Seventeen years ago, members of the California Society of CPAs were grappling with the problem of how to deal with the large number of databases in an accounting office.

If for no other reason, practitioners wanted to have a simple way to change entity information and have the changes made in all systems via a single entry.

That unified system has never emerged. It’s never been in the interest of any vendor to produce such a database. At least, the return did not justify the investment needed to tackle a fairly complex problem.

This issue re-arose recently when a visitor asked if a new player could enter the tax preparation software market. That seems highly unlikely as the entry costs are high and the market is growing little, if at all.

One caveat was raised—what if a new technology platform were used? That’s usually a point at which masses of users switch products. That’s what happened when the service bureaus gave way to desktop tax preparation.

There’s one platform that comes to mind—the Web. Now, there’s no evidence that practitioners are going to rush into Internet-based tax computing in great numbers. Although Thomson says it’s doing well with its hosted Virtual Office, that’s still not a system that’s native to the Web as are applications such as NetSuite or Intacct.

But suppose someone wrote a Web-based central database engine that had the capabilities of handling all the accounting and tax office applications. It still doesn’t sound like an easy task. But it sounds like one that might someday lure a newcomer that saw the potential for displacing much of the current market with a Web-based suite. NetSuite certainly says it has a suite, not just an accounting or CRM application online.

Maybe this is an impossible dream. Maybe it’s like searching for the Holy Grail. But maybe there are some Gallahads out there who are starting to see the image before them.

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