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IN FIRM: 10 Benefits Of The MPAN Action Pack

Column: Technology in Practice

By now, most firms are aware that one of the primary benefits of joining the
Microsoft Professional Accountant’s Network (MPAN), which is free, is
access to the Microsoft Action Pack subscription. For an annual $299 fee, this
subscription provides a slew of mission-critical Microsoft software for in-firm
use, which is miniscule compared to the benefits received, particularly for
firms with 10 or fewer members looking to upgrade their infrastructure. Firms
should take the time to review the entire Action Pack offerings and incorporate
these into their future IT plans and budgets, particularly with the upcoming
transition to Office 2007 and Vista. The following is a summary of some of the
more important applications that I feel will have an IN-FIRM benefit:

  1. Office 2007
    The current Action Pack comes with 10 licenses of Microsoft’s Office
    Enterprise 2007 version, which includes Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint,
    Access, Publisher, Groove, OneNote and InfoPath.
    I predict that firms will transition to this version by the end of 2008 once
    the accounting vendors such as CCH and Thomson Tax & Accounting have completed
    their testing and remediation, particularly for transition issues with their
    audit engagement applications. The cost of these 10 licenses more than pays
    for the subscription when firms transition in the next year.
  2. Windows Vista
    I feel that the security and usability capabilities of Vista will eventually
    drive firms to replace Windows XP, but tax and accounting firms will transition
    with extreme caution. I believe firms will complete testing and remediation
    of workstations by next summer and begin purchasing computers with this operating
    system as the firm standard in the Fall of 2008 (particularly as Microsoft
    drops support for Windows XP in the following year). For existing machines
    that firms plan to upgrade, I recommended that firms download and run the
    Vista Upgrade Advisor. The Action Pack provides 10 licenses of Vista for existing
    PCs when the firm is ready for this transition.
  3. Office Accounting 2007
    While there is one license of this QuickBooks competitor provided along with
    27 hours of CPE just for joining MPAN, the Action Pack increases the number
    of licenses to 10 to enable multiple personnel using the application. With
    competitive accounting products, the firm must buy individual licenses for
    each person who will be concurrently using the accounting product, so there
    could be a huge potential savings in the cost of small business accounting
    applications in the future. MPAN provides one year of free support, but the
    Action Pack subscription puts any support calls into their priority queue
    for quicker resolution. For firms using the more robust Dynamics application
    for internal accounting, this software and 10 Client Access Licenses (CALs)
    are included.
  4. Small Business Server 2003/Server 2003
    For firms running on the older version of the small business server, the new
    product has increased the overall capacity of Outlook accounts and improved
    overall manageability, so it is well worth the effort of transitioning from
    the old Small Business Server. Other firms that are looking to break off a
    trouble-causing application to its own server will find that the included
    Server 2003 license makes this transition more cost effective.
  5. Windows Terminal Server (WTS)
    While many firms have utilized the integrated XP Remote capability of Windows
    XP to allow a handful of firm personnel to access their workstations from
    outside the firm, a more robust solution that also allows many more users
    to work remotely is WTS. This server license and 10 CALs are included, which
    will run all true Windows applications remotely for satellite offices, home
    users and personnel working away from the office via an Internet connection.
  6. Exchange 2007
    In the next two years, I expect firms to transition to the latest version
    of Exchange as it will allow those personnel with administrative rights to
    look through ALL your personnel’s Outlook accounts to search for e-mails
    and to centralize contacts much better. Top accounting vendors are already
    working to integrate the contact information from their Practice Management
    applications, which means we can expect to have a central contact list that
    would be maintained in the practice management product, but be able to access
    it via a public folder in Outlook without having to run any data transfer
    routines. While not a CRM application, Exchange 2007 will provide firms much
    stronger marketing and contact capabilities than we have ever had before.
  7. SharePoint Intranet
    Most firms have realized the benefit of having an intranet to allow personnel
    to more easily access all firm policies, procedures and information that is
    not housed within an accounting application. The Action Pack subscription
    includes 10 CALs for Expression Web (previously FrontPage) for maintenance
    of the existing intranet, but it also includes SharePoint Enterprise Server
    and 10 Designer CALs. I believe that SharePoint will be the future of knowledge
    management and business intelligence within tax and accounting firms as this
    tool is rapidly evolving to manage firm workflow processes, and the Action
    Pack subscription provides the tools for creating and maintaining your firm’s
    intranet.
  8. SQL 2005
    With more and more databases moving up to SQL, operating requirements will
    increase, and I anticipate that firms will split off applications such as
    practice management or document management to their own server to improve
    stability. Action Pack includes a SQL license to make the transition to such
    a server more cost effective.
  9. Virtual Server 2005
    Virtual servers allow a firm to run multiple server instances within a single
    server so firms can leverage server hardware. For example, firms could set
    up four virtual servers on one box and run Print/File, Exchange, WTS and a
    SQL application without any of the four
    processes being impacted by the others. While this is an evolving technology,
    I feel that firms will pilot its use for testing software updates and particularly
    for cost-effect redundant servers in a separate location for disaster recovery.
  10. Live Communications Server 2005/Office Communicator
    While I do not recommend that firms allow instant messaging (IM) to users
    outside of the firm (because I feel it is a distraction), having IM among
    the firm’s various workgroups can be an effective tool to improve communications
    if managed and accessible within the firm and if personnel are properly trained
    on usage. Action Pack includes IM capabilities and integration of voice communications,
    as well.

Conclusion
Firms that are not already members of the Microsoft Professional Accountant’s
Network should join today and sign up for the Action Pack subscription. Once
they receive their packet, they should walk through each of the included applications
with their IT personnel and then determine which licenses and features they
can use. This will allow them to immediately reap the benefits of this amazing
package.

 

See inside November 2007