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Computer advice, wrapped with a ribbon.

Even executives who don't use computers at work-and that number is shrinking--often have personal computers at home. If you're stuck for a holiday gift to give a home-computing financial executive, Kenneth Harris, a computer consultant based in Long Beach, California, has some reasonably priced suggestions. (The costs he estimates assume you're shopping at a discount computer store, or paying what Harris calls "on the street" prices versus list prices.)

Try to fit these hardware and software components into the PC owner's stocking:

* A tape backup system--

"This is probably the most important item on the list," says Harris, because losing data can be so devastating. For $300 to $350 you can get a system that allows the executive to back up data daily onto cassettes, which he then stores-preferably in a fireproof safe at a remote site.

Harris advises you to invest in only a backup system that has an internal scheduling mechanism that forces the executive to make a daily backup.

* DOS 5. 0-This is the latest version of the disk operating system and, according to Harris, it improves computing capabilities by increasing memory, adding a feature that recalls the last command the computer executed, offering a more intuitive screen-editing process, and providing immediate help when the user needs it. You can get the package for $79 to $99.

* Windows 3.0-with this software, the executive enters the era of "clicking on, instead of punching in," says Harris. Windows 3.0 is graphics driven, which makes maneuvering within programs easier for the user. "You see where you're moving things," Harris explains. "You keep your head up, not down." It costs about $99, although extra applications will add to the expense.

* Real-time data compression software-for less than $200 you can buy software that doubles the size of the user's disk space by compressing the data that's not in use and expanding it when it's recalled from storage. The process is virtually invisible to the user-since information is never reformatted during the compression and performance time changes very little, unless the executive is working with very large files, Harris explains. Often sold with the compression software is a disk caching component, which quickens the recall process.

* Print spooling softwareTo keep the user working on other projects while he waits for a document to print, buy him a print spooler, which stores the output on disk and lets the user manage the print queue, instead of the queue managing the user. The software costs about $99.

* A laser printer-the price of the best quality in printing may not be as out of reach as you think. Harris says you can spend about the same on a name brand laser printer--$800 or $900-as you would on a top-of-the-line dot matrix printer. Another alternative he suggests is the bubble jet printer, with quality that falls between that of the laser and the dot matrix. "If a laser printer is an A," says Harris, "the bubble jet is a B+.") For $400 to $500, the bubble jet produces a good looking document, but, beware, the sprayed ink sometimes smudges.

* Typing tutor software-Sounds elementary? If the user can't type, his productivity is limited, says Harris. And now there's software, complete with games, to improve typing skills. One program even monitors how long the user takes to type specific letters and then adjusts its instruction to drill him in the weak areas. You'll pay $100 to $125 for the favor.

* Commercial window cleaner-for about $2 you can give the user routine maintenance of his computer. All he has to do is wipe down the monitor and the component it's housed in with a water- and ammonia-based cleaner. For even less than $2, the user can regularly "turn the keyboard upside down and tap the bottom of it" to get rid of lint, dust, and other undesirables, advises Harris.

Are you paying too much for postage? If your company isn't processing its mail properly before it goes to the post office, you may be missing out on substantial savings.

Currently, the U.S. Post Office is giving discounts to companies that do some preliminary sorting of their mail and are faithful to the Zip + 4" creed the Post Office has been campaigning for during the last several years. (You can buy a directory of nine-digit zip codes from the Post Office for $15.) The Post Office also rewards companies that add barcoding to their mail.

According to a U.S. Post Office representative, you can save as much as six cents on a first-class envelope that otherwise costs 29 cents. (See the chart for a summary of the discounts available on first-class mail.)

But is in-house sorting too expensive? The cost of sorting equipment ranges from $200,000 to $500,000, says John Slaney, vice president and manager of distribution at Chicago's Continental Bank. And that doesn't take into account the expense of setting up and manning the mailing facility, he adds. Continental analyzed all of the expenses involved in sorting mail on location and opted to hire an outside vendor to sort the 6 million pieces of first-class mail the bank sends out each year.

The advantages of using a presorting agency is that not everybody in a company knows the mail regulations and many companies can't keep up with the advances in technology [for the sorting equipment]," Slaney explains. "It's really no different than outsourcing any other function."

Continental Bank reports it's saving an average of $62,000 each year by using an outside agency. The process, according to Vice President Slaney, goes like this: Continental meters its first-class mail at 24.8 cents each, sends the mail to the sorting vendor, which sorts the mail and then delivers it to the Post Office. Continental then pays the vendor a portion of the money saved, which is "a negotiated amount," says Slaney.

But barcoding is the future, say Post Office representatives, and they predict heavier discounts ahead for companies that barcode their mail. However, barcoding equipment can be expensive, and while the Post Office offers a service to convert your automated addresses to barcodes, the wait can be a long one. Other changes in postal discounting may appear in 1993, we're told, after the presidential election.

If you're thinking of working through the holiday--or asking your employees to cut short their festivities-think again. In a study sponsored by the Hyatt Hotels Corporation, entitled "Time Off: The Psychology of Vacations," researchers estimate that each year stress-related disability costs American businesses some $150 million in health costs and lost productivity"-and, you got it, vacations are a valuable antidote.

The survey of 500 male and female executives paints today's corporate vacation picture like this:

* Executives annually average four vacations, and the length of these excursions is at least three days and two nights each.

* Ninety-two percent of the surveyed executives say they encourage their employees to take all their vacation days. Indeed, 67 percent believe it's their responsibility to see that their employees take vacation, while 76 percent say their companies encourage them to take all their allotted vacation days.

* Forty-seven percent take work with them. And, of those, 79 percent take files, papers, or magazines; 64 percent take calculators; 31 percent take dictating machines or tape recorders; and 14 percent take computers.

* Seventy percent of the executives say the office knows where they are at all times during their vacations.

* Forty-two percent say they need anywhere from two to four days away from the office to thoroughly unwind.

* Twenty-two percent pass out business cards while on vacation.

A profile of the executive vacationer? According to the Hyatt-sponsored research, he or she is friendlier (91 percent), more financially liberal" than usual (68 percent), more "devilish" (55 percent), and more apt to take risks (53 percent). Executives also enjoy "dramatically improved" sex lives while on vacation (60 percent) and are more athletic (72 percent).

But what most impresses bosses: 76 percent of executives feel their job performance improves after vacation, and 81 percent say their employees' job performance improves.

If you'd like a copy of the complete survey results, contact Carrie Reckert, of Hyatt Hotels Corporation, at 200 West Madison Street, Chicago, Illinois 60606 or call her at (312) 750-1234.

Looking for examples of how hospital charges can influence the medical insurance premiums you're paying for your employees? The Robert Wood johnson Foundation in Princeton, New jersey, may offer some insight.

In Advaances, a quarterly newsletter produced by the Foundation, the organization reports that, while a hospital charges on average $19,644 for coronary bypass Surgery and $9,556 for initial angioplasty (an alternative to surgery), the true cost difference is substantially less than the average $10,088 difference in charges." And, depending on the accounting method applied by the hospital, anywhere from 19 to 78 percent of the hospital charges could be saved.

The analysis is the product of research conducted by Mark A. Hlatky and a team of researchers in 1990. They say the difference lies in two areas: first, whether the computations start with the costs or the charges and, second, what costs are identified as fixed and what are determined variable. If only the cost of disposable supplies is variable, there's a net savings of 19 percent. If the cost of the personnel providing the service is also considered variable, then the savings is 46 percent. If overhead is included as a variable cost, 53 percent. And if all direct costs are considered variable, 78 percent.

Hlatky points out that their Study looks it only first-time treatments.

A mishap

The comparison of the FASB's exposure draft on accounting for income taxes with APB 11 and statement 96 included in "Accounting for Income Taxes--One More Time," by James O. Stepp and Lawrence N. Petzing (Financial Executive, September/October 1991, page 14), contains an erroneous statement. Under "Methodolgy" for the ED, the valuation allowance should be recorded if it is more likely than not that future benefits will be lost, not if realization of future benefits is likely, as was stated in the comparison.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Business Talk; computers and software as gift suggestions
Author:Couch, Robin L.
Publication:Financial Executive
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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