The Invasion of the Hand-helds

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I've learned a lot about Jennifer. Her wireless carrier is after her for past-due bills. A local police force wants her for leaving the scene of an accident. Her pharmacy has a prescription she hasn't picked up. A collection agency is trying to reach her. Jennifer once had the cellphone number that I was assigned in August. She may be giving it out since she doesn't want to talk to these people, and I have spent some time returning these calls, just so I don't learn more about her. I don't think I've helped her standing with her correspondents.

The point is that hand-held devices, cellphones and PDAs, are assets floating around in the hands of workers, and who knows who? Not changing a personal telephone number is a little bit different than not erasing email or access rights for a former employee. But it's not all that different.

In researching an article on telephony that appeared in the January/February issue of Accounting Technology, my first impression was that it would be largely about Internet telephony. But it became as much a story about asset management, both in terms of ensuring a company isn't paying for devices it doesn't need, and security, in making sure that mobile assets don't represent a door into the firm.

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The fact that some businesses have twice as many cellphone accounts as they have employees, was an eye-opener. The capabilities of new devices-such as Apple's stunning iPhone, and the convergence of voice and data-mean an increasing amount of corporate property is vulnerable.

The dizzying movement of new product introductions makes it tough to be certain of which devices are best. Do you want a phone with data capabilities? Do you want a PDA that can send and receive calls?

There are no easy answers. The only answer that makes sense is planning, which means not letting disparate kinds of devices, phones from different carriers, PDAs from different vendors, spread throughout an organization. There must be some knowledge of technology.

In the smallest firm, this may not be an issue. But certainly as a business starts getting an employee base in the double digits, it becomes more important. Communications devices should not be allowed to infiltrate through the back door, the way the original IBM PC made its way into many organizations. But in the old days, the desktop devices couldn't connect with the rest of the world. There was no email, no Internet, no spam, no viruses. Things could proceed informally with little more threat than to a corporate bank account and a few damaged egos in the IT department.

If you don't control these devices, you may hear from some old friends and former employees, some that you don't want to hear from again. Or, they may contact your systems surreptitiously.

I'm sure I have not heard the last of Jennifer. I probably could have called the police because the pharmacy trying to contact her was in the same town. But she might not want to hear from me.

And I'm not sure she is someone I really want to know.

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Editor Robert Scott also writes "Consulting Insights," a free, twice-monthly electronic newsletter that addresses issues concerning the consulting and reselling market. It's insight with an attitude. If you want to subscribe, put the following in your browser address line: subscribe.webcpa.com. You can also visit us at www.accountingtechnology.com

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