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Accounting Tech Potpourri

Column: Accountant Tech Talk

From the August 2008 Issue

With another busy season behind us, I decided to write about the following
topics: the less-paper initiative, multi-function printers, e-filing and a few
thoughts for 2008.

Less Paper is better because
Not sure how your firms did, but we ended up doing more with less — more
returns completed with less personnel and paper. If I’m not mistaken,
that’s supposed to be the promise of the less-paper initiative. It’s
not less paper for less paper’s sake, but rather it’s less paper
equals more efficiency. We used the Wolters Kluwer ProSystem fx Scan product
for “scan and organize.” I personally don’t believe this provides
a significant advantage while paging through the digital source documents during
data input because whatever I’m looking at on a particular source document
page, I can quickly move to the appropriate tax input screen. Where the benefit
of this type of “scan and organize” is realized is after the fact
when I’m on the phone with my client, and they have a question about,
say, their K-1. In this case, the bookmarked source document file is a real
timesaver. I can link quickly to the K-1 without having to page through the
digital document looking for it.

HP gets back on track
HP has long been recognized for the best printers, especially laser printers.
However, I have been personally disappointed recently with their MFP (Multi-Function
Printer) devices. These are the all-in-one devices that not only print, but
also fax, copy and scan. Notably, these devices have been ink based and have
created lots of connection issues especially with Windows Vista. I know what
you’re going to say: “This is Vista’s fault.” But really,
it’s a combination. As with previous new versions of operating systems
from Microsoft, hardware makers were late with drivers that work. This is not
entirely the fault of the hardware makers either since Microsoft does make changes
to the beta bits right up until the release of its operating systems.

I believe, however, that HP is back in the game with its recently released
Color LaserJet all-in-one — the CM1312nfi MFP. This attractively priced
$499 device is rated at 12 pages per minute for black and white and 8 pages
per minute color. My testing was consistent with that. The color output is,
in a word, breathtaking, matching color laser output from devices much more
expensive. It’s not a particularly pleasant machine to look at, and it
has a hefty footprint that supports the 125-page output bin. The blank paper
tray only holds 150 sheets, which is a bit skimpy for my tastes, and the four
toner cartridges that cost around $70 each are easily accessed through one door
from the front of the device. The device has an Ethernet 10/100 port, but in
my testing scanning was next to impossible if connected via this port. With
respect to saving time and being more efficient, HP has implemented its new
instant-on technology, which gets the job printed much faster than previous
models that were without this new technology. As far as scanning goes, the device
has a generous 50-page automatic document feeder, but if you want issue-free
scanning, plan to connect the device using a high-speed USB 2.0 cable rather
than using the 10/100 network port.

Overall, this device passes my “bang for the buck” test with flying
colors as a nifty little workgroup multi-function device.

E-file comes more of age
We’ve been e-filing returns for several years, but we’ve also had
some holdouts (both clients and preparers). This year, over 92 percent of our
firm’s returns were e-filed. I believe this added to our overall efficiency.
Apparently, this is the trend profession-wide, and most reports indicate double-digit
increases in percent of returns filed electronically. The real advantage of
using this method is the immediate discovery of mismatched issues, like a SSN
not matching a name or a dependent claimed when the dependent claimed himself.
This eliminates dealing with those issues after the fact. Notable this filing
season was support for e-filing of partnership returns and some states (California)
requiring practitioners to e-file. If you’re not currently e-filing returns,
you will need to get up to speed quickly.

Some thoughts on the future
Now for some thoughts for 2008. With the release of SP1 for Windows Vista, the
aging of current hardware and the increasing difficulty of obtaining copies
of Windows XP, I believe many practitioners will be moving to the new operating
system. Other contributing factors will be better support by industry-specific
applications and hardware driver availability for Windows Vista.

Along with a steady move to Windows Vista, many practitioners will be moving
to the Office 2007 suite. In my experience, Office 2007 behaves better on Windows
Vista, and this will be the year of acceptance for the new user interface. If
your firm is planning a move to Office 2007, don’t forget the most effective
learning tools, including the Office Interactive Guides. These handy little
flash programs allow a user to select a familiar command using the old interface
and then interactively see how the same command is accessed with the new interface.

Fall of 2008 will bring the release of the Windows Server 2008 version of
Small Business Server (Code Name Cougar). Many of the firms that have been successfully
running Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 are doing so on hardware that is approaching
four to five years in age. Since the Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista code
bases are equivalent, investing in a Windows Server 2008 based version of SBS
will be attractive to those firms. In addition to Windows Server 2008, the next
version of SBS will include Exchange Server 2007, which requires 64-bit hardware.
That may prove a deterrent for some, but 64-bit hardware has been around since
2004, and most firms that will want the new version of SBS will be investing
in new hardware anyway.

So as you evaluate your 2007 busy season and make plans for next year, remember
what Yogi Berra said: “I never blame myself when I’m not hitting.
I just blame the bat and if it keeps up,
I change bats.”