Accounting firms with a growing mobile work force may be struggling to understand how best to manage the complexity of employees working from disparate locations – how to give workers the IT support they need, while getting the most from the technology for the good for the firm.
It's a big question, and one that is growing in importance. "By 2011, upwards of 75 percent of employees nationally, and one billion workers worldwide, will be classified as mobile," said Stephen Drake, program vice president for Mobility & Telecom research at IDC.
Accounting firms are recognizing that mobile devices, smart phones in particular, are helping their professionals find a better work/life balance. According to a CPA Trendlines study by Bay Street Group LLC last summer, 75 percent of respondents rate the ability to work out of the office as "very important."
A survey the company is conducting now shows that about nine in 10 accountants who carry a smart phone say their firm backs them up with support. "Smartphones - like Blackberrys, iPhones, Palm Treos, and Windows devices - are emerging as a fairly good indicator of whether your CPA firm is a competitive leader or a laggard," writes Rick Telberg, president of Bay Street Group.
And James Bourke, a CPA writing for AICPA Insider in March, said that mobile devices should be outfitted for both voice (more popular with older professionals) and data plans (texting and e-mail is used more often by younger people).
"When it comes to a mobile device, don't lose sight of its main purpose," Bourke writes. "To be productive and responsive to clients, your staff needs tools that allow them to talk, e-mail, and text. Solutions will run from free to in excess of $500. It would be great to have the latest and greatest handheld technologies with all of the bells and whistles, but given the state of the economy, a device that allows for the basics will suffice."
Odyssey Software Inc., a leading provider of mobile devices, suggests seven principals for management of the mobile devices.
- Leverage Your Existing Investments – Seek out devices that work well with what you already have and don't need their own proprietary servers and consoles.
- Don't Skimp on Features – If the application is "mission critical" make sure you've got lots of features to solve an array of problems as they arise.
- Stress Your Options – "Stress test" the products before you decide, and research what the product can do in various scenarios your workers will face on the job.
- Remember That You Don't Know What You Don't Know – Some capabilities of mobile devices may not be immediately obvious. For example, Odyssey Software advises, the devices must be able to update a program that is running or detect and fix corrupted applications automatically. Devices should be able to update shared software subsystems or files.
- Time, Money and People Matter – Make sure Help Desk personnel can conduct complex tasks on the devices remotely, so they can update and remove software, change settings and troubleshoot problems for mobile workers.
- Security is Key – Unrestricted devices are big-time targets for theft. Ensure that sensitive data cannot be transferred outside controlled devices.
- Think About the Future – Pay attention to how the products are designed. Can your solution evolve with your business?