Gary Boomer, who heads the technology working party of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, said IT was set to overtake office space as the second biggest business cost to accountancy firms. In the US, IT is already higher than spending on premises 'except in very high-rent districts', he said.One drain on IT budgets was the switch from desktop to laptop computers, which are more expensive and have shorter lives, Boomer told the Accounting IT 99 show in London this month. Firms should replace one third of their IT every year and follow a written strategic plan. The good news is that IT-savvy practices can greatly increase their profitability, according to Mike Sturgess, managing director of the IT training firm SWAT. But few UK firms have systems that are flexible enough and even fewer are using them properly, he said. 'You need a system where you can write your own queries, not where your data are held captive by someone else,' he said.Today, fewer than 10% of accountancy firms have a modern practice-management system, according to Dariush Mogtader, managing director of Dataflow, a specialist supplier. 'Users are a lot more aware than they were three to four years ago. But a lot of people have migrated for a quick fix for the millennium rather than looking to the long term,' he said. Sturgess said good IT system should: contain a database to identify a firm's best and worst clients; automated routines to consign bill dictation to the dustbin; online timesheets to allow billing in six-minute units; and alerts for bad debts.
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