IT skills - are you serious? By John Stokdyk

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A recent survey by the International Association of Accountants Information Technology Consultants (IAAITC) took accountants to task for failing to embrace technology to the point that they are being left behind by their business clients.

The association said it issued the release as a wake-up call to the profession and as such it succeeded in rekindling a debate that has swirled around AccountingWEB during the past few months thanks in part to contributions from Simon Hurst and the writer of our Practitioners Diary, who commented on the original story: "The good news for those of that DO use the latest technology is that we still have a huge business market to pitch for."

This article sets out the basic points at issue, and reports the comments of some of the key participants in the debate...

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01st Dec 2006 13:16

Accountants & IT
WE have embrassed technology for 5 + years now. It is easy for someone to blame accountants but you will find that many small businesses dont want to or cant find the time to do it properly.

The IT industry could also try and be more useful. Why are there numerous file types that can not be read by ordinary or other applications. Why is it that the products are like buying toys - its the one on the shelf. If you want anything different it will cost u plenty.

We are implenting software to take over various individual systems. But still we can not use the good parts of our old system but have to change over.

So IT people if you want growth you have to look much harder at your products and their intergration with others.

Paul Johnston

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By cbbcbb
01st Dec 2006 14:47

Embarrassed or Embraced see previous comment
From the dealings I have had probably the former.

When it come to the "industry leading software" the accountants send for the "person from downstairs" to answer our application questions.

You need to be embarrassed if you cannot use the basic tool for your trade or you recommend a tool that your clients will struggle with and you do not have the motivation to find better.

Inertia rules

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01st Dec 2006 15:12

Transforming accountants into Business Advisors
The combination of IT understanding and business knowledge is one of the main factors that can transform accountants into Business Advisors.

What the IAAITC survey has shown is that many practices do not see the benefits in promoting themselves on the web. If they don't see the benefits for their own practice, the almost certainly can't see the benefits for their clients.

Accountants need to understand the business benefits of IT, and know the key areas that their clients need to investigate. Accountants do NOT need to know how to deploy and implement solutions (although this is a nice add-on for a traditional practice). Knowing how to use Excel is not the key. The key is knowing whether Excel is the right product to use.

One of my clients had an accountant that was an "IT expert". Their entire accounts system was written in an Access database, and he was still developing it after five years. He then left the company, leaving them with a system they cannot manage. Any real IT expert would have realised early on that this was not good business sense, and that there were off-the shelf packages that could do the job for a much lower real cost, without the risks associated with centralising all the knowledge into one person.

Anyone using IT for IT's sake is missing the point. The important point is that IT should support and help businesses achieve their strategic objectives. If accountants don't understand this they cannot and will not become Business Advisors.

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01st Dec 2006 15:20

one size fits all
I am concerned that the article posted assumes that all practices of all sizes can be taken as a generic group. I believe that the survey results would be far more interesting if the distinction between small and medium sized practices were a feature.

The research that M Institute has undertaken determines that there are defining characteristics of businesses. One of these is around the systems and processes that are prevalent in the business.

To my way of thinking those practices who have made excellent use of technology can be defined as having the attributes of a medium rather than small entity. Those that do have many of the attributes are also those with the higher growth (in general), perhaps this could be a theme of those practices which are growing and are doing so in a sustainable manner.

There are examples in all sorts of industries of successful businesses which do not embrace technology, let us be honest though and say there are always exceptions to the rule!

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04th Dec 2006 14:58

Skills or knowledge
Skills and knowledge are not the same thing. Being able to program in C++ or build an Oracle DB is not the same thing as understanding which technology components are best assembled to solve a specific problem.

But even that's changing. There's a wave of self assemmbly components and services that won't require IT help. That's the point when you are at risk of being rendered irrelevant.

James is way out of touch in talking about practice websites. Modern tools requires virtually NO training. And to say a website needs only be a few pages demonstrates the kind of cluelessness I've not heard in over a year.

Paul's observations seem right. There are some incredibly smart, small firms out there. But then you don't find many large firms reading AW do you?

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04th Dec 2006 18:33

Knowledge or understanding ..

It has pretty much always been a 'component' world; as demonstrated by DLLs, OCX, ActiveX etc going back many years. These concepts are not new, although awareness of them '.. a wave of self assembly components ..' maybe.

Whilst we are all '.. at risk of being rendered irrelevant ..' where on earth do you imagine these components come from - who thinks them up (innovates) and writes them in the first place?

You are quite right about modern tools requiring almost NO training and this type of seamlessness is precisely the goal of software developers in todays environment; anything that is intuitive and easy to learn/implement is by definition a winner.

Unfortunately the likelihood is that 'no training' goes hand in hand with 'no understanding' - not necessarily a lack of knowledge. i.e one may know about something, but does it mean it is understood? At which point we are into 'sound bite' territory; hardly the best basis for advising which '.. technology components are best assembled to solve a specific problem ..'

I think we will have to differ about the quantity of website pages. This probably boils down to the difference between 'blogging' sites and more defined subject matter. Each approach has its place on the internet, although blogs do have the potential to spawn a large number of pages and become addictive; if not for the audience certainly for the authors

Ultimately it is the target audience that needs to be considered. Therefore it is questionnable whether a client accessing a practice web site wants to be buried by the volume of pages or something more succinct to get the message across; a value judgement which can only be made by the practice concerned

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By Taxi
07th Dec 2006 12:14

"But then you don't find many large firms reading AW do you?"
HMRC tell me that they are regulars - we have a pretty eclectic set of members you know.

HMRC have a vested interest in ensuring that everyone embraces new technology as they are working through Lord Carter's recommendations.

They say that they are planning some crack teams to go out and show firms to get on-line, which will be quite interesting. The thing is that you may need to go on-line to find this out...

Accountants websites: One firm I knew carried out a survey of its 400 clients to ask how many read its site.
The answer: 1

Reason, well I think it was a poor site, but also it does rather depend on your client type. I used to have a lot of IT clients and they used my site all the time. Content is critical, but I won't start a good site v. bad site debate just now!

Nichola Ross Martin
Editor, AccountingWEB

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