Five Technologies Accountants Should Know

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Despite the current recoil from IT spending, there are five good reasons to be bullish about technology. According to today's conservative wisdom, spending money on computers, communications, and software is about as smart as investing your 401(k) in a dot-com startup. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Business 2.0 has identified five technologies new enough, but established enough to give your company a competitive edge.

  1. Storage-Area NetworksBusinesses can be crushed by mountains of data flowing in and out on a daily basis. A (SAN) can relieve the burden by bringing storage resources together in one place on your network. Data management becomes easier, cheaper, and faster. Storage Area Network is a storage device linked to servers by high-speed connections. Unlike conventional storage where the data is on (or attached to) the computer or server processing the information, SANs store and manage data apart from the application servers, which makes it easier and less expensive to manage.When storage is scattered throughout a network, some applications have plenty of space and others go searching for room. Since a SAN uses storage across an entire network, regardless of the application, drive space can be used more effectively.
  2. Wireless NetworksWireless local-area networks let you access corporate data from anywhere in the office—or outside it—and save significant amounts of money over older technologies.
    Wireless local area networks (WLANs), are built around a series of transmitters installed at strategic spots in and around buildings or offices, each connected to a computer network via traditional cable. The transmitters allow laptops with special PC cards to connect to the network the same way that Ethernet cables typically hook up desktop PCs.
  3. Remote SecurityMoving data securely is a job businesses cannot afford to ignore. Business does not stop at the front door, and neither does the security of data transferred. Employees who travel, work from home, and staff company branch offices need access to important data and applications on the network at headquarters. A virtual private network (VPN) protected by a public key infrastructure encrypts data as it goes over the Internet, protecting it from prying eyes along the way. Meanwhile, public key infrastructure software installed at both ends of the connection ensures that only the right users and computers gain access to the VPN.
  4. Voice Over IPImagine a phone system that allows you to access voice mail from your computer. Lets you play them over your speakers or a handset. Dials numbers in your electronic address book with a simple mouse click. VoIP saves money and adds great features by replacing arcane, proprietary phone equipment with standard networking equipment. VoIP offers other savings, too. Voice traffic in IP form can travel over the company's internal data network - that means phone calls among the company's facilities are free. The technology has several promising applications, such as making the public telephone network itself more flexible and easy to use, and routing phone calls over the Internet. Voice data in this form are easier to store, reroute, and manipulate—one reason why new VoIP systems are actually cheaper to deploy overall. But its most immediate potential lies in replacing clunky PBXs, those refrigerator-size office phone switches, often sitting in closets, that provide voice mail and functions such as four-digit internal dialing, call forwarding, and three-way conferencing.
  5. Extensible Markup LanguageBuilding lucrative new business partnerships means sharing data about products, inventories, clients, pricing, production, and sales. XML makes sharing easier than ever before. Extensible Markup Language (XML), an open and flexible way of formatting data for electronic exchanges uses plain-text labels to identify and organize data in a document. The data label can be read by virtually all major enterprise software, so it allows companies to exchange XML-formatted data over the Internet. The buyer and seller don't have to use the same database software, the same applications, or even the same operating systems.If that were all that XML could do, it would not be a must-deploy technology. XML's real advantage over old Electronic Data Interchange systems is its flexibility. XML can tie into everything from Web-based interfaces and desktop spreadsheets to enterprise resource planning systems and enterprise databases.

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