CD-ROM: Information at Your Fingertips

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CD-ROM: INFORMATION AT YOUR FINGERTIPS

Carol Brown, CPA, PhD, and Mary Ellen Phillips, CPA, both assistant professors of accounting at Oregon State University, Corvallis, review currently available CD-ROM databases of interest to accountants.

The new era of information storage and retrieval is here. Now you can have more than 150 reference books and software applications on a single compact disc while at a client's office or your company's branch location. A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that both Arthur Andersen and Price Waterhouse are supplying their auditors with CDs for tax, auditing and accounting rules. The American Institute of CPAs plans to publish its National Automated Accounting Research System (NAARS) library on a CD. Prentice Hall has several services on CD and the next logical step is to publish its tax service on a disc. Matthew Bender & Company and West Publishing Company already have their tax services on CD.

STORAGE POWER OF A MAINFRAME

CD-ROMs (compact disc-read only memory) are now being used to store large volumes of material. The discs are the same as those used for stereo systems but the data are formatted to be read by a personal computer. Discs with ROM can only be read but not altered, added to or edited. In order to use a CD-ROM with a personal computer, the user needs a CD-ROM drive (player). Prices for CD-ROM players range from $600 to $1,000 depending on brand, supplier and configuration.

A single CD-ROM holds 550 megabytes of information, the equivalent of 270,000 pages of text, which is more than the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, or 450 high-density floppy discs. The CD-ROM has brought the storage power of a mainframe computer to the personal computer. In addition, hard discs are now available for personal computers that hold 300 megabytes of information. Thus, the power of mainframes can now be acquired either through hard discs or CD-ROMs.

HOW ACCESSED

The database is indexed for easy access to the desired information from a variety of viewpoints. For example, the user could access the accounting, auditing and disclosure requirements for deferred income taxes, deferred income tax liability or Financial Accounting Standards Board Statement no. 96, Accounting for Income Taxes. In addition, the user can print out the desired references or import them into an existing document.

Currently, several companies are producing a variety of CD-ROM databases. The companies license their databases and provide updated discs semiannually, quarterly or even monthly. More than 1,000 CD-ROM titles have been released and more than 200,000 CD-ROM players are in use. Some accounting firms are developing CD-ROM databases for internal use only. A firm that develops its own databases internally has complete control over their contents. However, this control results in substantial costs for developing and maintaining the databases.

The databases an accountant might use can be grouped by the type of information indexed: specialized information such as income taxes, accounting and auditing standards; computer software and hardware; government publications; specific company information; and business periodicals and newspapers. The following review of the currently available, or forthcoming, CD-ROM databases is divided into these groups.

TAX, AUDITING AND ACCOUNTING

The following descriptions are of CD-ROMs that index tax, auditing and accounting rules and standards. Some of the CDs are for internal use by members of the firm that developed them and others are available for purchase.

* Audit Reference and Resource Discs (Arthur Andersen & Co., for internal use only). These databases contain the professional accounting literature. One disc includes all data for worldwide use; another disc contains country-specific information. The U.S. disc includes Accounting Principles Board and FASB pronouncements, minutes of the emerging issues task force, all AICPA publications, Arthur Andersen's Accounting Standards, SEC Practice, Auditor's Reports and Industry Competence Manuals. …