The Future of Accounting and Technology

By Rose, Tawn Allen | The National Public Accountant, June 1997 | Go to article overview

The Future of Accounting and Technology


Rose, Tawn Allen, The National Public Accountant


Accountants' use of computers is moving quietly from serving their own firm to consulting with clients on technology issues. The integration of technology into commerce has lured the accountant, as the most trusted business advisor, into being technologically knowledgeable for themselves and for the benefit of their clients.

There was a time (as early as 10 years ago) when clients provided data to their accountant, who handed their data to a service bureau, who processed the financials and tax return. Some accountants processed manually, but most used a service to do their data processing for them.

This paradigm shifted naturally, if not painfully, to the accountant's replacing the service bureau. Although accountants still process manually and some still use service bureaus, most, with the exception of payroll, use their own Intel-based computers to prepare tax returns and financial statements. A certain fear existed as each change was made - with good reason. Who would have known then that UNIX, OS/2, or Macintosh would not have proliferated instead of the Miscrosoft-centered world of desktop computing we have today?

Accountants must obtain the most reliable products because their own professional practice depends on it. Products like Compaq, WordPerfect and Lotus on MS/DOS that become entrenched in the data processing environment of an accounting office are slow to be replaced. The philosophy is "If it isn't broke, why fix it." This methodology has made accountants the keepers of reliable software titles that are often referred to as standards, even if the "early adopters" in the news have moved on to the latest thing.

In 1996, the technology committee of the National Society of Accountants produced a survey that probably offers the most broad-based data on technology use by professional accounting firms. The survey revealed that 1,372 firms had 4,856 computers and almost half of the firms had networked a total of 1,452 computers.

At the time of the survey, the 486 was the computer of choice, with 2,540 in place. Staff members at these firms used their computers primarily for data entry (1,929) and compilation activities (1,120). Owners were also involved in data entry (973) and compilation (1,102), but used computers primarily for other billable activities (1,273). Owners also used computers twice as much as staff did for review activities (976 compared to 475). …

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