ROI Spells Relief for Technology

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In the 1980s, a technology vendor constructed a print advertisement that showed a bicycle leaning against a well. The caption? "It's a great tool once you know how to use it."

Technology is like that. It's a great tool, once you know how to use it. The emphasis here is not on ease of use, but on the fact that hardware, software, and communications products are tools. They are meant to be used and to produce a return on investment. They are not to be worshipped.

That's why I agree with K2 partner Randy Johnston. When Accounting Technology asked readers if they agreed with the AICPA's Top Ten Technology list for 2003, which says that security is the number one technology issue, Johnston put ROI at the top. Tools are used to make money, not because they are an end in and of themselves.

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For the record, the AICPA's list in descending order is business information management, application integration, Web services, disaster recovery planning, wireless technologies, intrusion detection, customer relationship management, and privacy. All of those things are legitimate issues. It's hard to disagree that CRM will be a major issue this year or the business community wants applications to work and play well together. (But I think it's a bit early for Web services to be a top issue. This year, it's for the cognoscenti.)

But learning how to use what's already in the business office and getting a return ranks higher. We know the promise of the healing power of technology. But we've gotten past the stage of being in awe of what's inside the black box. That's one of the reasons that the technology market has been in the dumps. We've got to use the tools at hand. There are no purely technology issues for accounting firms. There are only business issues involving the use of technology tools.

Grand views of technology are fine. But we also need to understand the day-to-day points that drive firms nuts. Can you make money selling or promoting professional services via your Web site? How do you prevent spam from eating into your billable hours as you wade through the deluge of email? Can you afford to purchase all the technology that the gurus say you need and can you find and keep the personnel to run the stuff?

I have a suggestion for the AICPA. Keep doing the Top 10 Technologies. But how about a "Top Ten Practical Technology Issues" that focuses on the day-to-day headaches for small firms. Almost anybody can pick out the view from 35,000 feet. It's the small stuff that just kills everybody.

Robert Scott -- Editor-in-Chief

 IT FOR HIRE. Outsourcing technology is a hot topic. Some resellers are bringing outsourcing to a different level by offering to be the IT departments for CPA firms.

Then there's the usual host of people offering to take technology off the accountant's hands. This month's issue discusses the wisdom of letting someone take care of firms' internal and external technology needs.

In "Vertical Evolution," Senior Editor Richard McCausland notes that industry-specific accounting solutions, once only for the well-heeled, are now available for small businesses, even some in the SOHO space.

McCausland also details the chances of open-source code's meeting the needs of mid-market shoppers. For those with greater connectivity needs, Linux servers are steadily becoming a platform option.

Associate Editor Carly Lombardo examines how technology makes the ever-changing multitude of sales and use taxes easier to deal with. The Web facilitates tracking the myriad of changes imposed by a wide range of taxing authorities.

Finally, in our financial planning software review, Dave McClure looks at the technology tools that are needed more than ever as the economy sputters along.

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