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Web 2.0 Continues Internet’s Revolution

Column: Tricks & Tips

From the Sept. 2008 Issue

What it Means for Tax & Accounting Pros: Part II of II

In last month’s issue, I started this column with the goal of defining
Web 2.0, a buzzword that’s been floating around for a couple of years,
but one upon which not everybody can agree. I dove into a much bigger pond than
I had expected. Check out the first part of the column for a brief primer on
the subject (
In part two, I look at the technological elements behind the innovation, and
also explore how the phenomenon has affected the tax and accounting space.

The Development Side of the Equation
As noted above, developers are key to the evolution of Web 2.0 applications,
and as new technologies and programming tools came into use and developers became
more attuned to potential consumer needs, the websites they created started
including more functionality as described in the Interaction and Collaboration
sections in last month’s column. Technically, most of the programming
techniques and languages have been around for some time, but it has been the
combination of these techniques and code bases that has enabled the Web 2.0
movement. Even the base elements of much-hyped tools like AJAX, which stands
for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (eXtensible Markup Language), have been
around since the 1990s. Another programming technology, SOAP (Simple Object
Access Protocol) is likewise an XML-based protocol. It is really greater programming
expertise that has led to the development of these programming methods, and
which has allowed the creation of multi-purpose Web applications that increasingly
feel like traditional desktop programs.

Software as a Service (SaaS)
As early as the late 1990s, users were able to either remotely access their
own computers or those of others, as well as programs that were often hosted
using a Citrix solution. Soon after this came the programs that existed only
online, sometimes called “Net Native.” The initial versions of these
programs weren’t Web 2.0 incarnations, and they generally provided only
single-user access to files and basic program functionality with interfaces
that weren’t usually as intuitive as the installed version of the program.

But as these programs underwent their own evolution and new ones were developed,
they incorporated many of the interaction and collaboration features that are
hallmarks of Web 2.0. Microsoft’s input into this arena has focused on
personal and small business versions of the Office Live Workspace, which provides
anytime access and collaboration tools for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other
Office programs.

In the professional accounting space, the more notable of these include the
full accounting suites from NetSuite and Intacct (both originally developed
in the late 1990s) and AccountantsWorld, an integrated suite of professional
and SMB business management tools. For professional tax compliance, GoSystem
RS opened the field, with Orange Tax Suite Pro coming to market three years
ago. While there are programs from other vendors in the tax and accounting space
that can be used online via remote access technologies or offer online collaboration
tools, these particular systems differ in that they were designed specifically
for use over the Internet. They also provide various tools for managing workflow
processes across multiple users, sharing files, adding notations for review
or other purposes, linking to online resources, and electronic calendar sharing
and communication options.

Workflow Optimization
For the professional tax and accounting space, the latest developments in Web
2.0 are centered on automating and optimizing workflow processes by providing
capabilities that extend the basic functions found in programs like Groove and
SharePoint to more specifically address the unique needs of an accounting and
tax practice. These include programs like SurePrep’s DreamWorkpapers,
and two winners of this year’s Tax & Accounting Technology Innovation
Awards — XCM Solutions’ Accelerated Workflow Automation and Copanion’s
GruntWorx system.

For better or worse, probably a little of both, everything seems to be going
to an online format. For users, this means improved collaboration and communication
tools built into the programs we use, which will help us be more productive
in our work. It also gives us anytime access to the programs we need and use,
automatically updated to the latest version, as well as access to the documents
and files we create. For vendors, especially those of programs that once were
CD-based, the Software as a Service (SaaS) model will help prevent software
piracy and unauthorized users. The benefits for both the program developers
and users are significant, and because they are mutual the Web 2.0 evolution
is rapidly progressing.

So what is Web 2.0?
Some may decry it as a buzzword, and while it is that, to some extent, it is
so much more. It is the new era in Internet usage — not definable as much
by the technologies themselves, but by the users of the technologies. While
subjectively defined, at its heart, Web 2.0 is an evolutionary process that
has driven all of the most innovative advancements to the computer experience
over the past eight years, and which will steer our course into the Internet