Washington CPA wins

Problem Solver Wins Tech Award

C harles Hoffmans goal is to help himself and other CPAs spend less time doing bookkeeping work and more time on actual analysis. A manager at Knight, Vale & Gregory in Tacoma, Washington, Hoffman is the first recipient of the American Institute of CPAs Innovative User of Technology Award, sponsored by Great Plains Software. KVG nominated Hoffman for the work he did building the internal information systems for the firm. According to the firm, with a combination of his business and accounting skills, his creativity and some off-the-shelf programs (such as Microsoft Office and BackOffice), he wove together an accounting and business information systems infrastructure. This allows KVG to solve business problems in new ways, improving the quality of service and reducing costs. KVG builds similar systems for its clients.

With Hoffman, technology and accounting are seamless fields—it isnt always obvious where one ends and the other begins. For example, Hoffmans firm has a client that needed to add a number of items, such as depreciation, to its general ledger. The client started doing this manually. Using both his CPA and information technology skills, Hoffman wrote simple database applications that automated the process, saving the client from entering 4,000 transactions each month.

Next, he worked with a spreadsheet this client had created to calculate each salespersons commission. The client had an unusually complicated commissions formula, and the procedure it had set up to calculate it took 45 days and still did not work satisfactorily. Hoffmans database solution reduced the procedure to four hours. "I could solve the clients problem because, as a CPA, I knew what it was trying to accomplish."

Taking responsibility for education
Early in his career, Hoffman was hired by a produce distributor having trouble with its accounting system. Hoffman taught himself how to use a database and then created, at the companys request, a "nice-looking" invoice. This led to an inventory system. He added sales information next, creating an opportunity for sales analysis. When he reached the limits of self-education, he took a class. Although he was already comfortable with Excel, "a class I took at Microsoft just blew me away with all the things you could do that I didnt know about." He said that CPAs who dont take classes to keep up with technology risk being left behind.

Hoffman is a firm believer in the adage, "If all you have in your toolbox is a hammer, everything is a nail." That is, people tend to use just the technology tool they know about to solve every problem, whether its the best solution or not. So he learned about databases, HTML programming (used in creating his firms Web site), the Internet, Visual Basic for Applications, spreadsheets and word processors, so hed have a hammer for nails, a screwdriver for screws and a wrench for bolts. Hoffman describes himself as a generalist but recognizes the need to specialize: Even when he knows the right tool, he also knows when to bring in additional consultants who may have more in-depth knowledge in a certain area.

For more information on Knight, Vale & Gregorys technology practice, visit its Web site, http://kvg.com/ . At the site, visitors can download a white paper written by Hoffman titled "A Vision Statement: What Accounting Systems Will Become."

Looking ahead
Hoffman thinks CPAs should be leaders and make things happen. For example, he wants to see IT standards. "Take an invoice or a purchase order. If there was one standard for the way each one of these is designed and laid out, it would be easy for each system to talk with any other system. The technology is available—we just have to agree on the standards." He said an organization such as the AICPA should take the lead, because no one business is large enough to establish standards.

In general, Hoffman advised CPAs to be ready for accounting systems that will be more expensive up front but will end up saving money: "The robots so common on assembly lines were expensive to build and expensive to program, but in the end they were more efficient."

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