Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Cloud & Mobile devices - opportunities & risks for accountants

Your smartphone or tablet helps in securing an insta-connect to social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, not to mention email and banking. There is much that can be accomplished today.
The accounting profession is undergoing its most significant technology change. Sophisticated cloud and mobile devices have fundamentally changed user expectations and demands by integrating technology into all aspects of an Accountant’s daily life. Users have increasingly lofty expectations when it comes to being able to access corporate networks, thinking they should be able to do so any time, from any place, using any device. This connectivity will help professionals get work done more efficiently, and enable a smooth information exchange with clients.
In the future, most data entry and aggregation work may be automated, while lower margin services such as tax preparation may be commoditized. This shall help push accountants increase their client base and even move to higher-margin, knowledge-based tasks.
On a given morning, you may start by checking email with a smartphone and then want to modify and email a document using a tablet. Then, on the way to work, he or she may want to use a laptop and a coffee shop’s Wi-Fi network to access one of the firm’s cloud services.
So, why is security such a huge concern?
The advances in technology are far faster than the security updates needed for the sensitive data exchanged on smartphones and tablets. With people being able to access information from anywhere, the transmission of data through secure channels becomes very important.
The networked organizations are under siege, continually bombarded by virtual attacks targeting sensitive corporate information and assets. Even yahoo’s database was hacked.   A wide array of sensitive personal and professional information is available on social media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. If people truly use them as business tools, within an appropriate context, and at an appropriate time, then they can certainly boost productivity. 
In a nutshell, today’s accounting professional must be cued to the latest technological advances 24/7.  He / she is required to act and react, driven by more sophisticated and smarter clients, any time, and from anywhere. The solution lies in gaining complete mobility, powered by the right mobile strategy.
Accountants, being the highest level knowledge workers, can work anytime, anywhere – this is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it offers you the flexibility, while becoming a bane when there virtually is no ‘off’ switch. Making proper use of smart devices gives you the ability to keep up with work demands, and at the same time, allow you to work out of office.
Mobile capabilities help
*       Increase personal productivity
*       Increase billable hours
*       Improve communication and coordination with colleagues
*       Enhance work/life balance
*       Improve client satisfaction / service.

Technology acts a huge equalizer – increasing use of handheld devices at work which seamlessly integrate with existing email setups and applications give small business firms the same power, access and information as any other top firm in their business.
Would you say no to having, at a single touch, all the power and convenience of an office without actually needing to be at the office?
In essence, smartphones at work help in gaining a tangible increase in productivity by
*       Building client relationships, and hence, client retention
*       Facilitating project & people management even while out of office
*       Speeding up flow of information and accelerate business processes

Any opportunity to expand the business has to be weighed against the risks of following a particular path.
Usage risks: If a device is lost, how do you prohibit unauthorized users from working with the device, whether to make calls, access the network or steal personal information?
Data risks:  How do you secure sensitive information stored in your e mails, documents, etc? 
Your first priority is to protect the data.
*       Data is money.  You do not want to leave yourself open to liability due to theft of data.  Whether on the cloud or in-house, ensure sufficient data controls exist in place. 
*       There should be standard backup of data and it should be accessible immediately in case of disaster.
*       In case these smart devices are lost or stolen, you should have the ability to remote wipe them as they could contain private and confidential client information that must be protected.
*       Have the employees go in for a Screen lock on their smart devices in anticipation of a theft or accidental device loss happening.  You can also fingerprint screen lock so that it opens only with your fingerprint.

These mobile applications and cloud devices are tools in your hands. As an accountant, you will be able to provide even greater value to your clients when in a better position to understand, master, and leverage the various devices aside from a better working knowledge of connectivity and IT security going forward. Smartphone solutions must be diligently evaluated as part of a firm’s mobile strategy – a key enabler in enhancing profitability.

Use simple safety networking measures, while at the same time making use of advanced authentication capabilities. Your business can leverage the opportunities of mobile computing, while mitigating the risks.

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