Going by the dictionary definition, accounting is a wide-ranging profession. It includes any sort of information gathering, checking, and measuring that can help business owners and managers make better decisions about how to allocate their resources.

“Certified Public Accountant” is the formal title of an accredited accountant in the United States. In the UK and Canada, this role is filled by the Chartered Accountant.

In Canada, the chartered accountant’s professional body of knowledge encompasses everything that’s found in the US’s CPA repertoire as well as specialized information relating to Canadian practice. Chartered accountants need an undergraduate degree along with a period of articling. This grueling period can last up to five years, and it entails successfully completing several different exams and a challenging final.

Linda Plunkett, an accounting professor at the College Of Charleston, SC, says that accounting is truly the oldest profession. Even before the dawn of the historical record, tracking property was an important matter – sometimes even a matter of life and death.

The beginning of trade brought with it concepts of value and, eventually, the idea of currency. Historical evidence indicates that accounting was already a known profession in the Babylonian empire and in ancient Egypt. Government taxation brought with it a need for even better record-keeping, resulting in further advances in the profession.

To skip ahead to modern times, perhaps no innovation has had such a transformative effect on accounting as the introduction of computers and accounting software. Governments and larger businesses started employing computers for accounting functions in the 1950s. Since then, computerization has expanded to touch every industry. It’s now the absolute standard for businesses of every size.

In the profession of accounting, value is measured in multiple ways. The two most important are likely those referred to as accrual basis (also known as historical cost and cash basis. Specialized accounting software is designed to function seamlessly on these basic foundations.

Modern accounting software is broken down into two broad families based on how it operates. PC-based accounting software is, as its name suggests, centered around individual programs running on a business’s own hardware. This was the de facto standard for decades, but now it’s being challenged by a host of new web-based programs.

With these cloud-based accounting suites, the code which is responsible for accounting functions resides on a server independent of any one business. It has significant advantages, chief among them providing cheap access to professional-grade accounting tools to smaller businesses. There are potential drawbacks too, though. Security becomes especially important when a business’s most sensitive financial data is constantly being passed back and forth to a server-based accounting program. An interruption of Internet service can also strand a business without access to its software.

Here are some examples of web-based accounting programs that are currently in use:

* QuickBooks for the Web

Intuit’s well-known accounting platform has been redesigned to take full advantage of cloud computing. This version of QuickBooks has been built from the ground up for web-based operation.

* NetLedger

One of the oldest server-based accounting solutions, NetLedger is a very well-respected name in the accounting game. Its modular system can be easily customized to meet any business’s needs.

* Peachtree

Peachtree’s popular Complete Accounting package has included a web-based element since 2000. It’s been persistently popular with accountants who have spent their whole careers using Peachtree’s fine accounting tools.