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Randolph Johnston

Do Your Mobile Devices Empower Your Business?

Find out if you’re up to speed.

July 25, 2011
by Randolph Johnston, MCS, MCP

TechBytes

Control and Deployment of Mobile Devices was the highest ranked item in AICPA’s 2011 Top Ten Technology Initiatives survey. As a CPA firm you should consider tablet computing, smartphones, netbooks and notebook computers for benefits as well as risks and control strategies. Owners and managers frequently request mobile support without a strategy or simply hide the acquisition in an expense. IT teams often react to requests to support mobile technology without a proactive strategy to manage mobile devices. Practitioners and business owners alike are trying to do more with less, while maintaining client responsiveness and becoming increasingly mobile. What do you want to do, what are the risks and what should you do to control and deploy mobile technology?

Mobile Accounting Applications

What accounting information is important to you, your firm or your clients? What information that you could conveniently access on a mobile device is a must have? What information would be exceptionally helpful, nice to have or not important? If you manage projects, would having access to current statuses be a plus? If you have approval authority, would a format other than e-mail be helpful for decision-making? For example, if you approve bills, perhaps an accounts payable workflow tool like Bill.com allowing you to review amounts, supporting documentation and scheduling of payment approvals through a browser interface would be a good to have. With a tablet-form factor and touchscreen capability, the documents are large enough to be visible and the convenience of browser-based applications enables work to be done from almost anywhere.

The question to ask is what would empower or help manage the business? What turns mobile technology devices into tools instead of toys? Let’s look at a few of the business opportunities.

Dashboards

Using graphical summary and numerical data to manage a business can be useful. It is your responsibility to select items to measure items that are critical to your business’ success. Do not over-analyze or manage through a dashboard. Teach team members to use summary data to investigate issues and praise performance inside and outside of the organization.

Most of the major software publishers have dashboard and key performance indicator (KPI) information available in their latest products. Make this data available when and where managers need it. Mobilizing dashboards is part of the challenge and part of the answer. For example, CCH Practice Intelligence provides business analytics and dashboards on the iPad powered by QlikView. The in-memory technology of the data warehouse can provide rapid access to very detailed data. BizNet Software connects to a variety of accounting products from AccountMate, ALERE, CCH, CYMA, Epicor, Expandable, FireStream, Microsoft, Open Systems, Sage and SunGard to produce real time reports in Excel® and live dashboard components, which can be used on mobile devices. The Sage Business Insights Dashboard (PDF) produces summary information for the MAS product line. The Sage ERP Accpac 6.0 Portal can display information that a number of data portlets produce. Portlets are essentially tools that help build KPIs and corporate summary data dashboards. The applications can run across most popular mobile-operating systems.

Remote Access

Smartphones and tablets are not data-entry devices, but consumption devices. Even with native applications, Software as a Service (SaaS) or browser-based applications, there are still going to be some applications that are only available from a traditional desktop. Today the four most common ways to access servers and desktops from smartphones, tablets and remote computers include: LogMeIn Ignition, remote desktop using RDP Lite on the tablets and smartphones, Citrix Xen Desktop and VMware View. All four of these products run on Apple’s proprietary iOS on the iPad and iPad2, and produce a full Windows desktop experience. There are equivalent versions available or planned for the competitive platforms including:

  1. Android OS — Open architecture from Google
  2. WebOS — Developed by Palm, now owned by HP
  3. Windows Phone 7 OS — Developed by Microsoft
  4. QNXOS/BlackBerry Tablet OS — Developed by BlackBerry

Setting up one of these remote-access methods allows a tablet or smartphone user to access traditional applications remotely on their device.

Mobile Public Practice Management

Public accounting firms have mobilized versions of applications from publishers like CCH, Thomson Reuters and Intuit. For example, the CCH Mobile application allows access to the IntelliConnect content at no charge on the iPad. Thomson Reuters Mobile CS has iPhone and iPad native applications to monitor key firm-level data, client contacts and activities and to manage projects including time entry. Intuit’s GoPayment helps you accept credit card payments from your mobile phone and 17 phones at the time of this writing support the physical card reader.

Accessing Workpapers

If you only need final workpapers, then accessing your document-management system is sufficient. If you need “live” access to workpapers, you have a few choices, such as the using one of the four remote access methods identified above or using a browser-based product like AverQ.

Remote Time & Billing, Invoicing Solutions

As cited previously, Thomson Reuters Mobile CS not only handles practice-management issues, it also allows time-and-expense entry on a native application iPhone or iPad application. FreshBooks is a SaaS application that has a native iPhone application called MiniBooks. MiniBooks can be used to track time, send and create invoices or estimates, manage your clients and enter expenses, all from an iPhone or iPod touch. Sage Software’s SageSpark division produced Billing Boss, an invoicing application that is enabled for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android and the Google Phone. Like Intuit, this product can accept credit card payments through your smartphone’s Payment Boss, a feature that needs to be added.

Expense Tracking

Other needs like expense reporting can also be handled from browser-based applications or applications developed specifically for the mobile device environment. For example, Concur Breeze is an expense application that can run on an iPhone, creating expense reports, capturing expense items as they occur, including the ability to attach receipts through the use of its built-in camera. The Apple App store, the Android Market, BlackBerry AppWorld and Windows Phone App MarketPlace are all clearinghouses for purchasing applications, such as expense management. As of the time of this writing, there are more than 200 applications for expense tracking alone.

Mobile Payroll

Several vendors offer mobile payroll, such as ADP. The Run application for Apple’s iPhone, iPod touch and iPad lets business owners take the functionality of Run and manage payroll remotely wherever they go. SurePayroll has handled the employee side of the transaction with their Mobile Paycheck App. On an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, the employee can: access current and past paycheck records, view paycheck details, including earnings, taxes, deductions and year-to-date (YTD) totals and see used, available and earned vacation, sick and personal days. SurePayroll Mobile Payroll is a free payroll application available for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad that allows for the creation of a payroll. Intuit Online Payroll is an iPhone app for paying employees.

With all these apps, you may be wondering that problems are sure to follow. If that’s the case, don’t miss next week’s column on how to pick a problem, develop a strategy and find a solution!

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Randolph P. Johnston, MCS, MCP, is executive vice president at K2 Enterprises. He is a nationally recognized educator, consultant and writer with over 30 years of experience in strategic technology planning, systems and network integration, accounting software selection, business development and management, disaster recovery and contingency planning and process engineering. Please note the product recommendations as expressed in this article are solely the author’s and in no way reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA Insider™.