Mobile tools and devices can no longer be ignored or seen as a top executive toy, as they have come to the forefront of the CPA profession and, specifically, firm CIO and decision-maker discussions, according to Marc Staut, national director of technology at Reznick Group.

Staut spoke to a full room of attendees Monday at the AICPA Practitioners Symposium and Tech + Conference in Las Vegas about the trends and challenges facing today’s increasingly mobile accountant, and offered advice on addressing them.

“Mobile computing is so critical to the way we do business we can no longer separate mobility from the way we are expected to get things done,” said Staut in a session simply entitled The Mobile CPA. “The way we leverage the cloud and mobile devices is not about what the IT team is doing or where things are going to be in the future. This is about how we use it today and what it can do for our firms now.”

Staut discussed the most popular devices used by today’s mobile workforce, stating that laptops have all but replaced the desktop computer as they are lighter and more powerful than their predecessors. He also noted that netbooks, while thought to be “dead or dying” a year ago, are still “very convenient” for use on the road. Later this week the Google-powered Chromebook will be released, he added.

Staut also focused on the challenge many CIOs are facing with the increase in the variety of mobile devices in a particular firm, whether it is a smart phone, BlackBerry, laptop or tablet.

“We are at a point where we cannot keep up with the stream of things coming into our offices,” he said. “There are more tools and versions all the time, and IT groups can’t always keep pace. In accounting firms, many CIOs are considering the idea of bring your own device, and the enterprise will support them as much as they can. This is starting with smartphones, then tablets and probably laptop computers as well.”

As to what today’s mobile CPA looks like, or should look like, according to Staut’s suggestions, the essential tools should include mobile broadband access, mobile monitors, scanners, file sharing apps (such as CaseWare), collaboration software, some form of networking device (such as a MiFi device), surge protectors and encrypted drives.

Staut also addressed many questions that firms are having about the use of tablets, iPads in particular.
“I don’t think tablets are going to replace computers anytime soon, but they are definitely a complement to them,” said Staut. “One area of thought is, is it time to think about including tablets out in the field? It can be a second monitor, a file-sharing device, and a paperless alternative on an engagement.”

Staut concluded the session, stating that the biggest challenges facing the mobile CPA are storage, accessibility and security.