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Tech hardware for accountants & advisors: A primer

Posted by Mary Ellen Biery
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Is it reasonable to expect a chef to prepare a gourmet meal when her only resources are dull knives, expired food and an oven that does not heat properly? Of course not, because despite the chef’s training and experience, she lacks the basic tools and quality ingredients necessary to even create something edible, much less exquisite.

The same holds true for CPAs and business advisors trying to create a thriving practice without proper technology or staffing. Even the most qualified accounting or advisory professionals cannot reasonably be expected to create a market-leading practice without these basic tools and quality ingredients. 

Sageworks recently published an eBook that provides CPAs and business advisors with a roadmap for selecting technology that will help their firms thrive. The eBook contains a wealth of advice for evaluating solutions for the specific challenges of a firm. However, as one tech thought leader noted, technology selection and implementation should start with an evaluation of the firm’s hardware.

Brian Tankersley, who is technology editor for CPA Practice Advisor and co-author of the annual “Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Survey” published by CPA Trendlines, says hardware is an easily overlooked aspect of technology at some firms.

“There is no substitute for good hardware, configured properly, which is meticulously maintained,” says Tankersley, who is also a consultant for K2 Enterprises. “One of the biggest mistakes I see is accountants buying cheap computers.  Nobody runs as many apps at once on a PC as a staff tax preparer.”

“One of the biggest mistakes I see is accountants buying cheap computers.  Nobody runs as many apps at once on a PC as a staff tax preparer.”
                                                                –Brian Tankersley

Part of the issue may arise from firms relying on an office administrator or a relative to purchase and set up hardware. But this type of ad hoc technology staffing can lead to an unintended consequence: the computer hardware itself limits performance, according to Tankersley. “We have people that buy home-grade hardware and take it to the office and expect it to perform,” he says. “That’s like taking a clumsy guy like me and expecting me to do ballet.” 

Firms expecting their technology to help the business should consider acquiring business-grade technology as opposed to technology meant for personal or home use. It will be more expensive and more complex than personal-grade hardware and may require paying someone to take care of it, Tankersley says. However, the firm will be better off. CPAs, he adds, “often spend more on maintenance and downtime in the long term because they don’t get it right the first time on the hardware and the configurations.”

What hardware do accountants need?

Here are three “must haves” for firms’ hardware to be “business grade,” according to Tankersley:

8+ GB of RAM, 256GB SSD (Solid State Drive), multiple USB ports. Tankersley says anything with less than 8GB of RAM is a home-grade machine.

5th-8th gen (when available) i5/i7 processor or possibly a Ryzen 5/Ryzen 7 processor. Tankersley says anything with an i3, Celeron, or atom processor is a home-grade machine.

Sufficient screen “real estate” and resources so that the user can sit at the desk and work 12 to 14 hours with minimal eyestrain.  “Multiple monitors or a massive single 4K monitor are a given,” Tankersley says. “If you’re in a paperless environment and can’t see it, you can’t work on it.”

Suggestions for business-grade tech hardware

Tankersley also offered a rundown of business-grade laptop/desktop lines from major manufacturers. They are: 

HP laptops: EliteBook, ProBook, ZBook, Elite

Envy and Spectre are gaming hardware and could also be used

HP desktops: EliteDesk, ProDesk, EliteOne, ProOne, Z-series

Dell laptops: Latitude, some Vostro, Precision Mobile Workstation devices

Dell desktops: Optiplex, Precision

Lenovo laptops: All Thinkpad, B-series devices

Lenovo desktops: M-series, P-series, Thinkcentre, Thinkstation

Microsoft Surface Pro, Surface Book 

The following, on the other hand, are home-grade laptop/desktop lines from major manufacturers, Tankersley says: 

HP laptops: Stream, Streambook, Pavilion, Phoenix, Envy, Omen, Spectre

HP desktops: Stream, Pavilion, any others not in business grade device list

Lenovo laptops: Ideapad, Flex, E, N, Y, G, L, S, U, and Z-series, Yoga devices other than Thinkpad models

Lenovo desktops: A, B, C, H, K, and Q-series.  Ideacentre, Horizon and Erazer series devices

Dell laptops: Inspiron, some Vostro

Dell desktops: Inspiron, XPS, Alienware, 3000, 5000, and 7000 series

All Chromebooks, Chromeboxes

Microsoft Surface (not Surface Pro) tablet/laptops

All Apple-branded laptops and desktops 

Anything with an i3, Celeron, Atom, or other low end chip as its primary microprocessor.

Starting with the basic technology “ingredients” can help accounting and advisory firms ensure they are making the best use of tools (both hardware and software) that can help them streamline processes and improve their practices. Tankersley has more tech information on his blog, CPA Technology Blog.  For help planning technology changes, access the Sageworks eBook, Technology Roadmap: Selecting the Ideal Solutions to Thrive in Business Advising.

Additional Resources 

eBook: Next-Level Accountants: Your guide to growing a firm of trusted advisors 

Webinar replay: Everyday technology for everyday challenges: Free or low-cost tech solutions to help grow your firm 

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tags: accountants, accounting firm management, practice management, technology