By Thomas G. Stephens, Jr., CPA, CITP, CGMA
Technology permeates virtually everything we do in our jobs. As such, when we utilize technology as a strategic asset, it can provide a substantial return on investment (ROI). On the other hand, when we fail to update our technology or to train our team members on how to utilize it effectively, business productivity suffers. To help ensure that your organization is maximizing ROI in technology, consider addressing each of the following four questions before the end of the year.
- How can you use Excel more efficiently, while simultaneously reducing the threat of spreadsheet errors?
- Do you want to minimize internal and external threats to sensitive information?
- Should you transition to Windows 10?
- What are the best collaboration tools for your organization?
Using Excel Efficiently and Effectively
For most accounting and financial professionals, Microsoft Office Excel is one of the most-used applications on the desktop. Yet, most Excel users receive little, if any, formal training on how to take full advantage of this ubiquitous tool. Consequently, productivity suffers because these users remain unaware of improved features and advancements available with the most recent versions of the application.
To obtain a greater ROI from Excel, consider to what extent you use features such as Tables, PivotTables, and Data Queries. Each of these three tools can help you to automate many of your reporting processes, leading to spending less time on such mundane tasks as creating formulas. Also, do not overlook opportunities to extend the functionality of tried-and-true features such as layering multiple levels of calculations with Excel’s Subtotal feature, and using array formulas to solve simple rounding issues along with generating advanced summaries of data. Explore how the new Power BI features can help you create meaningful business intelligence applications by building on your existing knowledge of Excel.
One often-overlooked issue with spreadsheets is the error rate associated with them. Many estimates peg the error rate at approximately 90% of all spreadsheets in use! Of course, this is simply unacceptable, and we must find ways to reduce spreadsheet errors without compromising functionality. Consider taking advantage of features such as Excel’s Inquire tools, IFERROR function, and the Analysis Toolpak to help you detect and prevent spreadsheet errors.
With the imminent release of Microsoft Office 2016, Microsoft will introduce new features in Excel and the rest of the applications in the Office suite. As you upgrade to Office 2016, carefully review and consider how you and your team can benefit from using each of these tools.
Minimizing Threats to Sensitive Information
Just as we must address the error rate in Excel spreadsheets, we must also minimize threats to sensitive information stored by our organizations. Doing so requires a well-planned strategy aimed at protecting data stored on PCs, laptops, servers, tablets, smartphones, and in the ever-growing Cloud. Key internal controls that you should consider implementing to minimize the threat of compromising sensitive data include the following five items:
- Control access with strong user authentication measures. This includes user IDs and passwords, but for a growing number of organizations, it should include password management tools, biometrics, and multi-factor authentication.
- Restrict the assignment of administrative rights on end-user computers so that users cannot implement changes that potentially compromise data.
- Block USB ports from transferring data. Sensitive data stored on uncontrolled and unencrypted USB drives represents a tremendous risk to organizations when those devices become lost or stolen.
- Encrypt all disks so that if a device is lost or stolen, the likelihood of compromising data is minimal. For many, simply using Windows’ BitLocker encryption tool will suffice.
- Implement a whitelist approach to managing applications, as opposed to a blacklist system. Instead of trying to block an endless list of malware that grows on a daily basis, use a whitelist approach that blocks everything on a computer except the applications to which you grant specific rights allowing them to run.
Implementing these five common sense steps to data security will go a long way toward minimizing threats to sensitive information.
Transitioning to Windows 10
With the July 29 release of Windows 10, Microsoft has once again altered how the majority of the world’s computers will operate. Windows 10 will be a major consideration for organizations and individuals for various reasons, including the fact that a large number of organizations continue to run the outdated and unsupported Windows XP operating system. Another driving factor behind the expected high adoption rate of Windows 10 is that it is offered as a free upgrade for current Windows 7 and Windows 8 users.
From a feature perspective, Windows 10 offers a great deal of improved functionality to users of Windows 7, Vista, and XP. Most will find Windows 10 to be substantially faster than previous versions of Windows. Further, Microsoft improved security in Windows 10, adding increased protection of sensitive data. For all users, Windows 10 offers an improved Start menu that allows those who want to work in a more traditional environment to do so. Additionally, Windows 10 includes Cortana, a voice-activated personal assistant similar to Apple’s Siri, and Continuum, a feature that adjusts your operating environment as you change from tablet mode to desktop mode on a convertible device such as a Surface Pro 3.
As you consider upgrading—particularly from Windows XP—carefully research and confirm that your existing applications will run on Windows 10 and that peripheral devices like printers will work with Windows 10. The general rule-of-thumb here is that if your applications and devices work with Windows 7, they will also work with Windows 10. However, be sure to confirm just in case.
Collaboration Tools for Your Organization
The emergence of collaboration tools is one of the more significant trends in technology today. As the lines blur between departments—and even companies—more information workers find the need to collaborate in real-time with colleagues to be effective in getting their jobs done. More than just simple file sharing, real collaboration means voice communication, instant messaging, whiteboards, video chats, and potentially even social media interaction.
Microsoft Office 365, Zoho, and Google Apps for Work are among the more widely known collaboration tools available to businesses today. Each of these tools provides exceptional functionality and affordability to their target markets. Additionally, niche players such as Citrix, Colligo, and Basecamp offer solutions such as secure file transfer, synchronizing SharePoint data, and project management tools that you can use to address specific needs within your organization. Regardless of the size of your organization, do not overlook the need for collaboration tools when considering how to ramp up productivity.
Do you want more tech tips like this from K2 Enterprises? You’re in luck! Register for the TechFest Summer Conference August 17–18 to learn all about the latest in the world of business technology.
Tommy Stephens is a shareholder in K2 Enterprises, where he develops and presents continuing professional education programs to accounting, financial, and other business professionals across North America. You may contact him at [email protected].