A Look Back at the Evolution of Accounting Technology

“A magic sheet of paper that can perform calculations and recalculations”

That’s how Bob Frankston, VisiCalc’s co-creator, described his breakthrough product. VisiCalc, initially released in 1979, was the first electronic spreadsheet application. It took the market by storm. People would purchase $2000.00 Apple II PC’s to run the $100.00 application. It was revolutionary – ask any CPA who was in practice prior to the release of VisiCalc.

Lotus 123 replaced VisiCalc as the “go to” electronic spreadsheet in the 1980s. But Lotus was more than a spreadsheet application. It also had database functionality and graphical charts. Lotus dominated the market until the release of Excel in the 1990s.

Lotus is now gone (IBM shut it down in September2014) and for CPA firms, Excel is the most popular game in town. It is the most used, and misused tool in the CPA community. Misused? Absolutely.

For many firms, Excel has become the go to application when nothing else is immediately available. Accountants create spreadsheets and databases for just about anything, on the fly – and that can be a problem. Here’s why:

  • Excel is basically a single user tool. There are better ways to collaborate and consolidate
  • Excel spreadsheets tend to get emailed around. They are very difficult to track
  • Creating more one off databases rarely is a good idea
  • Version control is a challenge

Excel is a great tool – when used properly. However in many cases its use covers up broader, more fundamental issues around workflow, automation and integration. Solve those issues first.