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June 1990

Accounting automation training in the 1990s.

by Hudelson, Travis

    Abstract- Many accounting firms installed computer systems in the 1989s but did not achieve the kind of success they wanted because equipment was under utilized. In the 1990s, it will be important for accounting firms to use training to get the most out of extant technology by increasing productivity and efficiency. Currently, because of time constraints, it is important that accountants receive training that is flexible and convenient. It is predicted that automated training will become more popular in the 1990s, especially training that is offered as part of software programs. Accountants using software packages will be able to access video images within programs to receive on-line help.

The 1990s require a much greater understanding and use of training in order to maximize the potential of computers already installed. The rewards include increased productivity, better results and greater efficiency in terms of time spent on repetitive tasks.

In the past, many accountants achieved a degree of computer literacy partially as a result of the training industry that developed to fill the gap between the computer software and the professionals who needed to access it. it also happened out of a sense of curiosity and by trial and error. The primary function most accounting professionals mastered was the use of a spreadsheet program, often Lotus 1-2-3. But the expansion of computer use cannot depend on self-teaching.

Formal Training

The more interesting and relevant types of training media that came to prominence in the 1980s included videotape, audiotape, and videodisc. Each one has its singular attributes; many firms found that videotape offers perhaps the best combination of ease of access and use while remaining cost-effective.

Accountants have special considerations regarding automation training. Like other professionals, a lack of readily available time often forces many of them to continually postpone training, an unfortunate and sometimes unavoidable situation. In the long term, this results in lower efficiency and even less available work time.

It Must be Made Easy and Accessible

What is needed, then, is training that is convenient, flexible (location and scheduling) and time-efficient. It is worth noting here that effective automation training really does reduce workload. with an eye toward the special requirements of busy accountants who may work incredible amounts of overtime, especially during tax season, let us take a brief tour of the training methods that came to prominence in the last decade, followed by an exploration of where automation training is going in the 1990s.

Live Training. One on one, classroom, or informal live training is only as effective as the individual conducting it. Many accountants have received some form of live training through association-affiliated computer labs. The hardware and software required varies from one PC with a copy of each software program being taught, to multiple units for classroom instruction. Time, scheduling, and cost considerations aside, live training has been found to have very good retention levels, which is probably why it is still the primary method of learning in our educational system. However, since time, scheduling, and cost considerations cannot usually be put aside by accountants, other methods continue to progressively supplement live training.

Videodisc Training. Videodisc training is extremely effective. It is probably the most technologically advanced training media used somewhat widely during the 1980s. It requires a videodisc player, a PC, and videodisc software for each trainee. Videodisc training is interactive in that a user progresses through a given course on his or her own, guided by the software, which reroutes the learner based on his or her responses to questions, Thus, it can respond directly to a specific user's needs. Problems with this method include expensive hardware and a lack of flexibility; many accountants find it impractical to take a course at the location required for such a delivery system and cannot schedule training around other users.

Videotape Training. Videotape training, particularly if it makes use of other media such as print and electronic, offers a level of interactivity while providing great flexibility and low per user cost. Hardware requirements are simply a PC, appropriate software and a TV/VCR, all of which are typically found in any office. Videotape training functions similarly to one-on-one live training, with a user proceeding through lessons aided by an on-screen instructor. This method has found favor chiefly because the best products have been structured in short segments, which allow time flexibility and can be reviewed as convenient. Also, the choice of segments to be viewed can be made based on the individual's specific needs or skill levels.

Audiotape Audiotape offers great flexibility and low cost. it has been found most effective for those who already have a certain comfort level with PCs. A primary problem is that it fails to take advantage of the most important sense we have: sight. Since we tend to retain information better when we receive it from multiple sources and apply it immediately, other training media that take advantage of this are taking precedence at present.

Who Can Find Time for Training?

A central issue for accounting professionals is time, both real and perceived. A common perception shared by many CPAs is that they simply have no time for training. Each individual must assign his or her own priorities. However, it is important to bear in mind that a relatively small amount of time allocated initially to training can save a dramatic amount of time later on. Also, the increasing presence of technology in the workplace (illustrated, for example, by the proliferation of standard tax and money-management programs, that save both time and money formerly spent on drudge work) makes a real working relationship with computers no longer a luxury. Most undergraduate programs acknowledge this and currently offer computer training, as do many primary and secondary schools.

Ironically, current trends may make training as it is currently practiced partially obsolete within the next five to 10 years. increased emphasis on automation training in schools is an important factor. In the coming decade, business users will directly access training from the software program they're using at the time. When encountering a problem, or simply wanting more information on a particular software feature, a person-in-training will request help through a keystroke, after which a video image will appear on screen and give guidance through the required steps. The primary obstacle to this at present is computer memory; video images require massive amounts of memory to store, and the amount of memory required to have both a video image and a software program simultaneously available is quite high. Significant advances are being made in digital video compression and memory capacity which will probably overcome these obstacles within two to three years. Compact disc technology (closely related to that used in home CD players) is an important part of this technology.

In the next decade, software will become more universal in its appearance and thus easier to use. Most programs will function in similar ways, guiding users through any desired operation. Furthermore, the impact of a technology-comfortable generation of accountants entering the workforce cannot be ignored; "ease of use" is a relative term, and concepts that seem complex to a lot of us are intuitive to someone who grew up playing computer games and using a PC for homework.

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