Hardware Trends for 2012

BY JEFF DREW
November 30, 2011

With 2012 just around the corner, the JofA gathered the three technology keynote speakers from the AICPA’s 2011 Practitioners Symposium/TECH+ Conference to talk about tech trends heading into the new year. The nearly 90-minute conversation covered a wide range of technical issues critical to all CPAs.

Participating in the call were:

  • David Cieslak, CPA/CITP, aka Inspector Gadget, a principal with Arxis Technology.
  • Randy Johnston, executive vice president of both Network Management Group Inc. and K2 Enterprises.
  • Rick Richardson, CPA/CITP, founder and CEO of Richardson Media & Technologies.


Moderating the call were:

  • J. Carlton Collins, technology and accounting systems consultant and author of the JofA’s monthly Technology Q&A column.
  • Jeff Drew, senior editor covering technology for the JofA.


The JofA is presenting the online version of the conversation in 10 installments released over a nearly two-month span. Each part focuses on one major topic and features audio clips from the conversation. Part nine examines the hardware scene, what CPAs should be buying and where they should be holding back.

The complete schedule is available at the bottom of this article and at journalofaccountancy.com/tech.

Audio

Audio: Click here to listen to Dave Cieslak discusses hardware trends in the accounting profession, including notebooks and tablets.

Drew: What are the key hardware trends CPAs need to watch going into 2012? What should they be looking at buying?

Cieslak: We still think that the notebook computer continues to play a role, especially for those people who have more of a data entry or a more heavy data-interactive aspect to their job. So we hardly see them as dead and gone, and so when we’re looking at new laptops today, we’re saying Windows 7. We’re suggesting solid-state drives, because they’re definitely fast and less prone to failure. We like not only Windows 7, but Windows 7 64-bit, so we also recommend more RAM to go with that. USB 3.0. So just a number of just the newer technologies. There are some real solid devices where that’s starting to show up, all in a nice unit. Things like the Lenovo (ThinkPad) X220, a great product. A lot of this latest and greatest technology available from several vendors. So (we) definitely like that.

We still are seeing far too many end users who are struggling with single monitors, or maybe even two, and we’re suggesting to most folks now three monitors as a minimum, because as we think about really interacting with our data, a lot of it just comes down to how much can I see at the same time? So we like that.

And then finally, I know I’ve been kind of beating the drum here pretty hard on tablets all throughout our time here together today, but I would say that if you don’t own a tablet, and no matter what tablet that is—I’ve been talking about the iPad 2. I’m pretty sure Rick is carrying at least the iPad and maybe even a few others in his briefcase these days—but get your hands on one, start to understand it, start to interact with it. And so to the extent that you are working with these devices, I think the better you’re going to be able to appreciate what the potential is for these devices in your organization.

Audio

Audio: Click here to listen as Rick Richardson and Randy Johnston discuss tablet and MiFi usage in their organizations.

Drew: Thanks, David. Rick, do you have anything to add?

Richardson: Boy, he covered my list. It was—I was pretty impressed. I would say this. Now is certainly the time to get into the mobile market, if you haven’t been in it, whether it’s (a) smartphone or tablet. And while you’re talking ($400 or $500 or $600) for a device, the amount of personal interaction, the value that that has in terms of understanding … how that might be used in the practice, is invaluable.

Secondly, I would use the next two years as a time frame to really get current on my desktops and laptops. When I say get current, there’s still a bunch of us out there using XP, and as Randy said, everybody needs--and David concurred--needs to be on Windows 7. And I suspect that when Windows 8 comes, you won’t even be able to get to it if you aren’t at 7 to start with. So that also becomes a point at which getting to Windows 7 makes more sense when you buy the new box anyway.

But if you’ve got a number of laptops that are already running Windows 7, I would say get more life out of what you have right now. Experiment in the mobile space with tablets and see how that might fit relative to some replacement, but get some more life out of what you already have that you’re running rather than looking to being—you know, buying a lot more in the way of hardware. This next two-year time frame is going to be just an absolutely incredible watershed of change, and if you’re positioned to have people wanting, and you’re ready for what’s going to be offered by the market, I think you may be in better shape than if you just say, “Well, let’s go out and get those other 40 machines now,” when it might be a little early to do that.

Collins: Rick, can I jump in real quick and ask a follow-up question? You’re recommending tablets, but would you recommend that people get Wi-Fi-based tablets, where they would connect to the Internet for free, or 4G tablets, where they have to pay a monthly fee for that service?

Richardson: Wonderful question. My answer is, I don’t think the 3G service on the tablets is worth it, and the reason for that is, a number of places we go to already have Wi-Fi, and your ability to either partner with your cellphone if you can, or with a MiFi device, I just think it offers a lot more opportunities for you to connect to the cellular world with either 3G or 4G protocols than you would have by buying the tablet with the communications chips built in. You save some money, you provide yourself with the opportunity to kind of tie into anything that can get you to Wi-Fi.

Collins: Thanks.

Drew: Thanks, Rick. Randy, any hardware you’ve got your eyes on heading into next year?

Johnston: Yeah, I do have my eyes on hardware, and Rick Richardson, I do agree with your analysis. I actually made that decision for my own organization this week, buying a dozen tablets, none cellular-enabled because of MiFi access, and concluded that was a smarter business move for us. But for our listeners, things to watch for (are) smaller, lighter. So that could mean tablets. That could mean a mobile computer. And unfortunately, cheaper and lower quality is also pretty high on my radar. We’re seeing exceptionally large numbers of hard drive failures, so that’s something you have to protect yourself on. We’re seeing reduced quality in some of the monitors that are being sold and so forth. So I understand the economic play that a number of the producers are trying to make here. I just politely disagree with it and don’t think it’s a very good long-term strategy, but I’ve been wrong before.

So the other hardware trend to really watch is, think real carefully before you replace your infrastructure, your servers and your SANs (storage area network) and so forth. Some of you need to do that because you’re going to wind up with a private or hybrid cloud. Some of you need to really push the envelope a little further into the cloud-computing model because that’s the right solution for you. But don’t just do what you’ve done. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’re going to keep getting what you’ve always got. And I believe that this is a pretty radical time period of business strategy shift, and you need to think about business goals that you’re trying to accomplish before you purchase that next round of technology, because this is a great time to make the shift.

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