The Future’s So Bright, We Have to Wear Shades
By Brian Tankersley - There’s a very interesting article by Andy Kessler  on the editorial page in the Wall Street Journal this morning which discusses the coming war in technology; the link is here . While Microsoft and Google  are the armies currently fighting the skirmishes around the future of technology, this is really simply a proxy war about how we will use technology in the future. Just as there are different methods of transporting goods around the country (think: rail vs. truck vs. airplane), there are also different models of computing (browser vs. local vs. mobile). Processing power (thanks to Moore’s Law ), bandwidth, and wireless technology have changed the level of real time information sharing. HP has even come out with a laptop (HP Compaq 6720t ) which is designed to be used as a thin client into corporate systems and which doesn’t even have a hard drive!.
Many accountants are rightly concerned with the security and information control implications of using online services for their mission-critical applications. While these are legitimate concerns, the reality of our digital infrastructure has generally made these concerns less of a problem now than in the past. High speed internet is getting faster. Last week, I received a flyer from my local telephone company offering a fiber internet connection which would have 25Mbps down/10Mbps up connectivity to my home.
While I’m still mulling over whether or not I really need that fast a connection at home since my current connection is 10Mbps down/1Mbps up through my cable provider, it’s really interesting that this level of service is now available in Knoxville, Tennessee, which, although a nice-sized city, is admittedly not one of the first cities you think of when you imagine fast internet speeds. My current internet connections (cable and Sprint wireless) continue to impress me with the speeds which are possible; my cable connection averages 8 Mbps down, 970K up whenever I test the speed, and my wireless connection (backup) has been running over 1.1 Mbps down/300K up on the road lately with EVDO Rev A.Anecdotal evidence suggests that telecommunications and other utilities are also more reliable than we have had in the past. Where I used to reboot my router and modem every morning, I now go for months without rebooting these devices, and they seem to just work now. My collaboration with others within K2  suggests that their experiences are similar: I have noted only two critical outages among the team during the first four months of the year. When I started my career 15 years ago, we would have two or three power outages during the busy season which would shut us down and cause us to lose work. While utilities aren’t sexy, they certainly seem to have made significant improvements in the last generation.
If you haven’t tried some of the latest evolutions in Web-based applications, here are some for your consideration:
- Gliffy – Flowcharts on the Web 
- QuickBooks Online 
- Microsoft Office Live Small Business  and OfficeLive Workspace 
- Bill.com – Electronic workflow and AP/AR
- Copanion GruntWorx – An online application for
scanning and organizing tax returns 
- XCM – Workflow automation for CPA Firms 
- Google Apps  – An office suite which allows Web-based collaboration and processing of spreadsheets and word processing
documents. These documents can be taken offline with an app called Google Gears.
- Thomson  and CCH  offer hosted versions of their CPA firm applications. Thomson’s offering is called Virtual Office CS , and CCH’s offering is called Global fx . (Both have simplified life for many firms who want to quit applying updates and administering servers in their offices.)
- Capital Confirmation  makes audit confirmations paperless and electronic (and really fast as well).
- Jungledisk  – An application installed on your PC which creates an encrypted storage drive using Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3)  .
While the future direction of computing hasn’t been finalized, there are really interesting things happening in technology, and some things (like those pages or CD’s for reference materials) are on the way out. The future appears to offer more choices for how tools are delivered to users, which will make it much easier to work from anywhere – even a condo in the middle of the Pacific Ocean .Brian Tankersley is a CPA and CITP based in Knoxville, Tennessee. You can learn more about him at www.bftcpa.com.