Event Director Prysm Group
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How the PC nearly ruined accountancy

7th Apr 2016
Event Director Prysm Group
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Practice technology champion Doug Sleeter recently apologised on AccountingWEB.com for helping to make a generation of accountants subservient to desktop computers. This summary offers UK accountants an opportunity to assess its impact on their firms.

Apple and Microsoft nearly destroyed the accounting profession. The PC revolution they started in the 1980s created a generation of “client-centric” software that isolated accountants from the accounting data they need to perform client services.

PC-based accounting software encouraged business owners to do their own bookkeeping and financial statements. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but the end result has been to move the accountant away from being a partner in the business to being a servant who delivers increasingly commoditised.

I have to confess that I was directly implicated in this transition, because for most of my career I have helped businesses learn to make the most of PCs and all its cool, do-it-yourself tools. Sorry for that… With hindsight, I am now coming to realise what that paradigm shift has done to the accounting profession.

Many firms built significant businesses around PC-based client-centric software, but today’s business relationships are dramatically different than just 10 years ago. Today having a website that presents your organisation’s face to the online world and a portal for them to contact you, buy services or products, obtain support and manage their “profile” is standard practice.

Ten years ago, almost none of this was expected, but today it would also be impossible to compete with businesses in any industry if you didn’t have most or all of these services in your business.

We are also seeing a big shift to the cloud and mobile. There are apps for virtually EVERYTHING and multiple options for each category. Mobile devices put mainframe power in our pockets and access to data in the cloud 24/7 from anywhere.

Some accountants are reluctant to embrace these changes, because clients aren’t asking for it. And it’s understandable that older partners are not keen to invest in changes that they may not be around to benefit from.

But if you can “cloudify” your own firm and your client’s business processes, you’ll put yourself in a position to turn back the tide on the PC revolution and reclaim your role as your client’s most trusted advisor.

Doug Sleeter is the founder of The Sleeter Group, part of the Diversified Communications group that organises Accountex. What do you think of his views about the PC and accountancy? If you’d like to find out more about how the cloud and mobile tools can help your practice, come to Accountex at ExCeL in London on 11-12 May

Replies (15)

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By Vaughan Blake1
07th Apr 2016 11:03

Cloudify, chunktification?

Doug your apology for ruining life for us with PCs is accepted.

I now think an apology re your use of the English language is required.

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By carnmores
07th Apr 2016 13:26

and what is a
Practice technology champion

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By carnmores
07th Apr 2016 13:28

Apple and Microsoft
Nearly destroyed the accounting profession LMAO ROTF

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By carnmores
07th Apr 2016 13:29

Doug i look forward to pointing you towards
The real world

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By Paul Scholes
07th Apr 2016 14:49

I must have been somewhere else

So Doug are you saying that if, 10 or 30 years ago, Dr Who had landed and shown you today, you'd have advised everyone not to buy a state of the art PC, or the software that ran on them, but rather stick with pencil & paper for a few more decades cos things were going to get so much better?

I bought my first PC in 83 and have moved on to the next advance in technology as it came along, ending up, today, with almost all 100% Cloud.  Thank goodness Dr Who had other more exciting things to do.

The fact that some people hold on to existing technology is not necessarily a problem, it's what works for them and their clients that matters.  

Ironically, I now dream of being able to switch off the electricity for a month or three and get one of my fountain pens and lovely paper note pads out of the box in the cupboard and write someone a proper letter.

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By Ben Lauritson
07th Apr 2016 16:02


It seems to me that the only real danger, in any walk of life, is an inability or unwillingness to adapt.

I'm not in practice so I can't comment there but a lot of things do change in life. Some changes you can ignore, some you can't. If a change is significant enough to threaten the way you currently do things (in work, home etc.) then one way or another you'll probably have to adapt to it. I don't think it's ever quite as drastic as some people like to make it out to be though.

But hey, that's just me. An idiot with an opinion.

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By Paul Scholes
07th Apr 2016 18:03


I forget, where can I get one, Amazon only seem to sell them in hundreds!! 

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
08th Apr 2016 08:29

Get out of it!

Without the PC I think it is quite unlikely that there would be hundreds of 6 foot Russian and Ukranian 20 year olds asking me to marry me.  It's been a big step forward.

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By Michael C Feltham
08th Apr 2016 08:35


All technology is disruptive; as Vin Cern one of the architects of the internet and ICT stated at the beginning of the explosive growth of the PC revolution.

PCs displaced dedicated WP systems; WP systems displaced typewriters; typewriters displaced biros and fountain pens, which themselves displaced quill pens.

Obviously, using a WP system and now a PC network to create leases, wills, deeds etc has saved lawyers huge amounts of time and thus money: previously, such lengthy documents had to be copy-typed and mistakes meant junking the document and starting again.

Knowledge-Based systems now provide the ability to suggest precedent clauses, rather than the practitioner having to search through endless large tomes.

Filing Tax Returns, which themselves have been prepared by a low-level Knowledge-Based, quasi-"Expert System" (i.e. the process calculates the populated values according to the current tax codes) saves time and money. As does the package by automatically populating client details if an existing client.

Having been deeply involved in ICT since 1980 (and previously cut my teeth on System 360 IBM mainframes), in a fit of despair (Or pique?), I described the actualisation of technology in mid-1980s Britain as "People who don't actually understand what they are selling, selling to people who haven't a clue how to use them properly!"

I do agree with Doug, reference client and indeed, businesses generally, using bookkeeping software when they firstly, haven't bothered to understand what they are doing! Time after time they confuse capital items with revenue items: and enter credit card bills as a debit on their VAT account...

We suffered a ltd co client a couple of years back and the director's son, had been studying AAT at the local shambolic and also proudly stated he had his Sage "sustificate": yet clearly, hadn't a wee clue what the Hell he was doing. Shambolic? Rather understates the case.

Sadly, since the beginning, the big guns such as IBM have been selling software well before it was ready for market: Microsoft followed suit. Snake Oil Salesman Syndrome.

And this is precisely how the UK government and particularly, HMRC and Treasury have been duped: time and again. Government's new vision for HMRC is now frightening!

Makes zero difference whether clients use cloud-based record keeping systems, or dedicated stand-alone desktop solutions.

The old IT acronym still holds: G. I. G. O.

Garbage In: Garbage Out.


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Locutus of Borg
By Locutus
08th Apr 2016 09:31

What a nonsense headline (sorry OP!)
My memory of the profession when I started in 1989 was : -

1. Casting and cross-casting hand written cash books and final accounts (for those too young to know, it means checking the addition).

2. Calling over accounts (for those too young to know, it means reading out loud the hand written accounts of a partner or manager to another junior, who would check that the typed up accounts agreed).

3. Writing out working papers on 16 column and 8 column analysis pads. Since I was something of a perfectionist, if the analysis got too messy, I would re-write the schedule to consolidate some of the analysis columns.

4. Each manager's room had at least 3 large filing cabinets of paper files. If I had no other work to do, I would be assigned to do the filing.

5. Most correspondence would be by letter, often dictated for a typist to type up. At the end of the day, the letters would be taken to the post room for franking, by a girl who had a huge chip on her shoulder about something (I never found out what).

6. Many of the mangers' rooms would have a stack of shelves, upon which newly arrived carrier bags of accounting records would arrive ... and sit there for 3, 4 or 5 months until a junior or semi-senior got assigned to the job.

7. For the first couple of years (until he left) I never saw the surface of my manager's desk as it was strewn thick with papers and files.

And this was a very technologically advanced firm that prided themselves on their million pound mainframe.

I'm nostalgic about some things, but not the working practices of the profession in the 1980s, which someone from the 1880s might have recognised.

PCs saved my sanity.

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By carnmores
08th Apr 2016 11:51

spot on Locutus

the younger generations don't know how lucky they are ! the only thing I would add is  procedural audits, always seemed nonsense to me 

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By Vaughan Blake1
08th Apr 2016 13:45

I feel that I too must apologise to the accountancy profession

For using a pocket calculator in 1977 to add up my working papers rather than doing it in my head as the senior partner wished. Other juniors soon followed suit.

I realise now that this seemingly innocuous act has caused an entire generation of accountants to be unable to add up without a mechanical aid.

For this, I humbly apologise.

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By Michael C Feltham
09th Apr 2016 10:45


Vaughan Blake1 wrote:

For using a pocket calculator in 1977 to add up my working papers rather than doing it in my head as the senior partner wished. Other juniors soon followed suit.

I realise now that this seemingly innocuous act has caused an entire generation of accountants to be unable to add up without a mechanical aid.

For this, I humbly apologise.


A majority of younger people to work out calculations using the arithmetic discipline of proportion, using a calculator! (e.g. Expressing ratios as percentages).

Unless they understand the core principles, then they can press percent keys until the cows come home....

Let's not forget; in the 1950s office staff (trained young women usually), used comptometers. Next came the the very simple glowing neon tube calculator...

In my growing collection of redundant collectibles of yester year, I have two of the original Texas Instrument calculators: very simple. I also still have my last slide rule.

For using a pocket calculator in 1977 to add up my working papers rather than doing it in my head as the senior partner wished

Being an antique myself, now, when I started training, I kept A-K personal ledgers: great thick Kalamazo loose leaf binders. And it was £ S D and 1/2d and even 1/4D.

Casting at least kept the brain alert.

We even had a very early NCR mechanical bookkeeping machine: resembled a huge uber-wide carriage typewriter. The delightful young women who came to set it up and train staff, carried what turned out to be a critical service tool in her briefcase: a 2 lb hammer! This was used to free the carriage when it stuck right at the end of its travel and the machine sat and made a loud buzzing sound. Whereupon she picked up her hammer, gave the carriage a healthy whack and it seemed fine again. Until the next time..

So nothing much has changed!


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Routemaster image
By tom123
08th Apr 2016 19:09

Black & Red

Mind you, at a recent meeting with an external supplier, four of us (including the supplier) all had matching Black & Red A4 hardback books to make notes in - so we haven't gone completely techno..

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By carnmores
10th Apr 2016 15:14

J Griffiths

none of us are surprised , as you appear slightly to the right of Atilla the Hun

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