Putting mobile technology to work, and choosing which devices to use when, was the main topic during a session at the Accounting Technology Show and Conference in New York.

James Bourke, a partner and director of firm technology at WithumSmith+Brown in Red Bank, N.J., offered a quick run-through of laptops and handheld devices that CPAs can and do use to make their lives more manageable. “I’m a really big advocate of making things small,” he said.

An audience member said he wasn’t going to upgrade his phone after 24 months because he had just gotten used to it, and Bourke quipped, “You just got used to it. That’s really tough, man.”

Citing the American Institute of CPAs’ Top Technology Initiatives list, Bourke (pictured) pointed to mobile and remote computing as the fifth most important issue facing the profession from a technology perspective.

Bourke also discussed different types of phones and handheld devices, including smartphones, candy bar-style phones such as the Palm Treo 800w, slider phones such as the T-Mobile Shadow, clamshell phones such as the HTC Advantage X7501, and flip phones, which he described as weak for texting and e-mailing.

“We give BlackBerries to all seniors and above, and pay for data plans,” Bourke said of his firm’s policy. “We try to teach our staff proper use of technology.”

Bourke said he sees firms around the country give their partners phones, but he encouraged audience members to provide phones to staff-level employees as well, as they too are out in the field working on engagements.

“It more than pays for itself,” he said.

He also reminded audience members who have clients in Massachusetts that the state has stringent privacy laws, and the deadline for ensuring that laptops are securely encrypted will be extended to Jan 1, 2010. The deadline for ensuring encryption of other portable devices will be suspended until that time.

Lastly, Bourke talked about some free and inexpensive applications that can be downloaded to handheld devices and laptops to help CPAs. He also mentioned Slacker.com, a Web site that allows an individual to stream music to a mobile device.

“Why am I showing a bunch of CPAs this?” he asked. “I know deep down inside, you guys want to have a good time with your phone.”