Information Technology is an integral part of every firm’s strategic plan, and most firms have instituted an IT committee to promote and monitor initiatives which need to be reviewed and updated annually for evolving trends that could impact the firm’s strategies. Below we feature eight trending technology topics that firms should evaluate and discuss the impact on their current initiatives and make adjustments as needed.
Windows 10 Transition
Early usage of Windows 10 has us convinced that it is a solid heir apparent to Windows 7 and we anticipate firms will transition to this platform immediately after the 2016 busy season. The major vendors are already listing applications being compatible with Windows 10 so we see it being accepted as a standard by year-end. The upgrade is free for licensed Windows 7 and 8.1 users, and our personnel transition of two different workstations on Windows 7- 64bit and Windows 8.1-64bit were completed without a hitch. We anticipate training on the upgrade will be minimal as the Start button and applications list from Windows 7 runs similarly, but adds the additional Metro buttons that Windows 8.x and Microsoft phone users have become comfortable with. Probably the most useful CPA feature will be the Windows “Snap” capability that allows for four applications to be snapped onto a single display if it big enough to handle it; pointing to firms going “big” with new monitors.
Higher Resolution/Oversize Monitors
Windows 10 ability to have four images is great if you have a screen that can handle them which points to adoption of 26” or larger screens to replace the firm’s older monitors that have reached end of practical life. While recently purchased wide screens can be turned into a vertical or “portrait” mode to show scanned tax source documents in their entirety, older lower resolution screens that don’t show PDFs in high resolution will near retirement. Windows 10 also has a very good Task View feature that allows users to quickly jump between multiple applications. Firms should consider 2K and 3K resolution screens as replacement monitors which are crisper and better on the eyes in the long run. Current pricing for oversize monitors capable of replacing two older monitors is in the $600-$700 range, with the next generation of oversized “curved” screens having dropped below $1,000, making them a noticeable addition to partner’s offices, but not yet cost-effective for all staff.
Higher quality monitors will reduce eyestrain allowing accountants to work effectively longer, but any productivity gains can be hindered by older desks and chairs that are not conducive to the very long hours needed by accountants during the busy season. Studies are showing that too much sitting is bad for our health, and that standing for set intervals throughout the day actually makes your personnel more productive. A surprising number of firms have already implemented standing desks and while the automated systems that rise and fall to predetermined heights can be $1,400 or more, manual variations such as Varidesk quickly convert the traditional desktop to a standing format for under $400.
While many firms have moved to Microsoft Software Assurance and Open Licensing for purchasing Microsoft Office, there is a substantial number for firms that buy an Office license with the computer and then skip the next version upgrade, effectively getting five to six years use out of that license (which was also common with Adobe Acrobat licenses). The latest versions of Office 365 (and Adobe Acrobat 12/Document Cloud) point to annual subscription pricing being the standard even if the firm decides to skip an upgrade, which firms will need to reflect the additional cost in future budgets. And while Microsoft has said that Windows 10 will be free for the life of any upgraded machine, we anticipate licensing for NEW computers having Windows 10 will fall into this annual subscription model as well, so IT committees will need to update future budgets to reflect this also.
Collaboration on the Horizon
The influx of Lean Six Sigma consultants to the profession has promoted the capability to complete any work in its entirety before pushing it on, which means that when there are questions, they should be thoroughly resolved. Timely resolution points beyond traditional methods of sending emails back and forth, instead utilizing “real time” collaboration to respond immediately. Since the accounting profession is so Microsoft-centric, the obvious choice is Skype for Business (formerly Lync and Office Communicator) that brings together the best of instant messaging, staff availability, audio and video conferencing, screen and file sharing in one application which integrates with Outlook. While seen as “bleeding edge” in the accounting profession, collaboration tools have been commonly used in most other professions.
Mobile Device Management
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has also become standard in firms as the IT team must deal with an ever increasing list of smartphones, tablets, and home computers and the security around them. With rapidly evolving security flaws in virtually every device, firms need to evaluate centralized options to protect firm data. Mobile Device Management tools from companies such as Good Technology, Maas360 (IBM), AirWatch, and Citrix can erase firm data on remote devices without impacting the personal data on those devices and are expected to become part of the firm’s standard security procedures.
Security Tune Up
Security and protection of client data is a primary firm responsibility and very few IT Committees have the internal resources and knowledge to keep up with the latest threats, so firms need to work with external security integrators that can provide this assurance. Firms need to have their IT infrastructure evaluated on a scheduled basis, as well as to ask any Cloud/SaaS providers about the security they have in place. External security reviews should not only include active monitoring of the firm’s network, but also intrusion detection, prevention and education of existing staff on evolving security threats. It has often been said that personnel are the biggest risk and need to be reminded of phishing emails, social engineering, firm policy updates, and confidentiality of data, which the IT team should require of all firm personnel at least annually.
Data Backup vs. Disaster Recovery
The majority of today’s firms have offsite backups either on physical media (tapes or USB drives) or at remote locations where they were backed up through the Internet. With the transition to today’s virtualized server environments (VMware, HyperV, Citrix), not only is it easier to backup data, but also the server configuration and applications in such a fashion that they can be restored in a bootable format on blank servers, or better yet, turned on in a usable manner from the backup location. This changes the recovery time from a few days to a few minutes in the most secure firms. Firms that have not evaluated their backup options recently should evaluate today’s disaster recovery options that allow them to “spin up” a working server, providing near real time disaster recovery.
Technology will continue to evolve at a relentless pace and it is the responsibility of the firm’s IT Committee to evaluate current opportunities and IT issues that have moved from the “bleeding edge” to the stable edge of CPA firm adoption.
This article was originally published in The PPC Accounting and Auditing Update. Copying or distribution without the publisher’s permission is prohibited.