Updating The Auditors Toolkit

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by Roman Kepczyk, President, InfoTech Partners North America

Many firms are already in the process of transitioning their audit processes to the “less paper” or digital environment. They have invested significantly in their auditing and document container applications as well as in their training to maximize productivity. To further optimize this investment, it is imperative that CPA firms also update the tools that auditors carry into the field. Below are five considerations for updating your Auditor's Toolkit.

Field Network: Productivity in the field can be dramatically improved with field networks. While this could be difficult in the Windows 95/98 environment, many firms are finding it much easier and more stable in the Windows 2000/XP environment utilizing a portable hub and patch cables. Some firms have also transitioned to wireless field networks, which are more expensive, but could be justified if you have auditors dispersed throughout a client's location. Please note that if you choose wireless networks, it is imperative that security (wireless encryption protocol) be properly setup to protect the firm.

Field Backup: Data must be backed up every day while working in the field. This is now more difficult as firms transition to the paperless engagement where all files, documents, and images are stored in a digital format (that are significantly larger in file size). While many firms use their field network to copy files to each others computers or dial into the firm to replicate data, this is not always an option. For individuals working alone or without an adequate Internet connection, USB data fobs (available from Targus and other providers) that fit on a keychain can easily backup your largest files (up to 1,000 megabytes) and are very cost effective when compared to similar storage devices.

Field Dial Out: In most cases, field auditors do not have access to a high speed data connection, but they do have access to a phone. Today, many client phones operate on a digital frequency that can damage the auditors modem, laptop, and/or the client's phone system. To reduce the risk, we recommend firms include a digital analog tester in the auditor's toolkit that can validate whether the telephone line is safe or not. If the line is not compatible with the laptop a digital analog converter will allow the auditor to safely use the client's phone system to replicate data back in the office. The firm should also evaluate their ISP as some offer concurrent access to local numbers in addition to a toll-free number (Earthlink and Mindspring).

Field Scanning: Scanning of client documents in the field has taken a big step forward with smaller portable scanners such as the new Visioneer XP 100 series. These scanners can easily fit into an audit bag and scan images in a variety of formats depending on your firm's standard. These imaged files can then be stored directly in your workpaper programs, taking your firm closer to the “less paper” audit.

Field Security: Laptop theft is on the rise and it is critical that auditors use passwords on their screens as well as physical locking cables to keep the laptop from being easily stolen. To further encrypt data and secure the laptop, expect to see cost-effect biometric (fingerprint identification) tools in 2003 including the USB fobs mentioned in the backup section above. When sending confidential files to a client, be sure to get their authorization and look at using encryption tools such as PGP or VeriSign.

As your audit processes and applications evolve, so do the tools needed to optimize them.

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