The Physical Therapy Equipment Co., in Tampa, believes you should tread softly when selecting software. The $350,000 seller of physical therapy equipment and supplies is searching for an integrated program that will handle accounting and inventory tasks. About a year ago, the company started sending software houses two-page specification forms detailing its needs (see box at right); once it finds the appropriate software, it will buy a compatible, multi-user microcomputer.

"Instead of the common practice of barging ahead and buying the hardware first, we want to shop around and start with the right software," says William J. Madden, co-owner of Physical Therapy Equipment. "We already know precisely what it is we want the computer to do. So far, I've mailed spec sheets to about 25 software companies. We haven't made a decision yet, but the catalogs and information I've been getting back are leading us in the right direction."

The synopsis Madden prepared describes his company and the specific administrative tasks he wants done by computer. "Sending out specs beforehand is more effective than having a programmer come in and tailor the system after you've bought it," Madden says. "I've heard all kinds of horror stories about programmers coming back again and again, at $40 to $50 dollars an hour, and sometimes never getting it right."

Madden's wife, Karin, who is the co-owner, says, "This is a very small company run by just Bill and me. A computer is a big expense for us, so we want to take our time and be specific. We've gotten different quotes, ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 for systems that are roughly the same. Why act too quickly and pay top dollar when you don't have to?"

SYSTEM SPEC SHEET

Accounting period Number of payments during one month

Monthly Open credit/debit memos during one month

Applications required Cash payments during one month

Order entry/inventory control Monthly statements required

Accounts receivable Invoicing

Accounts payable Number of invoices per day

General ledger (average and maximum)

Word processing Number of lines per invoice

(Nopayroll at this time) ( average and maximum)

Customer information Order entry

Number of customers Open orders on file at peak period

Regular shippingaddresses Number of orders shipped per day

Growth potential (% per year) (average and maximum)

Inventory information Accounts payable

Number ofitems Number of vendors (approximate)

Addition each year (projected %) Numberof new vendors added per year

Number of shipments received per Number of open invoices at peak

month

Sales analysis Number of checks written per month

Number of salespeople General ledger

Accounts receivable Number of accounts

Maximum number of open invoices Number of journal entries per month

at one time Prior year comparison required

Number of invoices during one month Month-to-date history