The More Monitors, the Better

computer monitorsStart thinking in terms of screen capacity.

By Roman H. Kepczyk
Quantum of Paperless: Technology Guide & Checklist

The best place to start the discussion on hardware is with monitors, as it is the easiest place to see an immediate return on your IT investment. Your monitors are your windows into all digitally stored information and are the foundation for improving every aspect of firm production.

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Transitioning tax production processes from physical to digital requires that all input screens and source documents be simultaneously viewable in a convenient format, which today means more screen real estate per workstation.

Dual monitors have been considered the standard in firms as far back as 2009, with many firms adding a third or fourth monitor along with maintaining their older screens. The 2019 CPAFMA IT survey pointed to many firms replacing their older 17” and 19” screens with oversize monitors (28” or larger), effectively giving them triple/quadruple screen space.

“96% of responding firms utilize more than two traditional monitors.” CPAFMA 2019 Survey

The survey found that for the upcoming busy season 59 percent of firms planned to utilize triple monitors and 37 percent planned to go beyond this with either quadruple monitors, dual oversize screens or a single “uber” oversize display. An added benefit of using oversize dual screens is that they fit better into cubicle areas where there may be vertical space constraints because of built-in shelving.

Before firms can effectively transition to front-end scanning or use digital workflow processes, they must have the additional screen space for tax personnel working in these applications. In the past, personnel have asked why they just don’t buy one huge 40” display screen and open multiple windows, and the main reasons were cost, screen clarity and ergonomics, but this is in the process of changing. Today, we are seeing firms implement curved and 43” or larger flat-panel monitors with higher 4K resolution. Partners must remember that older monitors had resolutions of 1080p or less, and spreadsheets and images become less “crisp” as the screen becomes larger. Firms should be buying monitors with the highest “cost-effective” resolutions (4K: 3840×2160 pixels) as they traditionally use them for four or more years.

While ultrahigh-resolution “curved” displays were introduced in 2014 and 40” flat-panel displays in the last few years, the cost still needs to come down some to make them economically competitive with dual oversize screens. Windows 7 and 10 made connecting multiple monitors easier than ever and optimizing usage with Snap Assist capabilities.

To begin, not all monitors are created equal. Today’s standard is at least 20” and should be flex or “pivot” capable. This enables viewing in a vertical or “portrait” mode and horizontal or “landscape” mode. The CPAFMA 2017 survey found that 40 percent of responding firms utilized at least one monitor in a vertical mode. Seeing an entire scanned source document without scrolling or having to shrink the image into a smaller space increases productivity immediately.

While it is easy to get users to dual screens by plugging an external monitor into the workstation’s existing video port, getting to three or more screens requires additional video ports (DVI/HDMI/USB) via a docking station and if not available, specialized hardware such as displays with integrated DisplayLink and DisplayPort video capabilities (with newer models having USB-C connections capable of also providing power to the display instead of a separate power cord). Dual oversize screens minimize the need for these additional hardware configurations and will be effective if the firm invests in ultrahigh-definition monitors.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Identify all tax professionals and document the number of oversize monitors that will be needed to bring all users up to the screen capacity of at least three monitors.