Microcomputer problems: are CPAs helping small business users?by Robbins, Ruth R.
A random sample of 995 Gulf Coast area small businesses was selected from the membership list of the Small Business Development Center of the University, of Houston.' Two hundred and twenty-six usable questionnaires were returned (a 24.3% response rate) and analyzed. Respondents were small businesses with 100 employees or less. Government, nonprofit, CPA, and data processing firms were excluded.
The study was designed to: 1) find out what application problems are encountered by small business users when utilizing various applications software; 2) determine where they seek professional help when faced with a microcomputer application problem; and 3) analyze the changes in professional fees paid to CPAS by small business clients during the course of microcomputerization. We found that users most often went to computer consultants other than CPAs for their microcomputer application problems.
As part of the survey, hardware usage was also investigated. (See Table 1.) Table 2 shows that the hardware of choice for small businesses is consistent with that of the overall marketplace; IBM, compatibles, Compaq, and Apple.
Respondents were also asked to indicate what packages were being used. Table 3 shows the various software application program categories being used.
Respondents reported that the five most frequently. used microcomputer application areas, in descending order, were:
1. Word Processing;
2. Accounts Receivable:
3. General Ledger;
4. Preparation of Financial Statements; and
Nine typical microcomputer related application problems were also included in the questionnaire. The respondents were asked to rank each, based on the frequency of occurrence. Table 4 presents the problems that were significantly related to the five most popular applications.
Among word processing users, the problem of learning software applications was significant. In contrast, user resistance (i.e., lack of employee cooperation) turned out to be a significant common problem among accounting functions, e.g., accounts receivable, accounts payable, general ledger, inventory, payroll, sales, and the preparation of financial statements or tax returns.
Where To Seek Help?
Respondents were asked to indicate whom they usually turn to for help- CPAs or others. The purpose was to find out if CPAs were considered a major source of assistance. When small business microcomputer users have problems with employee training, disk capacity and software defects, none went to their CPAS. Even when they acquired new software packages or had system design problems, only a handful (3% of all respondents) turned to their CPAs for help, as can be seen in Table 5.
Computer consultants, on the average, appeared to be the most frequently sought after resource. Computer stores provided a large amount of help when users tried to cure hardware malfunctions, acquire software and solve software defects. If small business clients are acquiring microcomputers and systems and turning to other professionals for assistance with applications problems, are CPAs losing clients in the parade of microcomputerization?
Though the big firms may be luring more small clients nowadays, small business clients are traditionally served more by small practitioners. The big firms have fared well in their clients' march to computerize- this is evidenced by the growth of their management advisory services divisions. Why don't small business clients seek those same professional services from their accountants? Are the small practitioners losing their credibility and, as a result, small business clients when then. computerize? For example, why should only one out of 138 users turn to their CPA for help with learning how to use software or, at the very best, why did only 4.04% (four respondents out of 103) seek help from the accounting professional in system design? The Big Six have entire departments that provide those services to large organizations. Why can't small CPA firms provide similar services to their small business clientele? indeed, the question is: Can the management advisory services targeted towards small clientele be as profitable for small accounting firms?
Apparently, small accounting firms are either going to have to develop expertise in the computer technology area, ally with computer professionals, or hire professionals who can develop and provide in- house computer expertise for both staff and small business clients. It appears that this addition is a necessary component in order for a full service small accounting practice to continue to grow and prosper.
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