Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Staying in Touch

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Staying in Touch

Article excerpt

The title says it all: CPAs have to stay in touch. Whether they are in public accounting and serving clients or employed by a company and dealing with colleagues, customers or vendors, accountants must be able to access a wide range of information from many locations and share it with others near and far.

We've come a long ways since Alexander Graham Bell blurted out to his assistant on the first experimental telephone, "Come here, Mr. Watson, I need you." This article will explore where communications technology is today, where it is going and how CPAs can harness some of the new applications to stay ahead of the curve.

Let's look at an array of communications vehicles--hardware, software and services--designed to help CPAs stay in touch.

CALLING UP INFORMATION

Take note of the abbreviation CTI. You'll be hearing it often and from many different sources-clients, suppliers and customers. And surely your competition will be aware of CTI. The letters stand for computer-telephone integration, and it's revolutionizing communications in general and telephones in particular.

The easiest way to describe CTI is through this scenario: Your phone rings and your computer instantly recognizes the incoming number, associates it with a client, customer, vendor or colleague, for example. Before you lift the telephone handset a file that includes all the essential information about that person and his or her business flashes on your computer screen. While you're talking, you can add, subtract or edit the data. In fact, if the caller rang you from a different phone--a home phone, say--that new number can be added to the profile so that in the future your computer will recognize it. If the call must be forwarded to another person in your organization, a touch of an icon on the screen transfers not only the call but also the data file. And, as if that's not enough, add these dividends:

* You pick up any phone in your office or outside, dial your computer server and your e-mail (not voice mail) is read to you.

* You're on the phone when a second call comes in and a screen tells you immediately who it is. If you choose not to take it, with the push of button you can activate one of your many customized outgoing messages--not the canned message that most callers get.

* You want to add two other colleagues to a conversation. Without getting off the line, you click on an icon and add the others.

What makes all this possible? Telephones (and entire PBX systems) are increasingly being connected to office computers. It's likely that business telephone systems of the future will have CTI systems built in or offered as an option.

Every major player in the computer industry is targeting CTI as the next big push. Intel, Microsoft, Novell and AT&T are each taking a slightly different approach to what they see as a pot of gold for them and a wondrous new technological tool for their customers. In the meantime, scores of smaller companies are trying to get a foot in the door with products that perform one or several of the functions mentioned above. See the sidebar on page 59 for product names and phone numbers.

Some companies, especially large telemarketers, already use some form of CTI. Can you install it? Sure, but for a comprehensive system be prepared to pay a hefty price--running into the six and even seven figures. However, for a look at CTI on a limited scale, acquire a copy of any sophisticated contact management software, such as ACT!. When linked with caller ID, it uses that identification to bring to the screen any previously stored contact management data.

Until recently the growth of CTI was handicapped by very high prices and a lack of standards for the hardware and software. Thus few CTI elements were interchangeable. To upgrade your system or add options, you probably had to stay with the same hardware manufacturer or software vendor. That is changing: Within the past few months a set of standards has been hammered out by the computer and phone industries, making it easier to mix and match software, computers and telephone systems. …

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