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Seven, Schmeven: What’s the Big Deal?

Special Feature on Windows 7

If you haven’t been sleeping, you’ve undoubtedly heard about Microsoft’s
latest desktop/laptop operating system, Windows 7. And most accounting professionals
are asking, “What’s the big deal?” Like no other profession,
tax and accounting practitioners are known for their frugality and, consequently,
the analysis will be long and deep regarding a move to Windows 7 for the sake
of having the latest and greatest. If you want to know what may support a BUSINESS DECISION to make the move to
Windows 7, then read on.

ROI (return on investment)
Let’s talk numbers, something all accountants seem to understand. Recently,
the City of Miami piloted Windows 7 with the following results:
“The city expects an estimated ROI of 151% and IRR of 78% with payback
in less than 15 months based on direct IT labor savings alone. Benefits include
direct IT cost savings estimated at $89 per PC per year, made possible by automated
deployment in addition to security and desktop management tools. When power
savings are included, the business case is even more compelling, with an estimated
net present value (NPV) of $271 per PC during a 3-year cash-flow period and
a payback period of less than 9 months.”

Yes, Windows 7 is ‘less taxing’ on the hardware and ultimately
consumes fewer kilowatts. In addition to the direct cost savings, Windows 7
is estimated to save city PC users approximately 18 hours per user per year
by helping them access data more quickly and securely from any location, and
provide tools that help them solve their own basic issues.

So to summarize, justifying the cost of Windows 7 comes from three main areas:
IT labor savings, power savings and direct cost (user labor) savings. Simply
stated, Windows 7 delivers a smoother setup and end-user experience in addition
to drawing fewer physical resources to get the same work done.

Now let’s go through some of the technologies that make this all happen:

IT Labor Savings — System Restore
Let’s face it, we’re not perfect. Sometimes we install things on
our machine that look good, but once installed have the exact opposite result.
In the computer support business, we refer to this phenomenon as the issue residing
between the keyboard and the chair. Windows 7 has improved and enhanced the
System Restore functionality such that the entire system can be ‘rolled
back’ to a period that was acceptable to the end user, essentially undoing
that regretful installation.

IT Labor Savings — Problem Steps Recorder
Typically, the most complicated aspect of troubleshooting is reproducing the
conditions that demonstrate a problem, especially if the affected user is working
remotely or communicating by telephone. If the support professional can’t
reproduce a user’s problem, they can’t easily diagnose and resolve
it. Windows 7’s solution to this impasse is the Problem Steps Recorder.

End users simply run the recorder to log the steps taken when a reproducible
problem occurs. Click Start Record, reproduce the problem, enter comments where
appropriate, click Stop Record, and then send the recording via e-mail to the
support professional. Another great use of this tool has nothing to do with
troubleshooting; it’s great for capturing screenshots when building graphical
steps to accomplishing a task for instructional purposes. As with Vista, you
can quickly find just about any utility or file by typing the name in the Start
Search field. If you have access to a copy of Windows 7, see if you can find
this tool using Start Search. Hint: You’ll have to click the Start button
and type the words Problem Steps.

Power Savings — Group Policy
Many computers, including most desktop PCs and some laptops, are typically left
powered-on 24/7. Windows 7 provides new power options, which can be centrally
managed by Group Policy. Now, those with responsibility for configuring desktop
and laptop computers can take a proactive role in managing the electricity consumed
by PCs. Coupled with hardware advances like Intel’s vPro technologies,
IT staff can use Group Policies to apply power plans that power-down machines
… and still be able to wake them remotely for management tasks. This will
reduce power consumption by nearly 75 percent and directly drive bottom-line
savings of more than $50 per PC per year. Also, the plans can gracefully turn
certain components off when not in use.

Direct Cost Savings — Troubleshooting Packs
These little gems significantly reduce help desk involvement, but more importantly
allow end users to get back to work quickly. In an attempt to keep the technical
jargon to a minimum, these troubleshooter wizards are power scripts designed
to diagnose and solve basic common issues. Windows 7 comes with a new Control
Panel feature referred to as the Action Center. Using Start Search (this is
located by clicking on the start button and typing, in this case, action. Up
comes the Action Center, and there you’ll find the Troubleshooting (and
Recovery – see previous paragraph) utilities.

Windows 7 includes 20 built-in Troubleshooting Packs that address more than
100 root causes of problems. These were included based on the top 10 categories
of Microsoft support calls.

Direct Cost Savings — DirectAccess
Mobile computers are a challenge for IT departments because they can only be
managed when they are connected to the internal network. Users who often work
away from the main office or who travel for extended periods of time might not
connect to the internal network for weeks or months. As a result, these mobile
computers don’t download updated Group Policy settings, critical updates
or anti-malware definitions.

Traditionally, remote users connect to internal network resources with a Virtual
Private Network (VPN). However, using a VPN can be cumbersome for users because
it requires several steps, and several seconds (or even minutes), for authentication
to occur. Windows 7, together with Windows Server 2008 R2, introduces DirectAccess,
a new solution that enables users to have the same experience working remotely
as they would if they were working in the office. Taking advantage of technologies
such as IPv6 and IPSec, DirectAccess provides remote computers with automatic
access to the internal network across the Internet without connecting to a Virtual
Private Network (VPN).

Direct Cost Savings — Enforced Data Encryption
We would all agree that we are doing business in a very litigious environment.
Privacy legislation has certainly increased the risks associated with doing
business as professional accountants. Vista introduced a full-drive encryption
utility referred to as Bit-Locker. Windows 7 enhanced and expanded that utility
with Bit-Locker to go, providing full-drive encryption of any USB drive (and
so-called thumb drives) in addition to attached hard disks.

The real issue is depending on end users to apply firm policies related to
transporting sensitive information on encrypted media. I received a letter from
the AICPA back in 2006, which read as follows: “We are contacting you
about an incident that affects you. A restored AICPA computer hard drive containing
certain member information being transported to the Institute cannot presently
be located.”

There was more, but you can imagine the feelings of vulnerability I felt and
the feelings of embarrassment felt by the Institute for compromising my private
information. One of my worst nightmares is the thought that I would have to
send such a letter to my clients. As in the AICPA incident, the breach was caused
by an employee violating Institute policy.

With the enhanced Bit-Locker technologies, in combination with Widows Server
2008 R2, Group Policies can now require any portable media device when connected
to any machine on the network to be encrypted before any data can be transferred
to it. This is a “sleep at night” benefit of the new technologies.
Further you can restrict certain users and/or machines that can be used to transfer
data to portable media. Many a firm has been affected by disgruntled staff members
who take client files (feeling entitled to do so) without authorization of firm

Regardless of how you justify your decision to move your computing environment
to the new server and desktop operating systems, a compelling business case
can be made for the costs associated with making the move.


See inside April/May 2010

Client Portals: Gateway to the Future

You would have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the explosive growth of interest in client portals for accounting and tax practices. A number of forces are driving this interest — increased privacy protection regulations, improved vendor solutions and a better understanding of the value proposition. This article provides an in-depth look at portal technology so you can develop a portal strategy that is compatible with your practice model.


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