One unexpected benefit we received by visiting so many CPA firms in 2007 was solving day to day technology problems that seem to be present in most firms. The key technologies we observed not installed properly at CPA firms this year include: surge protection and UPS, cabling, multiple monitors, backup systems, firewalls, and security systems. These technologies are all fairly well established, and the rules and understanding of how to deploy most of these technologies have been consistent for over ten years. More recent changes in how to setup firewalls and security with greater protection would be the exception to this statement. So please listen to my first point of this month’s article: check your existing technologies to make sure that they have been installed properly. Every firm we have been to in 2007 has these problems. We were so shocked by this trend of improper implementation; we have actually created a series of articles on how to do these basics properly. We suspect your firm has these issues and others as well, but in this article, we are only going to address the key issues of technologies for your auditors.
Technology tools to make audit teams more productive have become easier to use and more sophisticated at the same time. The key issues for field auditors include 1) Connection to other auditors and sharing files and equipment in the field, 2) Connectivity back to the office and to the internet, 3) Security of data and their equipment, and 4) Maintaining productivity while in the field. We will provide a cookbook of products to consider later in this article, but first let’s address these four key areas.
Connection to other auditors and sharing files and equipment in the field – Issues of easily connecting computers in the field have plagued auditors for some years. This continues to become more critical as auditors spend more time out of the office, and audit engagements occur in more months of the year. The best solution we have found in this category is Colligo Workgroup Edition. This Canadian vendor has made peer-to-peer networking simple. We refer to it as networking for CPAs as opposed to networking for techies. Colligo allows for configurations for use in the office and field, and emulates several server technologies to make connections work easier and correctly.
Connectivity back to the office and to the internet – Some firms have gone so far as to prohibit connection to client networks, use of wireless and WAN data cards. We understand this from a security risk perspective, but it is killer for auditor’s productivity. We prefer to run appropriate levels of protection in firewalls, virtual private networks (VPN), and encryption for wireless. WAN cards have become fast enough that we can create our own links without using client’s networks, and this also keeps us from dealing with belligerent IT departments that don’t want outsiders to connect to their LANs. The downside is that not all markets have the true high speed access of WAN cards available.
Security of data and their equipment – With the high profile headlines of theft of data as well as identity theft, CPA firm laptops are great targets for criminals. We prefer to use a product like PGP Universal Series 200 that encrypts the entire laptop drive, any USB used, and any email that is sent. Additionally, we prefer to have all wireless connections using 802.11i or WPA2 encryption along with a VPN encryption. If all of these encryptions are in place, hackers will have to break through several levels of security to get to any communication. The encryption used by PGP has yet to be broken, so the theft of a laptop with an encrypted hard drive should not produce any useable data for the criminal.
Maintaining productivity while in the field – The issue here is driving up realization while producing a better end product, and not giving the extra profitability away in future audit engagements. We know it is painful, or in some cases impossible for auditors to carry all equipment listed below to a remote engagement via an airplane. Consider shipping equipment when long engagements are going to be remote where the client can’t provide comparable technical facilities. For auditors who drive to clients, this equipment is easily carried in a car. The key pieces of technology that can help with productivity are: multiple monitors, scanners, and internet connectivity. If you have internet connectivity, you can also gain access to firm files, email, internet research, and possibly voice over IP (VOIP).
Remember, specific products mentioned below were among the best choice at the time the article was written, and given as examples of what works. Review for successor or superior technology when you are ready to make your purchase. What technology tools in both hardware and software can make your auditors more productive?
a) Laptop – a larger screen is better, extended life battery, and both wireless LAN and WAN built in is better – HP, Toshiba, Lenovo, Dell, Apple
b) Cell phone/combination PDA – better to have remote email access in these devices as well. This is needed less if the soft phone below is included – Treo 700, Blackberry, HP iPaq, Sprint PPC-6700. Add software like PDAnet if high speed connectivity is not included with your phone
c) High Speed WAN Card - to connect the audit team to high speed cellular service – Novatel Merlin S620 on Sprint
d) Wireless Firewall – better if it supports the high speed WAN card as well as hard wired connections – Kyocera KR1
e) Production quality portable scanner OR a multi-function (MFP) scanner/printer – Canon DR-2580C, Fujitsu fi-5120C, Fujitsu ScanSnap S500 or HP 4315
f) A second monitor when the engagement is going to keep people out for more than two days – ViewSonic ve710b, Planar 1500
g) Encrypted USB for backup of files on a regular basis – Lexar JumpDrive® Secure II, JumpDrive® TouchGuard™ SAFE PSD S1100 OR use of the encryption software below
h) Network Attached Storage (NAS) – larger disk device to save and share all files from a single location – Maxtor Shared Storage Drive H01P200 (or larger)
i) Surge protection – to share the limited power available. APC PNOTEPROC6 for in line protection, a PER8T to share with all.
j) Optional keyboard – in case the auditor wants to work from a large keyboard, but this is unnecessary with larger laptops
k) Optional 10-key with USB connection – Targus PAUK001U
l) Your auditors may be happier with a larger laptop with the 10 key built in
m) Locking cables – although these are only marginal defense try Targus PA400U
n) Optional mouse that always stays in the portable bag, but some find the built-in mice as productive.
o) Universal power adapters – so you can recharge your laptop, cell phone and other electronic devices – iGO everywhere 130 with the appropriate tips
p) Roller style of bag – that can hold all of the above and make them easier to move – TravelPro Platinum 4 #9422 or Wenger Patriot. Perhaps GearGrip LCD Shield Harness bags from CaseAce Products for monitors only like the GGLCD1K.
a) Audit Engagement Management Software – CCH Engagement, CaseWare or CSI Engagement CS
b) Practice Aides – PPC eTools advisement/template software
c) Research software – CCH, RIA, BNA
d) Specific audit tools - ACL, IDEA, Monarch, AuditWatch, ActiveData, AuditMaster, ProfitCents etc.
e) Productivity software for word processing, spreadsheets and email – Microsoft Office
f) Software to create PDF files – Adobe Acrobat
g) Software to handle multiple monitors – Ultramon, MultiMon (www.realtimesoft.com), PivotPro
h) Peer to peer networking software to make field connections and sharing easier – Colligo WorkGroup
i) Encryption software to protect your hard drives, USB and email – PGP Universal Series 200
j) Backup software – to copy all files easily – Second Copy (www.centered.com), Allway Sync (www.allwaysync.com)
k) Softphone software – allowing your remote auditor to connect to your VOIP phone system directly – typically supplied by your VOIP vendor
3) In the office
a) Remote access to the server including files, document images, and email – Citrix or Terminal Server
b) Scheduling software, possibly covered in your workflow solution – XCM solutions
c) Voice Over IP phone system – Cisco, Avaya, 3Com, InterTel
d) Confirmation letter solution – Capital Confirmation
e) Audit budgeting software – Excel, CCH Practice, CCH Practice Management, CSI Practice CS
f) Time and Billing system with remote time and expense entry - CCH Practice, CCH Practice Management, CSI Practice CS
g) Docking stations for the laptop, properly surge protected, possibly with dual monitors (total of three monitors with laptop screen) - Targus ACP50US
h) Second set of mice, keyboards to minimize setup and tear down time
i) High speed production quality scanners to turn client paper documents into electronic files – Fujitsu fi-5750C or Canon DR-7080C
With this selection of hardware and software products you have a formula for success. However, as an audit manager, IT manager or firm administrator, you must help your auditors picture how this equipment will work for them. Preparation before leaving the office will be a necessity. An auditor should carry all of the necessary files to the field on their laptop or NAS, with all supporting documentation scanned in advance, and organized in the engagement management software. All of the appropriate equipment can be transported in a wheeled bag.
When the audit team arrives on the first day of the engagement, they can set up their tools either together or separately depending on the client designated workspace. Complete setup should take place in less than 15 minutes. The setup process would be:
1) Set up the surge protection
2) Connect the wireless access point with firewall to power and either:
a) Your WAN card
b) The client’s network with a cable
3) Attach the NAS to the wireless access point
4) Connect the first laptop
5) Start the peer to peer network sharing software
6) Check connectivity to the NAS
7) Check connectivity to the internet
8) Continue the setup process by setting up the scanner/MFP printer
9) Set up the second monitor for the first laptop
10) Begin connecting all other laptops to the network
11) Plug in the cell phone/combination PDA to power and/or establish a VOIP connection
12) Test all other laptop connectivity to
a) Share files
b) Share the printer
c) Share the scanner
You are now ready to begin running the engagement management software using files on a laptop or on the NAS. Make sure that the shared resources are not connected via the audit manager’s machine since the manager will frequently move from one audit engagement to another, and could easily take key needed resources with them when they leave.
Only a few of the software and hardware tools named above are beyond what a typical auditor carries today. The new tools include: WAN card, second monitor, peer to peer networking software, encryption software and a softphone. The total cost of additional hardware and software to make field auditors more productive is roughly $300 for software and $1,200 for hardware. Ongoing costs for the WAN card are currently around $60/month. Most audit teams will gain enough billable time in the first engagement to justify these expenditures, plus your firm will be better protected with all data off-site encrypted. Using the right technology tools will increase the realization across all audits and keep your auditors in better communication with the firm.