Despite the interest in and need for improved information technology, particularly when it comes to data security, many CPA firms continue to lack any formal IT planning and tend to make software and technology decisions as needed throughout the year. These were some of the top findings of Accounting Today's 2012 Technology Outlook survey.

Among other things, the March survey of firms of all sizes found that 81 percent of respondents indicated that they had no formal IT plan for their firms, with 67 percent of participants making IT decisions on an ad hoc basis throughout the year.

A surprisingly large number of survey takers -- almost a third -- noted that 10 percent or more of their firm's overall budget does go towards IT expenditures, with data storage and security, portals, and document management highest on their list of considerations for system and software spending in 2012.

This is in line with recent findings in the American Institute of CPAs' 2012 Top Technology Initiatives Survey, which showed information security as having one of the greatest impacts on CPAs' technology initiatives over the next 12 months.

As in past years, the institute survey measures the anticipated impact of certain issues over the next 12 months for both CPAs and their clients.

This year's AICPA survey also asked respondents to rate their organizational goals for technology in the coming year. The leading tech priorities for CPAs in 2012 are:

1. Securing the IT environment.

2. Managing and retaining data.

3. Managing risk and compliance.

4. Ensuring privacy.

5. Leveraging emerging technologies.

6. Managing system implementation.

7. Enabling decision support and managing performance.

8. Governing and managing IT investment/spending.

9. Preventing and responding to fraud.

10. Managing vendors and service providers.

The top three responses from the 2011 survey were control and use of mobile devices, information security, and data retention policies/structure.

The AICPA's survey takers indicated that they are successfully meeting most of their technology priorities, from information protection and privacy to data management. A majority said that their organization had appropriate policies in place to deal with data security concerns, and that necessary steps have been taken to insulate IT networks and servers from cyber-attack. At the same time, CPAs were less certain about avoiding a data breach due to the loss of a laptop, tablet or other mobile device.

"One of the key value drivers for CPAs is confidentiality and privacy," said AICPA president and chief executive officer Barry Melancon. "When you see the world and technology evolving, a question for the future is when the under-20-year-old becomes the entrepreneur of the next 10 years, what is the privacy expectation they will have? Will they believe confidentiality and privacy is attainable the same way the Boomers did? Addressing these types of questions is important in determining how CPAs evolve."



Some of the other standout findings in the Accounting Today survey showed that 67 percent of respondents are not using any Software-as-a-Service or cloud-based applications at all, and 42 percent said that they had no interest in purchasing a SaaS product over the next 12 months. In the meantime, of those who said that they do utilize SaaS-based solutions, the most common offerings used were client portals and accounting/bookkeeping solutions.

In terms of types of branded software applications used by our surveyed CPA firms, the top five categories were for tax preparation, payroll, tax research, write-up, and time and billing.

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