Productivity software and the Internet rarely work together. To bridge the gap, the American Institute for Financial Research, Inc. has come out with the Smart Business System, a suite of programs for entrepreneurs that stays current by downloading data updates from the World Wide Web.
Big Picture: The initial series includes Smart Attorney, a database of 1,200 legal forms you can customize to give your startup the paper presence of a blue-chip behemoth; Smart Business Plan, a series of templates and sample plans to help craft your own document; and Smart Survey, which provides business and demographic forecasts to help target prospective customers.
Each package, ranging from $89 to $149, includes six months of access to updates that have varying degrees of usefulness. Smart Survey, for example, regularly downloads new stats from the U.S. Census Bureau. Steven Majstorovic, CEO of Cyber World, which designs Web sites for many companies in southern California, has used Smart Survey to research his target market. "Several of the businesses we've contacted," he says, "are really astonished by the amount of information we have on them."
Geek Factor: Special features come with a built-in text editor and spreadsheet. A change in the cash-flow statement of Smart Business Plan, for example, automatically synchronizes cash-related calculations in the income statement.
Weak Factor: "Smart Survey doesn't allow you to compare data obtained from multiple searches," says Majstorovic, "which would make it easier to discover trends."
Ease of use: Smart Survey alone requires that you install a hefty 10 disks. The screen presentation and navigation is fairly intuitive, with a series of pull-down menus for easy selection of relevant statistics.
Bottom Line: The program needs refining. But AIFR has hit on a new genre of info-tools, marrying the up-to-the-minute currency of the Internet with the utility of PC software.
Coordinates: AIFR, 800-578-9000; (http://www.smartonline.com)