The increased use of mobile devices in the workplace has emerged as the top business technology for CPAs and financial executives, according to the 2011 Top Technology Initiatives Survey by the American Institute of CPAs.
Just behind mobile devices, information security and data retention policies and structure ranked Nos. 2 and No. 3, respectively, as top business technologies in 2011, while remote access and staff and management training rounded out the top five.
"Everyone wants to look at how [CPA firms] can enhance profit. [Mobile devices and related technologies] are an expense-reduction and revenue-generator," said Joel Lanz, co-chairman of the AICPA's Top Technology Initiatives Task Force, which produces the annual survey. "Clients look to us for the guidance on how they can deploy this in a secure way and in a way to do what they do better. CPAs can provide a unique perspective, if firms take the time to understand the issues."
The 22nd Annual AICPA Top Technology Initiatives survey was conducted in January and the results were based on responses from nearly 1,400 CPAs nationwide who specialize in information technology.
Mobile devices are receiving more attention as advancements in technology shift productivity tools from desktops to pockets amid increasing reliance on mobile applications. According to researcher Gartner, some 17.7 billion applications will be downloaded to mobile devices worldwide by the end of the year.
Lanz, a sole practitioner and CITP, noted that use and control of mobile devices and their surge to the top of this year's list is indicative of how both CPAs and businesses are operating, or want to operate.
"As opposed to prior technologies, you have a game-changer [with mobile devices] as far as service delivery goes. A salesperson is able to place an order right there with the customer, and the same is essentially true with a CPA firm," said Lanz. "The ability to sit down with a client wherever they are, rather than having to go back to the office or rely on the office, is huge. This is a game-changer in how we deliver service and clients deliver their service."
In addition to mobile devices, the survey also signaled that future IT issues would revolve around implementation of touch-screen technology, deployment of faster networks and voice-recognition technology.
SPREADING THE WORD
Task force co-chairman, CPA and CITP Ron Box, chief information officer at a multi-state construction equipment company, found that these technology initiatives applied to CPA firms as well as the businesses they serve. Box specifically felt that CPAs in business and industry were in a unique position to help their companies take advantage of these trends.
"Businesses are seeking technology advice from CPAs, and one solution to a lot of these issues revolves around the business and industry CPA being able to provide these services internally to their employer," said Box. "And if I'm a CIO, I want to make sure my company is aligning itself with everything that's relevant here. These results give us all guidance on at least how to begin considering these technologies that can make us more productive and produce revenue. That's the overarching message here."
Lanz also noted that the underlying message in the findings was that CPAs and all businesses are looking to be more efficient and not tied to an office, but they need to do so securely and cost-effectively. This, he said, will happen with proper training.
"In order to take advantage of these investments and to achieve these goals, you need to provide the training," said Lanz. "If I'm a managing partner, I'm looking at these results and bringing in the heads of assurance, risk management and consulting and saying, 'There's real opportunity here. Clients need these [tools] and they need the trusted advisor to get through these issues.'"
Along with the surge in mobile device usage comes a concern for security and control. The survey asked CPAs to identify the top technology questions asked by audit committees, chief financial officers and chief information officers. The top five mostly likely questions are:
1. Is our information security policy adequate?
2. Are we ensuring that our data and technology resources are protected against hacking, viruses or other compromises?
3. Are our current internal controls and IT governance policies and procedures effective?
4. How can we best implement document retention and e-discovery policies?
5. Can our data remain safe if we utilize cloud computing/Software-as-a-Service?
CPA survey participants were also asked to predict the technologies they foresaw rising in importance. Those polled said that future rising technology trends included touch-screen technology; implementation of voice recognition; deployment of faster 100GB LAN networks; high-performance supercomputing; digital signage and displays; and introduction of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6).
Top 10 Tech
The ranking of top business-related technology challenges that CPAs across the country are helping clients and executives address are, in order:
1. Control and use of mobile devices
2. Information security
3. Data retention policies and structure
4. Remote access
5. Staff and management training
6. Process documentation and improvements
7. Saving and making money with technology
8. Technology cost controls
9. Budget processes
10. Project management & deployment of new technology
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