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Desktop publishing and presentation graphics: improving accounting's images.

Today's computer systems make it easy to produce more interesting and comprehensible reports.

Printed business reports don't have to be boring rivers of gray type sprinkled with numbers-numbing tables. With a little help from computers and the right software, accountants can convert dull-looking documents into exciting presentations that engage the reader and make dense material more approachable and comprehensible.

This article is an introduction to the software that makes exciting presentations possible--desktop publishing and presentation graphics software. These programs are relatively easy to use, even for those who are not computer nimble. With only a few hours' practice, accountants and their office staff can produce attractive newsletters, reports and slide presentations. In fact, with somewhat more practice, a user can create any page of this magazine, including photographs, drawings and any style and size of typeface.

Desktop publishing software is designed primarily to handle text; presentation graphics software handles artwork. There is some overlap between the two, but both types of programs are needed for many projects.

WHO NEEDS IT

Printed material created with desktop publishing and graphics software can be used in many accounting areas. For example, accountants in public practice can use the software to generate promotional brochures and client reports. Management consultants can produce professional-looking presentations and studies. CPAs interested in marketing can use the software to create proposals for services. When a client examines a stack of competing proposals, the one with colorful and highlighted graphics will receive more substantive review than the conventional documents.

CPA firms that create newsletters for tax clients can make them more readable with interesting graphics. There's no reason why comparable newsletters can't be produced for audit, consulting and litigation service clients. Such newsletters can be personalized easily by including the client's name and 1ogo as a lead banner. To personalize them further, a photo of a key company person or a facility can be electronically scanned and inserted into a report.

CPAs in business and industry also can find many uses for desktop publishing. For instance, controllers and chief financial officers can use graphics in loan financing proposals and prospectus preparation. A report on a potential acquisition candidate can include scanned pictures of key management personnel, easy-to-comprehend charts of significant financial statistics and even a map, say, of North American production and distribution facilities--all in a concise, attractive format presented to the board of directors.

In addition, a company's internal audit department can periodically generate a desktop-published report citing important changes in procedure or assemble a fullcolor slide presentation for a key client or the board of directors, displaying a report's graphics on an overhead screen.

The point is there is no reason for an accounting office to put up with dull-looking presentations. All the extra publishing touches can be done in the accounting office by any staff person with training. The average person, with artistic talent or not, can design something far more appealing than a report consisting of monolithic typewritten text. Some users may even uncover a nascent design talent. The final product is limited only by the users' imagination.

WHAT THE PROGRAMS CAN DO

Here, in brief, are the functions that these programs can perform:

* Page makeup. Desktop publishing programs format text in any width columns and arrange it on a page; any runover text that flows onto the following pages is tracked by the programs so no type gets lost, even if graphics are inserted in several places and the text is "snaked" around the pictures. The type font, face and size can be adjusted to fit the page design. Such programs also create shading to highlight graphics or text.

Some of the more powerful word processing programs can perform a few of these functions. While such programs can be effective for simple projects, they lack the power to handle big jobs with complex graphics.

* Scanning. With the help of an electronic device called a scanner, any print image can be scanned, copied and converted into a computer file. The software then allows the user to crop, rotate, shrink or enlarge the image. And additional graphics or text can be added to the image (see exhibit 1, at left).

* Illustration programs. This type of graphics software provides the capability to compose diagrams or drawings on the computer screen. Anyone who "can't draw a straight line" will have no trouble drawing not only straight lines but also circles, ellipses and any other configuration easily and accurately.

* Clip-art. Graphics software that contains ready-made images in computer format is known as clip-art. Those images can be "clipped" (copied) and then "pasted" (placed) in a desktop publishing file. Typical clip-art items are photographs or illustrations of, say, a light bulb (to signify an idea) or an in-box (to signify a memo). A wide variety of clip-art files is commercially available at low prices. Also, some word processing and most desktop publishing programs come with their own assortment of clip-art files.

* Tables and charts. Some types of graphics software convert tables of data into various formats (for example, pie charts and bar graphs). For an example of how numerical data can be changed into graphics, see exhibit 2, page 55. In this example from a recent issue of the Journal of Accountancy, the computer operator began with text and numbers and, in less than an hour, was able to convert them into an attractive graphic representation that is certainly easier to fathom than the original column of numbers.

Some of the more powerful spreadsheet programs also make it easy to convert data files into interesting graphics. However, with desktop publishing and presentation graphics, the user has many graphics options, such as being able to rotate threedimensional charts to change the display's perspective (see exhibit 3, page 56).

At least a score of desktop publishing and presentation graphics programs are available. For details on desktop publishing programs, see exhibit 4, page 56; for presentation graphics programs, see exhibit 5, page 58.

HARDWARE TOOLS

Certain hardware tools are needed to run desktop publishing and presentation graph* ics software--most of which accountants' offices already have. Here's what's needed:

* Computer. For best results, a 386- or 486-type model with at least 4 megabytes of random-access memory (RAM) and 80Mb of hard disk space. Such a system can handle almost all desktop publishing and presentation graphics applications. While it's possible to work with as little as 2Mb of RAM and a smaller hard disk, most programs will perform better with the extra power. In fact, it's recommended that a math coprocessor, a component that plugs into a computer, be added to speed the processing. If a new system is bought, a highend design--a 486 processor with 4Mb of RAM and at least 80Mb of hard disk space-- will accommodate future growth and avoid early obsolescence. Prices range from about $1,500 for a low-end system to $3,000 for an upper-end unit.

* Monitor. A color monitor with high resolution is preferred for visual comfort. An oversized screen makes the work easier since images can be enlarged to see details and subsequently shrunk so multiple pages can be displayed on a screen. Prices range from about $500 for a conventional display to about $2,500 for a top-of-the-line model.

* Mouse. When used for drawing, it functions like a pencil or paintbrush; when used for design, it functions like a magic wand-- the click of a button controls the program, moving, copying or sizing text and graphics. It costs less than $50.

* Printer. For best results, a laser printer loaded with PostScript programming or emulation (for speed and a wider variety of type fonts) is recommended. A less versatile (and slower) ink-jet printer can do many functions, but only a laser printer can handle the advanced projects. While much of the work can be done with a one-color printer, multicolor printing is more effective for presentation graphics. For color slides, a color printer that can produce transparencies in addition to paper is a must. Printers cost from $500 to as much as $10,000; an adequate one-color model costs less than $2,000 and twice that for a full-color unit.

* Scanner. This electronic device comes in two configurations. A hand-held model, which is adequate for occasional scanning, and a desktop model, for high volume. Also, some scanners can copy color as well as black and white. Prices range from about $500 to about $2,000.

For very advanced graphics work, users may want to add some optional hardware-- a computer imaging camera, which takes pictures electronically, converting the image into computer signals; and a large screen overhead projector, which displays images directly from a computer monitor screen onto a large wall screen without loss of resolution. Imaging cameras cost about $300, while an overhead projector can cost as much as $8,000.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Considering the cost of the software and hardware and the time needed to learn it and to perform the design work, wouldn't it be cheaper and more convenient to have a project done by a print shop or art department?

In most cases, the answer is no, for these reasons:

* People who are familiar with accounting and the business goals of the final product will find it easier than someone outside the profession to produce a design that meets the office's needs.

* By keeping 'the project in-house, lastminute additions and alterations can be made easily.

* In the long run--once the investment for hardware, software and training are accounted for--the cost of preparing a presentation is relatively small.

It takes 8 to 16 hours of self-study to become reasonably accomplished in the fundamentals of handling a graphics program. Generally, learning is easier with a continuing professional education course.

Of course, the actual time to produce a publication will depend on the experience and skill of the user, the degree of planning and layout design and the complexity and length of the document. If the user has some experience, it should take between 1 and 2 hours to produce an appealing six-page document, assuming the text has been written and edited.

Once proficient in the fundamentals, the user can create a basic three-dimensional color bar chart in as little as five minutes. More complicated graphics may take an hour or more to produce, and overhead transparencies take very little additional effort. A complete set of charts to accompany audited or reviewed financial statements can be produced in as little as a day.

In weighing the cost of such a system, accountants also should consider the fact that the computer, monitor, mouse, scanner and printer can do more than just desktop publishing and presentation graphics. Most of the hardware also serves as the basic setup for all the basic computer applications, from handling spreadsheets and databases to word processing. The only equipment that should be upgraded to adapt it for desktop publishing are the monitor, the scanner and the printer, adding only a few thousand dollars to the final cost.

THE FINAL SELECTION

When selecting software packages, users are cautioned to pick candidates that can import files from, and link to, the spreadsheet package their organizations use. Also, they should determine whether an organization's word processing or desktop publishing software is compatible with the presentation graphics file formats; all Windows-compatible programs are compatible with each other.

The technology is currently available at a reasonable cost to produce dynamic reports and brochures as well as multidimensional color graphics. These programs will add credibility, ease of understanding and interest to accounting presentations. The costs of producing such presentations are relatively minimal when considering the potential positive effect they produce.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

* DESKTOP PUBLISHING and presentation graphics software can be used to convert dull-looking business reports into exciting presentations that engage the reader and make dense material more approachable and comprehensible.

* PRINTED MATERIAL created with this software can be used in many accounting areas. Accountants in public practice can use the software to generate promotional brochures and client reports. Management consultants can produce professional-looking presentations and studies.

* CPAs INTERESTED in marketing can use the software to create proposals for services, and CPA firms that create newsletters for tax clients can make them more readable with interesting graphics.

* MANAGEMENT accountants can use graphics in loan financing proposals and prospectus preparation. A company's internal audit department can generate a desktop-published report citing change in procedure or assemble a full-color slide presentation.

* IT TAKES BETWEEN 8 and 16 hours of self-study to become reasonably accomplished in the fundamentals of handling a graphics program. Generally, learning is easier with a continuing professional education course.

* ONCE PROFICIENT in the fundamentals, the user can create a basic three-dimensional color bar chart in as little as five minutes. More complicated graphics may take an hour or more to produce; overhead transparencies take little additional effort.

* A COMPLETE SET of charts to accompany audited or reviewed financial statements can be produced in as little as a day.
 LONG RECOVERY PERIOD SEEN FOR REAL ESTATE MARKET
 A nationwide survey of 1,700
tea] estate executives at the
end of 1991 found half
anticipated a three- to five-year
recovery period for the
commercial real estate market:
 How long win it take for the
commercial real estate market
to recover on a national level?
Not applicable,
 market healthy...............0%
Less than one year.............1%
One to three years............29%
Three to five years...........50%
Longer than five years........20%


TABULAR DATA OMITTED

EXHIBIT 4

Desktop publishing software

Some of the more popular desktop publishing programs on the market follow:
 Aldus PageMaker
 Aldus Corporation
411 First Avenue South
Seattle, Washington 98104
(206) 622-5500
Price: $795
 Avagio 2.0
 Unison World Software
1321 Harbor Bay Parkway
Alameda, California 94501
(800) 444-7553
Price: 5149.95
 Express Publisher 2.03
 Power Up Software
2929 Campus Drive
San Mateo, California 94403
(415) 345-5900
Price: 5159.95
 Microsoft Publisher 1.0
 Microsoft Corporation
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, Washington 98052
(800) 426-9400
Price: 5199
 PagePlus 1.2
 Serif, Inc.
P.O. Box 803
Nashua, New Hampshire 03061
(603) 889-8650
Price: 5149
 Publish-It
 Timeworks, Inc.
625 Academy Drive
Northbrook, Illinois 60062
(708) 5594 300
Price: 5149.95
 Ventura Publisher 4.0 for Windows
 Ventura Software, Inc.
1 5175 Innovation Drive
San Diego, California 92128
(619) 673-01 72
Price: 5795
 EXHIBIT 5
 Presentation graphics software
 Some of the more popular presentation graphics programs
on the market follow:
 Aldus Persuasion 2.1
 Aldus Corporation
411 First Avenue South
Seattle, Washington 98104
(206) 622-5500
Price: $495
 CA-Cricket Presents 1.4
 Computer Associates International, Inc.
One Computer Associates Plaza
Islandia, New York 11788
(800) 645-3003
Price: $199
 Charisma 2.1
 Macrografx
1303 East Arapaho Road
Richardson, Texas 75081
(800) 733-3729
Price: $495
 Freelance Graphics for Windows 1.0
 Lotus Development Corporation
55 Cambridge Parkway
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142
(617) 577-8500
Price: $495
 GraphShow 1.1
 Chartersoft Corporation
80 Fennell Street
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 3M4
Canada
(800) 665-4444
Price: $299.95
 Harvard Graphics for Windows 1.0
 Software Publishing Corporation
3165 Kifer Road
Santa Clara, California 95051
(408) 986-8000
Price: $595
 Hollywood 1.0
 Claris Corporation
5201 Patrick Henry Drive
P.O. Box 58168
Santa Clara, California 95052
(408) 727-8227
Price $499
 Powerpoint for Windows 3.0
 Microsoft Corporation
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, Washington 98052
(800) 426-9400
Price: $495
 Stanford Graphics for Windows
 3-D Visions
2780 Skypark Drive
Torrance, California 90505
(800) 729-4723
Price: $495
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Institute of CPA's
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Bergerson, Merle G.
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Words:2551
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