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Windows: has your firm converted to Windows?

Jonathan F. Anderson, CPA, principal in charge, Anderson, Hunt & Co., Atlanta.

About three years ago we moved not only to Windows but also to a local area network. It was the best thing we could have done: People work more efficiently, and because the software is user-friendly, we're able to do things we just couldn't dream of doing before. For example, I provide litigation services, and I can bring into court financial models with graphics a jury can understand. With Windows, it's easy to construct such presentations.

I was one of the last people to buy into technology in the firm. At age 49, 1 am of the generation that tends to stick to the old ways of doing things. However, I found the move to Windows was not only painless but also enjoyable because of the flexibility it introduced. For example, now someone can be working on taxes and still receive E-mail or telephone messages without exiting the tax program. That alone made a vast improvement in our productivity.

It was an expensive shift, though. We had to upgrade all the hardware in the office, and the training was extensive: We provided all basic training in-house, and some people who took advanced courses trained others in the firm. We went on faith that the new system would work, and it paid off. We were fortunate to have a partner, Don Hunt, who understood what Windows could do for us, and he guided us well.

How difficult was the move? Of course, some of the younger staff already had been running Windows as a stand-alone, so for them the transition was a piece of cake. Some of the older people had a bit more difficulty. All told, it took between six months and a year before we could actually quantify our productivity gains with our staff, which numbers about 19.

Here's an example of the problems we faced: Our sole data input operator was concerned when we converted to a network with Windows because she feared she no longer was secure in her job. But we retrained her, and now she's our local area network administrator and a paraprofessional in the accounting area.

Will there be further upgrades? Not for a while. We'd like to make our last payment on the latest upgrade before we do it again.

Gary Schneidman, CPA, principal, Seymour Schneidman & Associates, New York City.

We haven't moved to Windows; I've resisted such a move. Considering the way we operate at our firm, Windows offers few benefits. That's not to say there are no advantages to Windows. The program has more functionality than DOS, but we decided it wasn't cost-effective for us now.

For years, we have remained on the cutting edge of technology. We had to consider the benefits that Windows could offer us and balance them against the potential downside. The transition would cost us dearly in terms of our efficiency without providing us with commensurate gains in quality or additional capabilities. (Also, some of the application software we use extensively is available solely in DOS versions. But that is changing quickly, and vendors are beginning to release Windows versions of these applications.

For example, how can Windows improve the way we do taxes? The program allows a user to have several files or applications open at the same time; that's no particular advantage when you're doing taxes. It is true that tax programs configured for Windows offer more management tools, but when I offset these minor benefits against the huge cost to upgrade our hardware, the advantages are marginal at best.

We use the DOS version of WordPerfect and it works just fine for us. If we're doing a write-up, the data feed right into WordPerfect. Why should we invest in an upgrade?

Yet, despite all my objections, we'll probably move to a graphical user interface (GUI) environment within about two years-maybe less. This is not a voluntary move. We're being forced into it by software vendors, most of whom are designing new software only for Windows, so we have no choice but to switch. It does not make us happy.

However, going to GUI doesn't mean we're locked into Windows. We're not sure which way we'll go. It could be Microsoft Windows or IBM OS/2. While most of those who made the GUI transition went with Windows, I think OS/2 may offer much more power than Windows. The only concern I have about OS/2 is whether it will be around in a couple of years and whether it will maintain compatibility with future Windows versions. Although it's probably superior to Windows 3.1--and can even run Windows--it has not been as popular as Microsoft's product. It doesn't make sense switching to an operating system that won't be supported in the future, no matter how good it is.

Our current plan calls for putting every staff member on 486 computers within two years--no matter what GUI system we choose.

The big problem in the move to another operating system is training: We will have to retrain everyone on a new system. That will be expensive.

Richard Connolly, CPA, director, internal information, Larson, Allen, Weishair & Co., Minneapolis.

The question we face is not whether to switch to Windows but, rather, when. We know DOS is dying, but it's not dead yet. There still is life in many DOS applications. When DOS finally dies, surely Windows will take over--if it hasn't already, considering the numbers of Windows programs available and the trend in the marketplace.

The major reason we haven't already made the move is this: DOS software is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. We're a very productive and profitable firm-mainly because we use technology effectively. So why rock the boat?

Timing of the move is critical. By next year, Microsoft will come out with a new version, Windows 4. It will be not only a different environment but also a new operating system--one that completely replaces DOS. Do we go for Windows 4 or for Windows NT, which came out last year? Then there's Windows Workgroups--the small-scale network version of Windows. On top of that, we have to select the application programs to run with Windows. Which suite of programs do we pick: Microsoft's or Lotus's? If we wait and let the different factions fight it out, will we fall behind?

Are we interested in considering IBM's OS/2? Not really. We can only look at so many choices, and that's one too many.

The process of installing Windows will be much more difficult than what we went through installing DOS. Training, data conversion and support will be critical steps. It will take at least six months to get on-line with a new system--to fix the bugs and complete the training. We estimate each person will need a minimum of 20 hours of initial training; on top of that, we'll have to provide help-desk support, with advanced training later. Naturally, we have to time our move so it doesn't interfere with our busy seasons. If we wait while the operating system factions fight it out, will we fall behind? And can we afford that without jeopardizing our competitive advantage or service to our clients?

We also have to start thinking about changing the office from a stereotypical work place to a more mobile one with portable communications. That means some of our 375 people will be working at home, at their clients' offices or other locations. There's even the possibility that office space will change--there may be fewer individual offices and work areas because people will be working away from the office in a more mobile, less structured environment. The new software lends itself to that. Such a move will take even more training and more expensive hardware.

We're telling our people, You don't have to be "techies" to use this new technology. But you have to open yourselves up to new work habits and new attitudes. You have to learn to use modems and portable faxes and all those gadgets. We're also telling our people that the information they need to do their jobs is out there for them. Our technology challenge is to develop better ways to gain access to, communicate and integrate the information that is available to us and our clients. Windows can meet part of that challenge.
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Author:Connolly, Richard
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Aug 1, 1994
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