Counting on Technology: Accountants Add More Prowess to Their Computers and Access More Sophisticated Software

Article excerpt

Accountants continue to play technology catch-up - upgrading to more powerful computers and software, adding more peripheral equipment and, most important, using this high-tech gear to work more efficiently and effectively.

That, in a nutshell, was the conclusion drawn from the latest Journal of Accountancy technology survey in which we examined the hardware and software CPAs use.

We surveyed 256 CPAs at four professional conferences last year: The American Institute of CPAs microcomputer, national industry and private companies practice section (PCPS) conferences, and the accountants computer users technical exchange (ACUTE) conference. We selected those four because their attendees represent a wide spectrum of technological sophistication. The ACUTE conference generally is attended by techsavvy CPAs. The microcomputer conference draws a mixed bag: Some are very savvy and others are seeking to get on the technology fast track. The industry and PCPS attendees represent a spectrum of the average CPA with a generally light-to-moderate interest in and knowledge of technology. Thus, our goal was to assess how each of these representative groups was using technology.

Some of the data surprised us. For example, a similar survey published by the Journal last year disclosed that computer novices tended to use relatively out-of-date hardware and software, while the more computer-knowledgeable tended to work with the latest tools. This year's study indicated that that gap has virtually disappeared. Most of those surveyed - novice or expert - were using fairly advanced hardware and appeared more discerning in their software choices. Thus, we surmised that more accountants have gotten the message: It pays to invest in computer technology. Most CPAs, whether in small CPA firms or in large corporations, were using hardware that was at least powerful enough to do their work effectively. Further, their use of peripherals such as modems, scanners and CD-ROMs was accelerating at a rapid rate - another sign of the catch-up effort.

WINDOWS VIEW

In recent years nearly all personal computers sold have had Windows preloaded, but few CPAs ever typed in the WIN command that evokes Windows. As recently as 1990, only about 5% of accountants used Windows for any applications. Last year's Journal survey indicated that Windows use - at least for some application programs - had jumped to 60%. And this latest survey shows (see exhibit 1, page 61) that Windows use, either running on a network or as a stand-alone, has risen to 77% for CPAS both in public practice and in industry. And of those who are not on Windows, 11% said they planned to make the switch within a year - possibly waiting for Microsoft's new Windows 95, a true Windows operating system that will replace DOS.

For all CPA firms and for smaller corporations, Windows was configured to run most often (by a nearly 3:2 ratio) as a stand-alone, rather than on a network. As expected, the one exception was for very large corporations in which the network application was almost double that of the stand-alone.

486 AND UP

It was no surprise that the 486 computer had made inroads in both CPA firms and in industry. What was surprising was the extent of those inroads. As exhibit 1 shows, 39% of all computer in accounting firms were 486 models. Compare that with the industry numbers: Only 31% were 486s. That gap is due to the fact that in industry more than half of the computers are workstations networked off a minicomputer or a mainframe.

The size 6f an organization did not appear to affect its investment in new computers. Smaller firms (those with 5 or fewer professionals) and those with 51 or more were about equally invested in 486s. The trend was somewhat different in industry. Smaller organizations had a higher percentage of 486s, but larger organizations leaned more to workstations that run off a large server.

Another surprise: No Pentiums were reported in any of the categories, probably because the survey was taken last year, when the Pentium was still too new and too expensive to gain favor among CPAs. …