by Roman Kepczyk, InfoTech Partners North America
The AICPA has once again released its list of Top Technologies that will impact your firm in the year ahead. Part I covered the first five items technology issues on the list. We continue in Part II by looking at the impact of AICPA Top Technologies number Six through Ten, dealing with communications technology, remote connectivity, web applications, qualified IT personnel and messaging applications with a focus on how CPA Firms would be impacted.
6. Communications Technologies-Bandwidth: The future of business communications will be dependent on accessing information from any location in the quickest time possible in a secure format. To do this we need good bandwidth. In today's environment, the vast majority of firms have access to a cable or DSL connection with speeds of 256Kb or more. Dial up speeds (56Kb) are not adequate to run applications remotely (without Citrix/WTS application servers) and at best can work for one individual. In larger firms we expect a T-1 (1,544Kb) to connect to the Internet and for firms to have a second, "alternate" provider for backup. To test your current bandwidth, we suggest you utilize the bandwidth meter available at www.2wire.com and document speeds throughout a period of days. This can be used to negotiate a better price from you provider or to get them to update your connection. For current bandwidth providers, ratings, and prices, we suggest you go to www.DSLReports.com. As bandwidth providers are constantly entering new markets, we encourage you to not sign any contracts for more than one year.
7. Remote Connectivity Tools: As firms transition to a digital environment, they must make their digital information available outside the confines of the office. Remote connectivity tools such as laptops and PDAs (personal digital assistants) make this possible. In most cases, an individual that works outside of the office one day a week or more, should have a laptop as their primary workstation. This laptop should come equipped with a modem, a digital line tester, and a digital/analog converter, as well as access to a 1-800 number or local ISP to connect effectively to the firm. We also recommend firms standardize on PDAs so that information is available "at your fingertips" and new appointments/address updates can be captured at their root source. For most people that are out of the office for days at a time, we lean towards the palm OS (operating system) devices such as the Handspring Edge and Sony Clie, because of their lower cost and better battery life. Within the next three years, we predict that the Microsoft Pocket PC products will come down in price, while at the same time expand battery life, to become the dominant product. In addition, we are starting to see hybrid devices such as the Blackberry, Samsung SPH 1300, and Handspring Treo that combine wireless and phone capabilities with your PDA. To read more about such devices read our February article on PDA Hybrids.
8. Web-based and Web-enabled Applications: Web-based applications are those that have been written specifically for the Internet and are optimized to do so, while web-enabled applications are those that traditionally were written for internal use and then made available via an application server (such as Citrix/Windows Terminal Server) or through a secured broadband channel over the Internet (such as VPN-virtual private networking). In the long run, we feel that the major vendors will transition many of our in-house applications to their web-based ASPs (Application Service Providers) and will do so more cost-effectively, securely, and with more stability than current methods, but it will take a few more years to get mainstream acceptance. The roots source of these applications are already taking shape with Creative Solutions Virtual Office, CCH's Global Fx, and the Intuit/Lacerte Online and QuickBase initiatives. In the short term, we feel firms will continue with the Citrix/WTS option, as it is proven and cost effective.
9. Qualified IT Personnel: In today's environment, we feel you need a combination of internal and outsourced technical support personnel to effectively manage the firm. In general, we see firms have one full-time equivalent person for every 20-25 personnel. For network and workstation maintenance, we see this person being internal and being provided with annual training on maintaining and supporting the firm's environment. For firms with 40 people or more, we add a helpdesk/training coordinator as the second person. For all higher level "one-shot" projects such as new server operating systems, WAN implementation, firewall/security, or remote access, we recommend you work with an experienced external network integrator that has greater depth of personnel and experience, to make sure the implementation is optimized the first time. We have found the most effective method of keeping your people happy is to provide them with training on your network environment and expose them to other CPA firm network administrators.
10. Messaging Applications: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. For many businesses and individuals, email is rapidly becoming the primary means of communication. The good is the price to send email is almost non-existent (or free). The bad is that many people don't effectively manage their email and the Ugly can be summed up simply: SPAM. Email allows us to respond to inquiries when it is convenient to us and gives us a record of doing so, making it an especially useful tool for tax practitioners. (Read our top ten tricks to get the most out of email.) We encourage you to spend this summer collecting your client's email addresses and storing them in your practice management and contact applications, so they are ready for next busy season. These addresses can also be used for informational marketing such as digital newsletters. As for dealing with SPAM (unsolicited and unwanted emails), we feel the problem will get much worse before it gets better, as SPAM senders are becoming sophisticated faster than the products designed to eliminate SPAM. Unfortunately, the best advice we can give is to use your business Internet access for business only (no registering for free vacations, sweepstakes, etc.) and to delete SPAM as quick as it comes in. We have been told by numerous sources that "unsubscribing" to many of these SPAM lists actually confirms your address, which is late sold to other spammers.
Contact Roman at [email protected].