Top 10 Technologies Stress Communications

Article excerpt

It's not just something for everyone; it's everything for everyone, as the American Institute of CPAs information technology committees issue their annual list of the key technologies affecting CPAs. Sandi Smith, who participated in choosing the technologies as a member of the IT executive committee, said, "What's interesting about this year's list is that every item affects every CPA in the largest or smallest firms and companies." Last year's list included electronic data interchange (EDI), for example, a technology only larger companies use. EDI has slipped to 20th on this year's list.

Communications-related technologies fill most of the top 10 spots, including number 1. In fact, another participant, Gene Prescott, said that items 5 through 10 can be considered subsets of item 1, emphasizing the importance of the Internet and its off-spring. Prescott, chairman of the tax technology committee, thought Internet-related solutions might be responsible for pushing image processing and document management off the list altogether, although this has been high on the list for years. "Although there haven't been significant breakthroughs in this area, the need is still great." Image processing has been viewed as a key component of the "paperless office."

Prescott was pleased that he was joined at this year's voting by several other tax accountants for the first giving more tax-related input in decision-making process.

The Top 10 for 1998

The 10 chosen for this year follow. For past-year comparisons, see JofA, Feb. 97, page 12, and jofA, Jan. 96, page 25.

1 Internet, intranets, private networks and extranets. Almost everyone knows what the Internet is, but many people are less familiar with its related technologies. "Intranets" are essentially private Web sites that only employees within a company, for example, can access. Companies are finding them useful for sharing information quickly and inexpensively. In fact, Smith said some companies have seen a 1000% return on investment on their intranets, Private networks include local areas networks (LANs), consisting of workstations sharing the resources of a single server, often just within an office building; wide areas networks (WANs), which can include public networks; and metropolitan area networks (MANs), which fall somewhere between LANs and WANs. Also included are "virtual private networks" (VPNs), which work like WANs that run through the Internet. John Gill, a member of the tax technology committee, said companies with employees in the field find them useful because they allow the staff to communicate with the home office at reduced cost. "VPN software will replace multiple phone lines and banks of modems at a company's headquarters," he said.

An "extranet"--a growing technology still unfamiliar to many--is a method for two companies, such as two contractors on one project, to collaborate over the Internet. In effect, two intranets connect with each other and employees use the same off-the-shelf Web browsers to access the other company's data. Extranets can connect an intranet to suppliers and trading customers, even customers.

2 The Year 2000 Issue. The problems expected to occur when two-digit software codes change from "99" to "00" have been widely discussed in the popular press and technical journals. These issues present problems as well as consulting opportunities for CPAs. (See JofA, Dec.97, pages 33-44, for a thorough discussion, including a sidebar [on page 35] listing AICPA resources.)

3 Security and controls. These issues remain on the list from last year and continue to be a concern for companies wanting to conduct business over the Internet. Can sensitive corporate data and customer credit card numbers be kept private? …