Cloud Computing, Social Networking Highlighted at AICPA TECH+ Conference

BY ALEXANDRA DEFELICE
July 27, 2009

This year’s AICPA TECH+ Conference in Las Vegas proved that, while accountants are using more Web-based applications, security remains a top concern when moving client information online. It’s also apparent that most CPAs aren’t quite sure what to do on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

 

The following are some highlights from the June event:

 

Cloud Computing

The term “cloud computing” has become synonymous with software-as-a-service (SaaS), or Web-based applications. But where is this cloud, anyway, and what will happen to clients’ data once it arrives there?

 

This topic continued to surface in round-table discussions and casual conversations as accountants expressed the need for some kind of assurance that ditching their servers and internal infrastructure and storing data in cyberspace (or the cloud) won’t result in data breaches.

 

David Cieslak, a security expert and principal at consulting firm Arxis Technology, claimed he could break into most other attendees’ systems, whereas many SaaS vendors have around-the-clock experts on staff monitoring security, so he argued that data is more likely to be safe with them than in a company’s office.

 

Consumers may not realize it, but when they use Google for e-mail and document sharing, they are placing that information in what is being termed the cloud. Several of those in attendance said they had stopped using Microsoft Outlook and switched to Google’s Gmail and calendar systems, meaning their electronic communications live outside their own servers. This trend could grow as Google announced in July plans to build its own operating system for netbooks, Google Chrome OS, and release it in the second half of 2010.

 

Backup Alternatives

Randy Johnston, executive vice president of Network Management Group, gave a presentation on some best practices for basic data backup, as well as disaster recovery and business continuity in an emergency—and that doesn’t just mean a hurricane.

 

Natural disasters cause a mere 1% of data losses. More prevalent causes are hardware failure (78%), human error (11%) and software corruption (7%).

 

Disk-to-disk backup is obsolete and should be used only for archiving old information instead of relying on it daily, Johnston said. He also advises against backing up data on USB devices, which could easily be lost, unless those devices are encrypted.

 

Web-based backup is becoming popular as more companies plan for disaster recovery. It encompasses storing all data remotely with the ability to recover it even if the office is destroyed, and business continuity with alternative means of conducting work within minutes of a primary system failure, sometimes with no more than 15 minutes of lost information.

 

Pick a vendor that backs up to multiple locations (in case something happens to the vendor’s primary data center).

 

Multiple Monitors

D ual monitors are becoming the norm, but one attendee uses six. Compared to single or widescreen monitors, dual monitors allow for faster edits when using spreadsheets, according to a survey by NEC Display Solutions of America.

 

Investing in wider monitors of roughly 22 inches also can yield productivity gains. They reduce window overlap and place fewer restraints on what users can see. They can also be a big plus for people who want to put less strain on their eyes.

 

Social Media

Accountants are still trying to figure out how to use social media to their benefit. Effective use of Twitter and Facebook can drive traffic to a business’s Web site. Johnston recommends a presence on at least six channels including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, YouTube and FriendFeed, and getting a handle on everything using Google Reader.

 

“Historically, CPAs have not marketed much. In many cases, they believe that word-of-mouth referrals is enough to drive business,” Johnston said. “Even if you’re not a marketing firm, having access to social media gives you the ability to prove your expertise.”

 

Firm owners who believe in marketing through a Web site or paper newsletters should supplement those channels with social networking, maybe even eliminating their traditional newsletters or golf tournaments, Johnston suggests. “The return on the investment and the amount of time used is much less,” he says. “You don’t have to spend a lot of time to get this job done—it’s probably less than five to seven minutes per week, which many of us are using far more than that on e-mail.”

 

To see an exclusive video of Randy Johnston talking about the use of digital pens in tax return preparation and ways to try tech tools without investing too much cash, click here. To purchase and download materials from several of the AICPA TECH+ sessions, visit aicpaconferencematerials.com.

 

Alexandra DeFelice is a JofA senior editor. To comment on this column or to suggest an idea, contact her at adefelice@aicpa.org or 212-596-6122.

 

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