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Roman Kepczyk, XcentricA lot of neat new electronic gadgets and devices will be introduced this week at the annual Consumer Electronic show in Las Vegas, Nev. Many will not have a direct impact on the technology at use at tax and accounting firms. Wearable devices and the new Panasonic Bread Maker with gluten-free baking mode probably are not on the buying list.

It's not that there aren't some important technology changes. Chip-based credit cards will have an impact on point-of-sale systems when they hit the market in the fall. The Internet of Things—the increasing connection of electronic devices via the Internet, will increasingly touch the lives of consumers.

However, one CES product category that will affect firms is monitors. Increasingly larger monitors will impact tax professionals
"The big screens we are buying today are the little screen of the future," Roman Kepczyk, director of consulting services at Xcentric, said late in 2014 in a presentation about the direction of firm technology.

The flood of announcements out of the gambling capital includes 32- and 40-inch ultra HD desktop monitors from Seiki. That term ultra-HD is also accompanied by a stream of press releases about new monitors and televisions that utilize 4K technology—4,000-pixel horizontal resolution (in reality 3840 pixels by 2160 lines for ultra HD, according to various articles about it). The previous standard has been discussing vertical resolution with 4K equating to 2,160 pixels under that measurement

The biggest looming change is the move to curved displays, which Kepczyk describes as being in the first generation and "a little expensive right now." Dell's entry into the field, a 34-inch UltraSharp curved monitor, that is supposed to be available this week, is priced at $1,199.99. But as with general technology trends, prices are expected to fall and major producers were expected to introduce new models this week.

Kepcyzk said the curved displays provide an ability to look at different parts of a screen more easily will cause less eyestrain. The experts are still debating the advantages of curved screens, but that is unlikely to stem their spread.

Generally, the outlook for the tax and accounting market is not surprising—more of the same trends that we have seen in the last two years and that is the spread of cloud-based application and mobile devices.

"Increasingly the SaaS products get a little bit more mature and a little bit more robust," says Randy Johnston, owner of the Network Management Group of Hutchinson, Kan., and a partner with the well-known K2 Enterprises consulting organization.

For Johnston, one technology trend for 2015 is not the promise of new product, but the threat of increasingly more and more damaging technology breaches.

"I think this will be a year of notable additional breaches," he says. Johnston points to the attack on Sony's computer systems, apparently made by North Korea as something that could take down 97 percent of computers in this country. Likewise, the attack on North Korea that shut down its Internet service for hours—probably a response by the United States—is something that could be visited upon systems in this country, he feels.

Beyond security, there are several trends impacting firms, including the following:

Consumerization. Business products increasingly look like consumer products
Responsive Design. Applications have similar look and function on every device, whether a desktop PC , tablet of smartphone
Subscription pricing. Software is moving from a one-time sale of the software license to monthly payments.
Accountants as influencers. Accountants have long been viewed as important in influencing their client's buying decision. Vendors will push even harder.
Apps rule. Demand for functionality for mobile devices is making applications with a narrow set of abilities very important.

Eric Kimberling, managing partner of Panorama Consulting Solutions, wrote about the impact of consumerization on ERP Vendors—those that make financial applications about the level of QuickBooks. But his comments apply across the software market.

"ERP vendors that still develop and support outdated user interfaces and functionality will be under even more pressure to create user-friendly and intuitive software solutions that more closely resemble consumer technologies," Kimberling wrote in a recent newsletter. And he pointed to the accepted cause, the generation of workers that have grown up with social media and modern technology.

Connected with consumerization is the concept of responsive design. It's hard to find an important software company that is not talking about responsive design. At his company's Summit conference during the summer, Sage's chief technology office
Himanshu Palsule said, "Our strategy is to ensure common mobile and connected services that are built once and work across all ERP products." Teresa Mackintosh, CEO of Wolters Kluwer U.S., made the same point at her company's Connection conference in November, noting the CCH Axcess line has been built utilizing responsive design principles.

But cloud-based tax preparation software are still a small part of the market. The bulk of Intuit's customers use the desktop-based Lacerte and ProSeries applications, not its Intuit Tax Online. CCH Axcess is rapidly gaining users, but its ProSystem fx Tax still predominates and Thomson Reuters, which does not have any true cloud products in its UltraTax line, is likely to introduce them this year.

The big push for 2015 will be getting users switch to cloud applications from the standard desktop versions. Intuit expects that the number of users for QuickBooks Online will hit 2 million in two years. But even with rapid adoption, the company has some distance to cover as there were 739,000 when the company ended its first quarter. And the major of users selecting the Internet-based product are new customers, not desktop users making the switch.

CEO Brad Smith said last fall that the accounting community is critical to his company's efforts.

"Before you get substantial migration [from the desktop QuickBooks], you have to get accountants to buy into this," he said.

Bob Scott
Bob Scott has provided information to the tax and accounting community since 1991, first as technology editor of Accounting Today, and from 1997 through 2009 as editor of its sister publication, Accounting Technology. He is known throughout the industry for his depth of knowledge and for his high journalistic standards.  Scott has made frequent appearances as a speaker, moderator and panelist and events serving tax and accounting professionals. He  has a strong background in computer journalism as an editor with two former trade publications, Computer+Software News and MIS Week and spent several years with weekly and daily newspapers in Morris County New Jersey prior to that.  A graduate of Indiana University with a degree in journalism, Bob is a native of Madison, Ind
Last modified on Tuesday, 06 January 2015
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