Maybe its having Microsoft as a neighbor, but, for the second year in a row, the AICPA Innovative User of Technology Award has gone to a Washington CPA. An independent panel of technology and accounting experts gave the award, sponsored by Great Plains Software, to Joseph E. Poff, a partner of Shannon & Associates in Kent.
Poff uses technology to make life easier for the firms clients: A lumber company was unhappy with an accounting system using units, not "linear feet," so he changed all the input screens. A port authority needed an elaborate tariff system to determine how much money each ship docking in the harbor owed. "We had to build new modules," said Poff, "including one that allowed the port to share its financial information with the state government. In the end, we made a four-day process a four-hour process. Its rewarding to set up a system like that and see your clients happy."Online business
Poff is helping move his firm and its clients into an e-commerce world. "Some of our clients are astounded when we tell them whats possible — they never even thought of the possibilities." At the foundation of e-commerce, Poff sees a time-honored accounting tool: the database. "An online store, or the Yahoo search engine, are really just big databases. A lot of people find e-commerce mysterious, but CPAs are used to working with databases. If you learn how to manipulate them, the worlds the limit."
A Web store is the result of an integration of accounting and inventory systems, with a security component as well, and Poff finds assembling these parts an interesting puzzle. To augment his accounting skills, he became certified in both Windows NT and Microsoft SQL and continues to learn: "I had always assumed the Uniform CPA Exam was my last test, but I find myself taking new ones to get new certifications and maintain old ones."
Shannon & Associates is licensed to perform WebTrust engagements, and Poff said the firm will be marketing the service heavily. He sees CPAs as having a dual WebTrust role: the engagement itself and educating online businesses about the importance of creating a safe environment for customers.A CPAs education
A technology education was forced on Poff. Twenty years ago his firm started buying PCs but found purchasing computers was one thing, training another. "I had to mechanically proceed, step by step, to figure out how to install the programs, how to operate them and how to get the staff to use them. With every new program, we had to do the same thing over and over." As he gained experience, he taught himself how to customize a billing program to give the firm all the options it wanted.
At home, it was more of the same. He helped his wife with her graphic design business by writing programs in C or Visual Basic. "I got a big kick out of that," he said.Into the 21st century
Poff expects continued integration of databases into the Internet and believes Shannon & Associates will have a role in that. "Clients are getting much more sophisticated about what they want, the type of integration they need among their systems. Ive looked at thousands of clients books, so I really understand their systems. CPAs are the best people for these kinds of technology engagements. Were able to help even those clients who dont know what they want because we understand the company and the industry."
Within the firm, Poff is developing an intranet, with billing reports, for example. The firms one constant will be change. "Each new project I get is different from the one before. Wed get bored doing the same thing over and over, and besides, its presumptuous to assume what worked for one client will, of course, work for another."
For more on Shannons technology practice, including a cleverly constructed sample storefront, visit the firm online at www.shannon-cpas.com .Other awards
The AICPA also honored two CPAs for lifetime technical contributions to the profession:
J. Carlton Collins, a partner in K2 Enterprises, lectures widely on technology and is a frequent speaker at AICPA conferences. He was chairman of both the 1990 AICPA Microcomputer Conference and the Georgia Society of CPAs PC advisory committee. For more on what K2 does, and the sophisticated technology it uses to manage its business, see "Ahead of the Curve" , JofA, Feb.98.
Christopher J. MacKenzie is vice-president of Vitale, Caturano and Co., a Boston accounting firm. MacKenzie helped his firm help its clients by first applying technological solutions to internal operations. He then helped create a subsidiary to provide technology consulting. His colleagues at the firm praised his enthusiastic defense of his IT vision, which led to a successful, long-term commitment to technology.