Why do business people really buy Lotus 1-2-3? Because it's a standard? Because it's "user friendly?" Because it is the "best" integrated spread sheet package?

Maybe, definitely not and maybe -- but do you want to know the real reason?

It's because, if you're clever and diligent, Lotus can be both a tool and software lens to analyze your business.

To put it in hardware terms, people don't buy electric drills and drill bits -- they're buying holes. Tools are simply a means to an end.

The fact is that a lot of people who are buying (and have bought) Lotus aren't really getting what they will ultimately use -- they're getting software building blocks to assemble financial models.

For a remarkably hefty $1,750, Matrix Systems offers a "turnkey" financial analysis package not unlike a super value-added Lotus. Think of it as the ultimate Lotus macro: what you end up with after you've finished writing all your Lotus commands.

"Spread sheets require you to conceptualize," says Louis R. Mobley, a former International Business Machines Corp. executive who has modestly named his software package the Mobley Matrix. "What we offer is a complete systems representation of a business -- the balance sheet, the income statement and the cash statement -- and a way to express the interrelationships of all three."

Using a built-in set of 72 equations, the IBM PC-compatible Matrix lets users twiddle and tweak data in any "what-if" mode possible so that whatever changes you make in the balance sheet are automatically reflected in changes in the income and cash statements -- and vice versa.

"The programs for converting a desired 'return on investment' to a pro forma balance sheet are built in." said Mobley.

As a rule, I don't find these sorts of programs particularly exciting. On the other hand, Mobley worked years ago as director of the IBM Executive School and has consulted for numerous companies and organizations. He knows what it's like to deal with managers who hate dealing with the nitty-gritty of financial management -- or, worse yet, think they have a grasp of the financials but don't.

Particularly, small company clients had "three blind spots in finance," says Mobley: Unclear distinction between cash and noncash dollar figures; inability to relate the balance sheet data to income and cash data, and confusion in translating policies and strategies to accounting results, or conversely translating financial results into the policies or strategies which produced such results.

In effect, the Mobley Matrix is less a piece of software than the software expression of a financial data format. To put it crudely, it's the holes -- not the drill and drill bits.

Especially if you're MBA-less, this sort of data display can really be quite useful -- and it doesn't require the agony of learning how to program in Lotus. (Indeed, one of the main disadvantages of the Matrix program is that it's almost impossible to alter.)

Consequently, if you're interested in using a PC to do financials -- but without going through the agony of learning how to program -- the Mobley Matrix is well worth exploring. This is a good business package.

An additional note: The company is pushing to get a Big 8 accounting firm to set up training classes to teach small business clients how to use the Matrix. I like that idea -- because training and service is still the best way to alert people as to the real value of the software. What's more, it gives the accounting firm a way to attract new clients and consolidate client relationships.

Alas, no such relationship yet exists -- which takes a bit of the luster of the program.

The $1,750 price tag is, of course, something that will probably be coming down because the market doesn't accept software that costs more than the computer. But, remember, we are talking about a complete financial system -- not the building blocks for creating one. A lot of thought and effort has gone into this. And, despite the relatively crude menu driven interface, the program does create one of the clearest software windows into the financial world yet created.

Mobley's company -- Matrix Systems -- is very small and probably incapable of supporting a lot of users at this time. But the program is intriguing, the documentation solid and it is certainly better than a lot of the souped-up spread sheet software still lining computer store walls.

Matrix Systems can be reached in Washington at (202) 362-2667 and, in the rest of the country, toll-free at 1-800-772-1990.