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IN-FIRM: 12 FutureTech Musings

Column: Technology IN Practice

From the Jan./Mar. 2008 Issue

New Years bring new opportunities. Most firms have stabilized their network
infrastructures and production processes, and are now experiencing a minor lull
in activity before the busy season really kicks in. This lull provides all of
us with an opportunity to contemplate new technologies for the year ahead as
well as dream about those that are on the horizon.

This
month’s column is dedicated to 12 future technologies and predictions
to give you something to mull about over your next cup of coffee.

1 PORTAL STANDARDIZATION
All tax and accounting firms will utilize a portal solution that is integrated
either with their tax workflow application or their document management application,
so that it is easy to use for both clients and firm personnel. While most
will be in-house for 2008, there will be a push towards web-based solutions
managed by the big three vendors (CCH, Thomson, Intuit) as they can provide
enterprise-class security and management.

2 OVERSIZE & MULTIPLE SCREENS
According to the 2007 AAA Paperless Benchmark Survey, the majority of firms
had standardized on dual-screen monitors this past busy season, and 10 percent
had someone with triple screens, which we expect to be the standard in 2008.
We believe that the trend will be to utilize 24-inch monitors (at a price
point under $350) that will be used in a traditional “landscape”
mode, while the existing 19-inch monitors will flex to a “portrait”
mode for viewing scanned documents. We can also expect to see laptops and
docking stations to come out with three or four external video ports to take
advantage of these monitors, while at the same time providing mobility to
the user.

3 SECURITY GETS TOUGHER
With virtually all data within a tax and accounting firm being digitized,
the need to proactively protect this data will be driven home. Firms will
outsource more and more security requirements such as using outsourced e-mail/spam
services, network monitoring, and having formal security audits performed.
Access controls will tighten up beyond just changing passwords to include
security tokens and biometrics. All data within the firm and offsite will
be encrypted using tools such as PGP.

4 INTELLIGENT ENTRY
Reliability of scanning applications will improve dramatically this year to
push scanning to the front end, creating a standard bookmarked PDF source
document. Within a few years, these applications will import data directly
into the appropriate space on the tax return, particularly once IRS mandated
bar coding allows this information to be input with 100 percent accuracy.

5 KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT RULES
The ability of firms to capture and manage knowledge
will become a priority in the next decade, as all data is stored digitally
in Terabytes of hard disk space either within the firm or to an Internet site.
Tools such as SharePoint and Groove will drive collaboration between firms
and their clients, further cementing the trusted advisor relationship. These
Microsoft knowledge
management capabilities could evolve to become the document management systems
of the future, making today’s DM systems obsolete.

6 SCHEDULING GAINS PROMINENCE
Staffing resources will continue to get tighter, and accounting vendors will
begin integrating ERP systems to optimize the
utilization of personnel. These tools will look at last year’s actual
workflow, the current year’s staffing resources and workload, and run
through thousands of calculations to optimize the use of staff, which can
be updated in a near real-time basis. Expect to see such planning tools roll
out not only from the Practice Management (time and billing) applications,
but also from tax workflow providers and document management applications.

7 WIMAX & BROADBAND CELLULAR DRIVE “THIN LAPTOP”
ADOPTION

Verizon, Sprint and AT&T will roll out 1Mbps and faster broadband connectivity
either through WiMax or other broadband
cellular services. This will allow remote users to connect to firm resources
via Citrix/Windows Terminal Services and access firm data and resources without
having any data locally, reducing the security implications of a lost or stolen
laptop.

8 TOUCH TECHNOLOGY EVOLVES WITHIN ACCOUNTING APPLICATIONS
The multiple touch capabilities of Apple’s iPhone and Microsoft’s
Surface computing platform will fire up the imagination of developers to allow
us to deliver data access capabilities that will get us to a truly “paperless”
world. Imagine the ability to review multiple documents on a flat electronic
desktop and “push” them onto a projection screen, to an e-mail
account or to a document management system with a touch of the screen or a
flick of the wrist. Next-generation auditors and tax personnel will review
and analyze data in a fashion similar to the movie “Minority Report,”
but on huge conference tabletop screens. The first working phase will happen
within a few years when accounting vendors optimize their applications for
Tablet PCs and other touch-screen technologies.

9 GOOGLE VS. MICROSOFT
Google has the cash, momentum and vision to take Microsoft on in the next
five years, and is partnering with innovators such as Apple (iPhone) and Intuit
(QuickBooks integration) to develop a relationship with consumers that will
eventually carry over into small business and then larger organizations. Google’s
web-based office productivity tools will gain market share in small business
and home use, forcing Microsoft to accelerate development of ASP-optimized
versions of Word, Excel, Outlook and other Office tools.

10 VISTA/OFFICE 2007 LEADS TO TAX AND ACCOUNTING PROFESSIONAL ASPs

Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 will become the standard in tax and accounting
firms for at least the next six years.Firms and vendors will standardize on
Office 2007 for longer than previous versions of Office, as the rest of the
business world transitions to web-based applications and “Software as
a Service.” Microsoft and Google will duke it out to deliver these completely
web-based applications, most of which are not compatible with today’s
accounting vendor applications. The longer Office lifecycle will be forced
as accounting vendors scramble to rewrite their applications to run with Microsoft
WinMin and a thin web version of Office that downloads just what you need,
just when you need it. In the interim, there will be a HUGE opportunity for
a comprehensive accounting suite that is completely web-based and written
in current programming languages to evolve and take measurable market share
during the next decade as the product is scalable to any size firm and has
tightly integrated security, making Google/Intuit a fierce Microsoft competitor.
With the deadline for being able to buy Windows XP extended to June 2008,
most firms will begin transitioning to Windows Vista during summer 2008. And
by the following year, the transition will have been similar to all previous
Windows upgrades, which are stable in the accounting environment after the
release of the first service pack.

11 VoIP EVERYWHERE
More firms will replace their aging phone systems with Internet-based systems
that also allow for “softphone” capabilities. Softphones can be
carried outside the office and provide office extension access wherever these
phones can get an Internet connection. Digital cellular providers will also
begin offering VoIP plans that will provide a virtual phone extension anywhere
the recipient can get a signal.

12 EYEGLASS PROJECTION SYSTEMS
As smartphone devices proliferate and can access and process virtually every
firm application and data, the ability to see the complete document on a screen
projected into video glasses will happen and also provide privacy in viewing
these documents. Prototypes such as Lumus Video Eyeglasses will eventually
be made small enough to attach to any eyeglasses to see full-screen documents
so you can provide laptop-like functionality in a hand-held device. With the
continued development of ultra-mobile PCs, the lines between a smartphone
and PC will blur.

The wonderful thing about technology is that it constantly evolves and provides
exciting opportunities for those that can see them. By taking the time to muse
into how future technologies are changing other businesses, tax and accounting
professionals can match these opportunities to how they can better service their
clients.

See inside January/March 2008