Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

A CPA's Guide to the Top Issues in Technology

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

A CPA's Guide to the Top Issues in Technology

Article excerpt

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

* EACH YEAR, THE AICPA's INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY team assembles a group of tech-savvy CPAs to identify the topics it believes will most affect the profession, its clients and employers.

* SECURITY AND PRIVACY are two of the group's top technology issues for 2001, reflecting concern that existing measures are not fully safeguarding online systems and confidential data, such as health records and tax returns, from hackers and other intruders. Adequate resources and enlightened leadership are necessary to protect these resources against unauthorized use.

* ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY are making it easier to gain access to information and systems functions anywhere, any time, through phones and lightweight computing and communications devices with wireless capabilities.

* FASTER, CHEAPER AND MORE ACCURATE financial reporting is now possible because of eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), which stores data in standardized formats, simplifying its retrieval and reducing ambiguity in financial reports.

* ACCOUNTANTS NEED TECHNOLOGY TRAINING that focuses on developing the skills they must have to achieve their clients' and employers' business goals--not on learning how to perform complex tasks best left to information technology specialists.

* APPLICATION SERVICE PROVIDERS WILL, for a monthly fee, give you Web access to business programs they maintain on their own systems. Clients of ASPs should perform due diligence to .ensure the safety of data they store in such applications and to understand the service level agreements that govern the provider's responsibilities.

Technology can create, as well as solve, problems. Here's how to anticipate and respond to them.

In the early 1980s, when desktop computing and communications capabilities became affordable, practitioners began to realize that understanding basic hardware and software--PCs, modems and spreadsheets--would give them a competitive edge. Since then, the potential rewards for technological proficiency have mushroomed. Not only has technology become a popular practice niche for CPAs who understand it and keep up-to-date, but it also has made life easier for practitioners in all specialties and generally improved their ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously.

For example, convenient and economic communications systems now enable CPAs on the road to work closely with home office colleagues and achieve several goals at once. Frequent business traveler Michael W. Harnish, CPA, chief information officer of Oak Brook, Illinois law firm Dickinson Wright PLC, uses such technology extensively. "Wireless and mobile technologies give me cheap, convenient phone and Web service," he says, "enabling me to be in two places at once--an essential survival tool for any CPA today."

And just in time, because CPAs need to get more done without compromising on quality. The challenge, however, is understanding and addressing the complicated issues that inevitably accompany the new technologies.

Twelve years ago, the AICPA's information technology team convened a gathering of technology-focused CPAs to identify new ways practitioners could improve their services, boost efficiency and control costs. Each year, the group releases a list of technology-related issues, such as information security and control, that it believes will have the greatest impact on CPAs, their clients and employers as they begin to use new technological products and services. (See "E-Business Tops Tech Priorities for CPAs,"JofA, Mar. 00, page 20 or www.aicpa.org/pubs/jofa/mar 2000/news_sr.htm.)

In the following pages, members of the group--CPAs who work closely with technology in small, medium and large firms, as independent consultants and in education--explain why, during their most recent gathering, they chose the following 10 issues as the most important ones affecting the profession and its use of technology. …

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