The more things change, the more they stay the same.Such is the case for information security management, which has been voted - for the seventh consecutive year - the most important issue affecting IT strategy, investment and implementation over the coming 12 to 18 months, according to the American Institute of CPAs' 20th Annual Top Technology Initiatives Survey.

Employing a new strategy this year, the institute's 10-member tech task force distributed surveys to approximately 50,000 of the institute's members and then advertised the survey in an electronic newsletter.

"We changed the voting audience," said David Cieslak, CPA, CITP and co-chair of the task force, noting that they sought responses from all institute members, without feedback from outside technology groups, as in past years. "It's a big year - our 20th - we wanted to make sure it was reflective of our membership."

This year's survey received more than 700 responses, which ranked 33 technology initiatives that they perceived as having the most impact over the next 12-to-18 months.

The most pressing initiative, according to respondents - information security management - is an integrated, systematic approach that co-ordinates people, policies, standards, processes and controls used to safeguard critical systems and information from internal and external security threats.

"Integrity, confidentiality and the relationship that CPAs have with their clients is something that has always been important to accountants," said Mary MacBain, CPA, CITP and a task force co-chair. "Security is going to continue to be important."

Jim Bourke, a member of the task force and partner-in-charge of technology at CPA and business advisory firm Withum Smith+Brown in Red Bank, N.J., said that it's no surprise to see information security management make the top slot yet again: "Look at the top three - what's the theme? Security and the concern about the privacy issues involving data. For the past few years, many CPAs have been taking advantage of storing client data in digital format ... and now, with many states tightening their privacy laws and regulations, CPAs are scrambling to ensure the data is protected and secure."

YOU CAN'T BE TOO SAFE

Building on information security, the runner-up on this year's list is privacy management, which moved up two slots from last year. Privacy management involves the strategies and safeguards used to protect the privacy of an organization's records.

IT governance, which ranked No. 2 last year, was pushed out of the Top 10, finishing at No. 20. New to the list this year was secure data file storage, transmission and exchange, which was voted No. 3.

Cieslak said that he's excited by this year's roundup because he sees the CPA profession moving into a much better operating model. "If the topics of IT security and confidentiality and business process improvement are front and center, that tells me that CPAs this year are really focusing on how to work smarter," he said, "yet at the same time making sure we do a better job in staying within the guidelines of this trusted relationship with our clients."

Surprisingly, business continuity management and disaster recovery planning, an initiative that climbed to the third slot last year, dropped down to "honorable mention" status in this year's poll.

Bourke pointed to the quick migration to workflow solutions that helped the issue of business process improvement, workflow and process exception alerts move up one spot to No. 4.

Practitioners are trying to get a handle on the flow of work in their practice - particularly in tax, time and billing, engagement management, and document management applications. "I can really see this area exploding in the coming year," Bourke said.

Mobile and remote computing, which landed in the fifth spot up from No. 9 last year, glided up the list due to the increasing number of CPAs expected to be on call 24/7 for their clients.

MacBain said that she was pleased to see training and competency listed as No. 6, rising from an honorable mention on the 2008 list - but she was struck by the low ranking of enhanced business reporting - specifically XBRL - at No. 30.

"That was a shock," she said. "In my opinion, it has been, and will continue to be, more important for us to understand financial reporting and how to present it in understandable, usable ways."

Said Cieslak, "This becomes the marching orders for the AICPA to say, 'Let's use this list to create more value for our members because these are the priorities that the tribal council has voted.' I think it's a good representation of what's on the top of mind and the center of people's hearts."

The Aicpa's Top Tech Issues

1. Information security management

2. Privacy management

3. Secure data file storage, transmission and exchange

4. Business process improvement, workflow and process exception alerts

5. Mobile and remote computing

6. Training and competency

7. Identity and access management

8. Improved application and data integration

9. Document, forms, content and knowledge management

10. Data retention strategy

Honorable Mentions:

1. Business continuity management and disaster recovery planning

2. Conforming to assurance and compliance standards

3. Collaboration/information portals

4. Business intelligence

5. CRM resent

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