As firms transition more and more source documents and client deliverables to an electronic format, it is imperative that they manage this information effectively to minimize the amount of rework. Today’s managing data mantra is capture data at its “root” source, when it enters the firm in a digital format so that it is available to all those who are authorized to access it, wherever and whenever they need access. This can be done through the use of integrated tax, audit, practice management and document management systems, and firms should evaluate the tools that connect to their primary production applications.
The top three accounting application vendors have integrated digital workflow tools into their “suites,” which makes the sharing of specific types of information easier, so firms should review and implement these tools this year. For those firms that have not formalized their document management strategy, this summer is the best time to evaluate options and update their document retention policies to include electronic files stored on the network. For firm documents such as procedures manuals or firm-created forms that don’t reside within a specific professional application, the use of knowledge management tools such as intranets and integrated search capabilities will make this information easily accessible.
Number five (5) on this year’s list was Mobile and Remote Computing. Once firms have successfully secured their data and stored it in a format that is optimally usable to firm personnel, they want to make it available to personnel from remote sites including client offices, satellite offices, home offices and when the user is in transit. While bigger firms have traditionally found that Citrix and Windows Terminal Server provide the most robust platform to allow a large number of users to securely access firm resources via the Internet, technologies such a virtual private networks and web-based applications (SaaS) have expanded connectivity.
These remote access tools are also becoming more available to smaller firms, which traditionally relied upon remote workstation control applications such as LogMeIn, GoToMyPC and Windows XP Remote desktop. Growth in the broadband digital cellular networks from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint have provided more and more laptop users with virtually anytime, anywhere Internet access via air cards or “tethered” smartphones. In the long run, broadband digital access will allow auditors and other laptop users to process and store all data on the firm’s servers rather than on their laptops to minimize the impacts of laptop theft and the maintenance that firms have on these workstations.
Not to be overlooked on this year’s list, (6) Training and Competency highlights the concern among IT professionals of how firms train their personnel on an ongoing basis. Most firms do a very good job of selecting the optimal applications for their practice, and most even invest in effective training during the roll out of the new tool. Unfortunately, that is where the vast majority of firms stop their training efforts, leaving new hires to “figure it out” on their own. Studies done in the past found that untrained workers take two to six times longer to get up to speed and consume four to six times more IT support than those who are adequately trained.
Many firms’ IT people today will say they spend the majority of their time answering questions and fixing “issues” that are training related, rather than technically related, which further highlights the need for having a training program. Best practices point to firms designating accountability to either a dedicated training coordinator or allocating hours to specific application “power” users to identify, document and train firm personnel on optimally using that program.
The down economy has many firms scrambling to evaluate their practices and
is forcing tough strategic decisions. Before making these decisions, it is imperative
that firms start with a positive outlook, become aware of the full range of
opportunities that are available today, and focus on improving their practices
for the eventual upswing. Reviewing the AICPA Top Technology Initiatives provides
these firms with a targeted listing of considerations. For more information
on how to apply the initiatives to your firm, the AICPA has created a resource
center at www.AICPA.org/TopTech.