Account selection by Number

I have had a request from a potential user to be able to select accounts for transactions by typing the account number, rather than selecting from the drop-down list, or pressing first letters of the account name until it comes up (the two current options).

The problem with this is that it changes the account selection fields from ones you cannot type in, to ones you can type in. If you are going to be able to type in them, it only makes sense to change it to an “autocomplete” type field, like the Payee / Description fields, where you start typing an entry and matches come up. That would have to work whether you start typing a number, or start typing an account name.

There are a couple of problems I see with this, that I’d like your input on.

The first is that it could actually make the selection of some accounts by name much harder. Think about if you had three accounts named “General Fund”, “General Fund Income”, and “General Fund Expense” (or, obviously, anything other sets of accounts whose names all start similarly). As you started typing say “Gen”, “General Fund” would pop up. To get to one of the other two, you would have to click to the end of that field, or press the End key, and then continue typing. (Or, if you don’t figure that out, you’d have to type the whole common part, before you could start distinguishing it!) That’s confusing and slow.

The other problem is that suddenly validation is needed on the account entry, because you can type in something that’s not on the list. One option would be to ask whether the user wants to add that new account name (or number!), but there’s already a mechanism for that (the <Add New> entry on the list), so I’m not really inclined to add a 2nd way. So that means there has to be a message as they leave the field, saying something to the effect of “Sorry, that account isn’t on the list, please enter or select something that’s on the list”.

Now, one option is to stick with the current method (no typing, only first letters) for users who want to select accounts by name (which I think will be a large majority of users!) and switch to the autocomplete method for those who want to do entry by number. There would have to be an option added to Maintenance -> Main Options to control that switch. But I’m not crazy about the idea of their being two rather different data entry methods available for the same fields.

Thoughts? Thanks.

10 thoughts on “Account selection by Number

  1. Could the window in which you start typing your account selection be say, 5 lines. Then when you started typing say “G” you would see all of the accounts beginning with the letter “G” and as you typed more letters, this would naturally narrow your selection down. When you see the account you want, either cursor to it, or down arrow to it. Most likely 3 lines shown would be enough

      • Personally I would limit the feature to numerics only. In the vast majority of cases you can obtain the correct account with two or three digits. We are not talking about the bookkeeping for a multinational organization.
        I agree with Dan that searching for an account by name will often prove counter productive. The number of keystrokes required to find the account could take longer than printing out the chart of accounts!
        Given that ACCOUNTS adopts a numeric find feature, and given that once the organization’s bookkeeping is established; I would suggest that “adding a new account” should be discouraged if the number sequence entered is not found. Discouraged for the reason that having 999 or 9,999 expense codes is usually too many. I would expect that the account search number sequence not found is more than likely an error or memory lapse in those organizations that have been using the software for awhile.
        That said, if for example you are looking for an existing account and the first number typed is a 5, then a pop up window displays the first three accounts containing that most significant digit. Again when the second digit is entered, the first three accounts with those two digits is displayed for visual confirmation. And so on for the third significant digit.

  2. I’m guessing the request comes from someone using a program like QuickBooks which uses both the autocomplete and drop down options, and recognizes whether you start with alpha or numeric and starts autocomplete accordingly. If you start with a letter it ignores the numeric, but with a number it tags the number to the name and continues autocomplete. And (I think) it asks if you want to add new if you mistype.
    I’m sure that is quite involved from a programming point of view. I don’t know if the converience would be worth the labour. I’m guessing the machinery you are building with is not the same as what they are using.
    QuickBooks doesn’t read your mind either – often I find myself clicking the dropdown and scrolling through the entire list.
    One thing about Accounts: The speed always catches my attention. For example, doing backup I hit the Enter key and the acknowlegement window pops up. With QuickBooks I go do something else because waithing for backup to finish is too frustrating. That’s from a guy who doesn’t mind sitting around doing nothing.

    • Thanks, Bob. Yeah, I’m not sure why some of these programs’ backups take so long. Of course, if you use my Internet backup option (strongly recommended!) that’s going to take longer.

  3. Dan, I too think it’s fine the way it is. When I first started testing the software, I noticed this field was different than what I was use to, but quickly discovered the first letter entry to be just as, if not more, efficient.

  4. How about an option for prefixing the account name with the account number if you want it to appear that way in the account selection field? But there should be no way to change the account number without an act of God.

    • Actually, it is part of the design of ACCOUNTS that you can change account numbers at any time, without affecting anything. I would not want to remove that feature. (Of course, if you prefix your account names with their numbers, and you change the number, you have to change the name too!) But overall I just don’t think doing that is a good idea.

      See my next blog post for an alternate solution, which doesn’t solve entry by account number, but makes entry by first letters of account names better.

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