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LUCA is now Internet based--it makes a world of difference.


By Stephen P. Valenti

In Brief

You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

LUCA.COM, the successor to the previous LUCA system has been newly launched with full Internet capability as a comprehensive professional information solution for CPAs. The system is a place for CPAs to share views, ask technical questions, perform research, send and receive Internet e-mail, purchase commercial technical materials, and much more.

LUCA.COM is based upon standard Internet protocols and readily available software. It is now accessible to CPA Journal subscribers from the Internet's world wide web by pointing a browser to www.luca.com.

CPA Journal subscribers gain access to the private sections of LUCA.COM by identifying themselves and entering a password. It is also accessible by phone and modem, using Web browser software, which is available upon request.

Because LUCA uses standard Internet technology, Internet browsers such as Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape enable a world of capabilities including word searches, hypertexting, and linking. In the meantime, LUCA editors have been preparing additional materials to be available on LUCA, including the full text of The CPA Journal since 1989 and an extensive library of publicly available research materials.

Free Internet e-mail is provided to all subscribers, as are a number of technical discussion forums and other professional resources. LUCA now has the capability to process credit-card transactions, which opens the door to a wide range of commercial transactions with third parties. In addition, LUCA can be the host for your own firm's Web site for a reasonable fee.

About 16 years ago, I visited the offices of a sole practitioner in midtown Manhattan to see how he was using a microcomputer system in his own practice. I remember this visit because it served as a significant turning point in my career. During the visit I saw how a practitioner close to retirement had overcome his own apprehensions with computers and instead, with patience and fortitude, had taught himself different software applications in word processing, spreadsheets, databases, accounting, and taxation. In the process, he successfully automated his services to clients, enhancing the timeliness and professionalism of his work products. He sold me on computers in practice, and since then I have never stopped using a computer.

Initially, many CPAs frowned on this technology, often due to a fear that learning computer skills would be impossible. Little did they recognize how truly easy computers had become. Instead, they looked with amazement at the skills of others. But, today, fortunately, most CPAs have now embraced personal computers. We can attribute this transformation to faster microcomputer processors, enhancements to the Windows operating environment, speedier telecommunications technology, and the evolution of the Internet, which has provided the gateway to communicate with others throughout the world.

LUCA was initially introduced in 1994 as an interactive accounting service developed by CPAs to bring CPA Journal subscribers and other CPAs into the burgeoning online community. LUCA was created to tap information databases and services and to provide a means for online communication and exchange of information. It was designed to tear down the geographic barriers and to promote full participation in technical discussions and other activities.

While the original version of LUCA met some of these goals, the new Internet standard version will meet all of them in a readily accessible form for all subscribers with Microsoft Windows or Apple Macintosh compatible computers. Because communications technology has improved significantly, with the cost of hardware down, and the Internet protocol a standard, this fresh approach has been able to be realized. That is why LUCA is being introduced in its second generation form, as LUCA.COMTM, a virtual intranet that exists on the worldwide Web, bringing all the resources the CPA needs together in one place. LUCA screens have been redesigned, existing functions have been enhanced, and new features and information content have been added to make LUCA.COM truly ready for prime time!

What Is LUCA.COM? How Has LUCA Been Restructured?

One of the biggest differences between LUCA and the previous system is that LUCA no longer relies on nonstandard, proprietary software for access. With LUCA.COM, only a standard Worldwide Web browser is needed to access the system.

In other words, LUCA is a far more versatile program in its latest generation. LUCA's reincarnation gives users a choice of methods of entry. For those who have an Internet provider or subscribe to one of the online services such as America Online or CompuServe, LUCA.COM can be reached by using the address http://www.luca.com. For those that have not made arrangements with a provider, access can still be made by dialing the LUCA site directly through regular phone lines. Still needed,
however, is Web browser software
such as Microsoft Internet Explorer
or Netscape.

While all LUCA users will have Internet e-mail capability, whether they access LUCA through an Internet provider or regular telephone lines, the new technology provides an advantage to those using the Internet for access, as they will be able to take advantage of the Web's "hyperlink" capability and retrieve designated materials from external Web sites.

LUCA.COM has been designed to serve as a platform for everything CPAs need online. The services and resources that LUCA.COM provides, combined with the overwhelming resources available on the Web, make LUCA.COM an important stop for the CPA looking for online answers.

Estimates show that by the year 2000, nearly one billion people will use the Internet. The opportunities for the CPA on the Web include everything from providing assurance services for businesses who conduct online transactions to downloading that hard-to-locate tax form.

What Does LUCA.COM Offer the CPA?

LUCA.COM will now include the following features:

Enhanced E-mail with file attachment capability. Internet e-mail on LUCA has proven to be one of its most popular features. With LUCA.COM's improved e-mail function, nearly any computer file can be sent along with the message.

System Wide Search Engine. Web sites such as LUCA.COM can support powerful search programs allowing users to look for information at a variety of levels. This means LUCA users will have the ability to search--

The CPA Journal--Every article since 1989--ready to download! Searches by author and topic are a no brainer.

LUCA Professional Library--LUCA.COM's library offers publications and research materials from professional sources to third party materials archived to meet the needs of accounting professionals.

Professional Forums--LUCA.COM's improved forum management system allows users to access any of approximately 25 professional forums. The number of these forums has been reduced to make it easier and more logical to post and receive answers to questions of a professional nature. With this new system, users can check messages for the past 24 hours, 365 days, or more; post messages and questions; and get answers from CPAs that are dealing with the same professional issues.

Downloadable Tax Forms--Tax forms are the hands-down winner in the most requested service category. LUCA.COM's tax form database contains a comprehensive compendium of state, city, and Federal tax forms.

One E-Mail Address for the Business Card. Users of LUCA.COM can use the LUCA.COM site as the address of preference for their e-mail. It doesn't matter who their Internet provider is (if they have one) or what other online service they may from time to time select. The address is straightforward, easy to remember, and distinctive, JDOE@luca.com.

Your LUCA address can readily move with you anywhere in the world and can save you the hassle of changing your e-mail address if you change Internet providers.

In addition to CPA Journal subscribers, LUCA.COM offers the ability for other organizations to use the features discussed in this article and create special private ones of their own. For example, state societies can include special features pertaining to their committee and chapter structures. Full, secure credit card online CPE registration is available with full database management capability. LUCA has been designed to be an extremely flexible and customizable system that will support a variety of information and communication services.

How Has the LUCA.COM Screen
System Been Restructured?

Users have always praised LUCA's ease of use. One of the main objectives of the newly restructured screens on LUCA.COM has been to accentuate this positive even further.

Now, when users enter LUCA.COM they are immediately advised on the main screen of the latest issues, services, and products available. The LUCA (Latest Update on Current Affairs) news section edited by Anthony Mancuso, CPA, continues as a place to find the latest developments. Sometimes the views of users are sought on current issues, such as non-CPA ownership of CPA firms.

Users proceed with ease through the new, visually appealing, uncluttered screens and experience the quality of its improvements.

Technical Questions Screen. Users with questions can access the professional issues forums discussed earlier, where broad based subject areas have been highlighted. Moreover, LUCA has enlisted a pool of users with proven technical skills to participate in responding to the questions.

The Professional Library Screen. The LUCA.COM editors have assembled an online library of materials of interest to CPAs. The library, which is continuously being expanded, already has a wealth of useful information from a variety of sources.

Users can search through the professional library, which is organized under the following subjects: Tax, State, and Federal Tax Forms; Accounting and Auditing; Governmental; Professional Ethics and Regulation; and Management Consulting. The library includes such documents as Government Auditing Standards (the yellow book) and OMB circular A-133, and various tax publications.

Some of the more interesting IRS sources of information available are the Market Segment Specialization Publications (MSSP). These guides offer a thorough synopsis of auditable concerns affecting various industries.

LUCA.COM editors are exploring arrangements with venders to access tax and other copyrighted material, which will be available at subscription rates or on a fee-for-usage basis.

Tax Jurisdictions. Some IRS, state, and local tax authorities view LUCA.COM as a direct communications link to practitioners on issues which affect practice and procedure, the filing of tax returns, and other important tax issues. For example, in 1995, New York City issued approximately 30,000 bogus notices to individuals asserting that they were obligated to file Unincorporated Business Tax returns when, in their capacity as partners, their filing requirements had been fulfilled at the partnership level. LUCA users were alerted to the fact that the notices had been issued in error, and the range of document locator numbers were provided with the instructions from the city to ignore the letters. The timely access to this information eliminated hours of unnecessary time generating response letters. Several IRS district offices have made their newsletters available in electronic form on LUCA.

Accounting and Auditing. Here users can find indexes listing many GAAP and GAAS resources. Full summaries of all the FASB and GASB statements are on LUCA.COM with information about ordering the full document.

Professional Ethics and Regulations. This section includes state society and AICPA codes of professional conduct, peer review, and other information on government and self regulation.

Professional Liability Risk Management: LUCA's special committee on risk management, chaired by CPA Journal contributing editor Dan L. Goldwasser has prepared an excellent risk management guide for LUCA. The committee includes noted defense counsel, liability insurance experts, and others known for their professional liability expertise.

Professional Issues Briefing Book. The Professional Briefing Book on Issues Affecting the Accounting Profession is a valuable technical resource, the latest edition being commercially available on LUCA.COM for special rates to CPA Journal subscribers. This publication covers six major subject areas of current and relevant information divided into two subsections: Hot Issues and Emerging and Other Issues. With current hot topics including accounting principles and auditing standards, ethics and professional regulations, Federal legislation (nontax), state legislation (nontax), and accountancy practice issues.

LUCA User or "Client" Software. There are many different Internet browser programs available, the most widely used being Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. Many AOL and CompuServe subscribers use browsers that are provided with their subscriptions. The browser used affects the quality and appearance of LUCA and other web sites to individual users. In addition, there are other software programs that extend the capabilities of browsers which are called "plug-ins." The most important plug-in for LUCA users is a program called Adobe Acrobat. This program enables printed materials displayed on a computer or downloaded to a printer to have the exact appearance of the original document. Acrobat is required for LUCA users wanting to access tax forms and certain other publications from the system. CPA Journal subscribers, who do not already have Internet access can receive a browser by request by contacting the Journal.

CPA Journal Links. The Journal maintains a listing of hyperlinks to a wealth of Web sites relevant to CPAs. Subscribers with Internet accounts can take advantage of this special Journal resource.

And Now a Bridge to the Internet!

LUCA.COM is part of the Web. As noted earlier, for users that have an Internet provider, LUCA.COM can be entered and linked to other Web sites on a seamless basis. For LUCA.COM users that are seeking unlimited access, Netcom, an Internet service provider, is available for a competitive monthly charge. The Web gives you access to not only everything that LUCA.COM offers, but also up-to-the-second stock information and the latest news in business, accounting, and taxes from other tax and accounting Web sites to favorite newspapers which are available right on the desktop. It also gives you access to The CPA Journal home page on the Internet, with its hundreds of links to Web sites containing information of interest to accounting professionals. There are plans for an online newsletter to help point users in the right direction when it comes to searching the Web.

More to Come!

As noted earlier, discussions are taking place with other third party vendors to add to the content of LUCA.COM. New material will be sought in the areas of accounting, taxation, management information systems, and professional areas. The goal is to tap the LUCA.COM user base to draw vendors to provide attractive versions of their products for online access at reasonable cost.

That older practitioner I visited 16 years ago, may be using LUCA.COM today. Most certainly, he would find the current system easy to use. He would find that, as a sole practitioner, he has access to the full technical knowledge and resources of a sophisticated intranet and a tremendous working tool to increase his capacity to serve his clients' needs and provide quick answers to problems. *

Stephen P. Valenti, CPA, MBA, served as chair of the task force which submitted the original recommendations for LUCA back in 1992 and has continued to play an integral role in the evolution of the system, now serving as co-chair of the LUCA Oversight Committee. He has his own CPA practice in the New York area, is a doctoral candidate and Instructor of Accounting at Rutgers University, and a frequent writer and lecturer on the Internet and related computer technologies for CPAs.



If you currently have Web access through an Internet provider.

Connect through the Internet using the Internet service provider of your choice and point the browser to http://www.luca.com.

If you would like to use this as an opportunity to gain access to the full Internet as well as LUCA.COM.

Contact an Internet provider and request the software and access needed. LUCA.COM has made arrangements for those seeking a provider to use Netcom for unlimited access to the Internet at prevailing rates. Follow the directions of the provider for installation and then get connected.

If you would like to access LUCA.COM directly in the same way as you did with LUCA Online.

Request the necessary software (free of charge) from The CPA Journal, follow the instructions for installation, and get connected. The software will include a Web browser and other software that will maximize your use of the full capabilities of LUCA.COM. Access to LUCA.COM in this way is free of charge, except for the cost of the phone call to the 212 area. A disadvantage is that users that access LUCA in this way are not able to exit to other Web sites, which may have information of value or be linked from LUCA.

Once at the LUCA.COM site, you will be prompted to sign in with your user name and password. Original LUCA subscribers will use their existing user names and password. New users follow the prompts that will take you through the registration process.

If you do not see the "Welcome to LUCA.COM" page when you sign on, type in http://www.luca.com in the space above the browser window where addresses are displayed.


Minimum Requirements Recommended

PC: 386 processor 486 or Pentium

Modem: 14.4 bps 28.8 bps or faster

Operating System: Windows 3.1 Windows 95 or Windows NT

The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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