Going Virtual & Other Experiences

When the Pandemic hit, we were already paperless & cloud based. We weren’t trying to be PAPERLESS. Nor were we trying to be REMOTE.  We were just trying to stay on the cutting edge of technology.

The first computer I ever saw was at the offices of my Big 5 accounting firm. It was a paper tape job. The second computer I ever saw, I actually mistook for a railroad freight car somehow misplaced into the basement of the high rise my Fortune 500 #254 employer had offices in.  It turned out to be a Burroughs mainframe computer. Burroughs was the big dog in mainframes in those days, but I was disappointed it wasn’t an IBM, the only computer company I had ever heard of. Your watch probably has more computing power than that behemoth. I’m still not certain whether the railroad car housed the computer, or if the railroad car WAS the computer. In any event, every month when the financial statements were printed, all the C Suite executives met in the basement to get the first P&L’s off the printing press. So as a young executive I was hob-nobbing with the CEO, CFO and all the CXO’s of a Fortune 500, about 15 of us in all. Actually, it struck me as foolish to require the entire C Suite (not called that in those days) stand around and watch a dot-matrix printer slowly crank out printed pages. But that’s what we did.

 IBM 360

Later when I was in the C suite of a bankcard company, we had dual IBM 360’s (probably the most successful computer IBM ever built) and later an IBM 370, which didn’t work out as well for us. The computers were sequestered behind glass walls on elevated floors to facilitate air conditioning necessary to keep those powerful computers from melting down to a puddle of plastic & metal.

After leaving the corporate world in the dust and running for Congress, I started my own accounting firm, where I bought two IBM System 3 computers. (My LinkedIn profile provides more info if interested. https://www.linkedin.com/in/elliscpa/)

it took all night to process & print one tax return. If you made a mistake, it took another day. Bookkeeping was more efficient, so we used them for bookkeeping, but we were actually just trying to stay on the front lines of technology innovation. We were certainly the first CPA firm in our city that used computers in any way. As a general rule, the CPA profession did not take quickly to automation. Two decades later I knew CPA’s who were still paper based and using adding machines (I still miss my adding machine.) and shipping off tax returns to be processed at processing centers. To this day, the largest CPA firm in the city I am now located in still provides paper copies of tax returns and charges extra for a digital PDF copy. They bought a building on a major street to increase walk-in traffic.

Today, the software is setting the pace, not the machinery, and certainly not your location. We have clients situated right next door to a CPA firm that uploads everything to us, half way across the country, for us to do their returns.

Everyone in our practice has a computer and two screens, but it’s the software where we outdistance our competitors. When the pandemic hit, we had 12 or 14 computers working with a server. When we got the stay at home order, it took us a day to move everything to Microsoft One Drive, and our server went the way of the horse & buggy. We added Textus & Microsoft Teams and that was it. But we could have done just as well without those new programs. Texting on our phones kept us connected. We hit the ground running & never stopped. When PPP came along. it gave us a boost in work load, but we were so efficient we pumped them all out like we’d been doing them for years. It disappointed us that it took the government quite a long time to decide how to tax them & the terms of forgiveness. If Chinese tanks pulled in front of their building, it would take them two weeks to decide what to do.

The biggest problem we had as dealing with 10-15 people scattered around the country without just walking down the hall and asking. It wasn’t that we weren’t communicating, it was that we were communicating too much. Everyone could text & call everyone else. We also had text groups for the Tax Team, The accounting & payroll team and the entire Ellis Team. Every time a message comes in I get a beep to alert me. Textus & Microsoft Teams also alert you to incoming messages. I remember one morning sitting in my home office listening to the messages come in. It sounded like a machine gun going off, and I knew I had to read every single one of them.

Our biggest problem was the communication was too efficient. Who would have thought? We may be unique, but everyone was closely connected and missed everyone, so they communicated back & forth about everything.

That’s our story, but we know for a fact, that was not everyone’s story. I have a family member that works for Spectrum, a local wifi provider. He said they were busy setting up offices at home for CPA’s. I have also stumbled across things on the web here and there about how CPA’s did not do well in the Pandemic. There were a lot of businesses that failed during pandemic, fortunately none of our clients. Those failures came from someone’s practice. But no one of them is willing to say, “We fell apart during pandemic.”

Observations.

To this day, months into this thing, most businesses are not back to full staff.  Some of them still won’t let customers in their business. Every business that does is much less crowded than they used to be. Their business has to be off by half, or more. Nor are they stocked as well. Where I live, nearly every used car lot has gone out of business, and many restaurants. Before all this is over, more will fail. This is contrary to our experience. Our business actually increased during pandemic. What is everyone else not doing that we did?

Overall, the marketplace is moving backward, not forward. There is still a movement not to reopen schools, and I just got a notice on my phone that Sam’s is going to require masks again starting next week. My supermarket required masks two days ago. And where I live, nothing out of the ordinary going on.

Just between you & me, this is completely bullxxit. There are a lot of states reporting increased infections, but the fatality rate is lower than the ordinary flu. Plus there’s apparently some fraudulent reporting. In my opinion, this entire cluster-flux was politically motivated. If we can ever prove that, hundreds or thousands will go to the guillotine. I can’t wait.

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