Thursday, May 5, 2011

Guest Blogger: Top Technologies for Accountants

By William C. Fleenor, CPA, Ph.D.
K2 Enterprises

Accompanying the numerous benefits of the recovering economy are growing demands on our time and talents. As a result, we look to technology to reduce or eliminate the clerical aspects of our workdays, such as preparing tax returns and inventory obsolescence reports.

But there is a catch-22: Our work keeps us too busy to select and implement technology that will save us time. On top of that, some people fear technology, and new technology does not always work as advertised. Now factor in budget issues, and you can see that we face challenging times.

When deciding what technology to adopt for your business, consider the following:
  • Spending on technology has been weak over the past few years, and as a result, many people need upgrades. You are probably going to spend a lot more on technology this year than you did last year.
  • Technology has been pushing the world economy for decades with improved productivity. The pace of improvement may have even increased during the economic turndown, because businesses demanded solutions to help them become more productive. 
  • Lots of new technology options could significantly improve productivity in your organization, and you likely are not even aware of many of them. Because most accountants have not been technology shopping for some time, you’ll probably find that many of these products and services are well-established and have solid track records but are not yet widely adopted.

Top Technologies for Accountants in 2011 
The following list is not organized in order of importance, because different entities have different needs. A local CPA firm, for example, would have very different technology needs than a regional medical center. 

This is not a list of issues accountants will face in 2011; it is a list of opportunities. Though some of the technologies are not optional (e.g., security), all of them represent opportunities to do things faster, better, and at a lower cost. The features and benefits of many of the products were unimaginable only a few years ago. In more than 25 years of teaching my peers about how technology can improve their work life, I have never seen so many significant advances:
  • Consuming Content on Tablets, Smartphones, and Netbooks – You and your people will be doing plenty more of this, as evidenced by recent software leases of companies such as Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting and other accounting software developers. Have you considered the management of information and security issues? Do you have a game plan for integrating and controlling this technology, or is it just happening all around you?
  • Cloud Computing – The driving forces behind this technology are improved reliability, functionality, and security; much lower cost; better backup; and the fact that there is no physical network to manage. Several years of experience with cloud computing show that lots of cloud-based software and services provide more reliable, less expensive, and higher-quality services. The cloud is a much less expensive platform to develop on, and it has much greater flexibility and capabilities than do tools for developing on-premises software. The bottom line is that cloud computing is a cheaper way for developers to do their jobs better. For example, they do not have to make their software run on your Windows XP machine that could be clogged by the games your child has installed. 
  • Security and Confidentiality of Business Information – Over the past couple of years, a massive and increasing volume of information has arisen that either uses the Internet for transport or is housed on computers that can be accessed over the Internet. From electronic banking to working remotely, the demand to access information has increased sharply. There are solutions that work and are cost-effective for most of the security issues we face, but the playing field is constantly changing. For example, do you need antivirus software for your smartphone? Remember, your smartphone is a computer that likely stores confidential information and is susceptible to viruses and worms. 
  • Windows 7 – The last of the computers running Windows XP likely will be phased out this year because of their snail-like speed and weak security. Windows 7 runs Windows XP apps, and support will soon end on Windows XP machines. Be sure to train your people, otherwise you will miss some significant productivity improvements in Windows (e.g., the ability to run in Windows XP Mode).
  • Microsoft Office 2010 – This year, nearly all business professionals who are still using Office 2003 and earlier versions will move to Office 2010. Progressive companies and firms will move from Office 2007 to Office 2010 in order to take advantage of the benefits of the very significant improvements in Outlook 2010. Very large organizations may be slow to adopt because of their need to integrate systems. Note: As a general rule, get new machines with Windows 7 64-bit but install Office 2010 32-bit. 
  • Improved Utilization Technology – Accountants are generally very good with the technology they use regularly, and even those who use older technology are always pleased, proud, and even amazed at what they can do. We need to determine how we can get a lot more out of the technology we use daily (e.g., Excel, Outlook, Adobe Acrobat). In the accounting community, this will be particularly important because of the shortage of accountants in a growing market. 
  • Paperless Conversions – We will see lots of these conversions in 2011. Some will be from an older paperless system to a newer one. This is a mature market with lots of options, so be sure to shop carefully. Salespeople are often poorly informed about other options and have an understandable bias in promoting the products they know and sell. Consider the cloud to avoid capital expenditures and as a tool that will help you get up and running more quickly.  
Keeping these technologies in mind, develop a technology game plan for your company or firm. First figure out all the different improvements you could make. You likely will have many options but will not be able to do everything at once. Next, figure out how you are going to get the greatest return on your investment.

Properly implemented technology pays big dividends. So what are you waiting for?

Editor’s Note: Learn more about these technologies at the VSCPA’s 3rd Annual Technology Conference on June 27–28 at the Waterford at Springfield.

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