The KISS Principle

THE KISS PRINCIPLE (“Keep It Simple Stupid”)

When I first studied accounting – at about the same time that the IBM PC hit the market – I was introduced to the “KISS” principle. Fundamentally the KISS principle was supposed to guide accountants when designing (manual) record-keeping systems for clients and staff. The essence was to make sure that the system was simple enough to be understood by the users.

Otherwise –

  1. you’d need specialized (and expensive) people to operate it

  2. it’d be harder to troubleshoot and review

  3. it’d be more prone to error

  4. you might have to do it yourself

Of course back then accountants played an important role in systems design.Since then the accounting systems design function has been ‘professionalised’ – for the most part with disastrous results. For about 91% of businesses in the US (80+% in Canada), in other words  those with 4 or fewer employees, overly complex bookkeeping systems are uniformly misunderstood, resulting in wasted energy and higher costs.

The first computer accounting systems to work on the IBM PC platform were modeled after expensive systems originally designed for ‘mini’ computers. These first microcomputer-based accounting systems were soon the equal of their much more expensive cousins.

The problem is that the systems were designed to be operated in companies with a financial controller. In other words they required a professional accountant with sufficient skill to oversee them. When successful small businesses – typically without benefit of a financial controller on staff – went to their public accountants for advice, most accountants wisely deferred to ‘systems consultants’. In this way they hoped to avoid the heartache of being associated with disastrous and expensive implementations.

The expectation on the part of the business, was that a $250 accounting package shouldn’t cost more than $250 to set up. By contrast a similar system on a mini computer, just a few years before, would have involved a $10,000 to $25,000 implementation. As you can see, the public accountant was in a ‘no win’ situation.

Fast forward 25 years and software publishers describe their accounting products as ‘quick’ or ‘simple’ – but they still require experienced bookkeepers.

However as we’ve seen,  bookkeeping technology has changed since 1981….