needs of their target customers. Accordingly, the particular advanced modules offered by a publisher will depend on the industry and size of the customers they target.

In my book, missing core modules are unforgivable. However, a missing advanced module may, or may not be, a problem at all. To understand the difference, let us compare the approaches taken by MAS 90 and ACCPAC ProSeries.

 MAS 90 offers 25+ modules in order to provide customers with a complete solution from a single source. I think that this is nice because it allows the customer to deal with just one vendor for their complete accounting software needs rather than seeking out multiple vendors whose products may, or may not, look the same; and may, or may not, work together now and in the future. I applaud the MAS 90 approach. 

By contrast, ACCPAC ProSeries offers only the 8 core modules, plus customization tools and e-commerce. The strategy is to offer a good core set of modules and an open architecture that lets the whole world develop complimentary advanced modules. The results speak for themselves. Developers from around the world have embraced ProSeries by developing add-on advanced modules within their particular industry or niche. The ProSeries strategy “invites” developers. Ask yourself - if you were going to develop an industry solution, would you prefer to integrate that solution with a product that may compete with you with their version of your application, or with a product that you knew for certain would never compete with you? I applaud ProSeries for this approach.

Which strategy is the best strategy? I really don’t know. They both have merit. That is why I maintain that a missing advanced module is not necessarily a problem – as long as the product is complimented by a wealth of third-party application developers.

My “Module Checklist” contains an extensive listing of the various modules offered by the top accounting software packages. You can view this listing here:



  1. E-Commerce Modules – I prefer to place all e-commerce modules in a class by themselves. Personally, I believe in e-commerce with every fiber in my body. I think that e-commerce will eventually be enormous. So far, sales of e-commerce modules have fallen well short of expectations. However, for many years now I have purchased virtually everything I buy through the Internet. Why? Because I usually save 20% to 25% by doing so. Further, I save time as well. Also, I don’t pollute the atmosphere with my car driving to a store; I don’t risk having a head on collision; I don’t risk being mugged in the parking lot (hey, Atlanta has the highest crime rate in the country); and most importantly, I don’t succumb to impulse purchasing like I do when I walk into a store.

E-commerce modules basically fall into eight different categories, as follows:

1.      Web Based Requisitioning (allows employees to order supplies via the web) 
      Web Commerce Catalog (allows company to publish a web catalog) 
      Web Customers (allows customers to log in to their account history via the web) 
      Web Employee (allows employees to maintain personal data & investments via the web) 
      Web Financial Statements (allows executive to access financial statements via the web) 
      Web Orders (allows the company to accept orders via the web) 
      Web Tools (allows company to create web sites and integrate their data)
      Web Portal (allows user to operate accounting system from remote locations via the web)

  1.  Development Tools – Finally, you will find plenty of advance modules that are designed to allow the user to customize of modify the database, tables, data input screens, reports, and forms (invoice, checks, etc.). Every company has a different name for these development tools, but most of them basically fall into one of these six categories:

1.      Customization Tools 
      Data Import Tools 
      Data Integration Tools 
      Financial Statement Designer Tools 
      Forms Designer Tools 

6.   VBA Tools

Click here to view Carlton's “Module Checklist” of the ninety most popular modules. 

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