Mobile computing is no longer simply a novelty for the CPA community, as more accounting firms are recognizing its potÂential for improving business processes, as well as its use as a powerful marketing tool.
According to the 2011 Top Technology Initiatives Survey conducted by the American Institute of CPAs, the increased use of mobile devices in the workplace has emerged as the No. 1 technology for CPAs. In this series of case studies, several firms reveal how they are using mobile devices and applications as a means to be more productive while out of the office, and, in some cases, how it's helping them reach out to their target markets.
Firm: Fuoco Group / Hauppauge, N.Y.
Size: 90 staff; four offices in Florida and New York
Product: iPad and iPad 2 (Apple)
Start date: Summer 2010
On record: Director of operations Joe Manzelli
Challenge/objective: The firm felt that iPads were being used more for consumer purposes than in-house accounting-centric operations, but saw the potential for iPads as business tools and wanted to have senior management and partners utilize them for presentations and accessing the firm's database remotely - or as remote desktops.
Amount spent: Approx. $10,000
Process: Manzelli and the firm's founder, Lou Fuoco, were the first to start using the iPads within the firm and speaking with other partners who had recently bought iPads for themselves. They collectively discussed potential business uses for the devices and eventually began showing the senior management how they can connect to the office database and quickly check on client information, a document or a firm brochure to show clients. The firm then began buying iPads for all senior managers and partners to use, installing a free remote desktop application and a Citrix Receiver app so they could access any useful information, particularly for client presentations.
Results: "Everyone began asking, 'What else can we do?' so I would show them things like how I use WordPress for my blogs; it's easy as typing and e-mail," said Manzelli. "We are doing a follow-the-leader approach, and [the staff] are buying in quickly. Many people here already have iPhones or bought their own iPads, so for a smaller firm, that's a good thing. You show them how it can be used for work and they will want to do just that."
The firm also ran a contest to see who could bring back the most leads from a trade show. The winner received an iPad2.
"Any way we can get people here to use it and think about ways of using them is going to go a long way," hesaid. "It's not a tool that was designed for the accounting industry."
Next steps: The firm recently bought a majority share of marketing and communications firm LaBelVit, which plans to help the firm better utilize social media and marketing efforts. "They have already been sitting down with senior management and the iPads to help create their social media accounts and showing them how to use TweetDeck and HootSuite from these devices," said Manzelli. He also noted that LaBelVit will help create all of the firm's marketing collateral for presentation and use on the iPads.
In addition, Fuoco plans to create a firm app for the iPad that will give direct information for clients and anyone who wants to know more about the firm.
"We're also looking at our vendors and pushing them to create mobile apps for us," said Manzelli.
Firm: Montgomery & Co. / Greenville, S.C.
Size: 9 staff
Product: Mobile CS (Thomson Reuters)
Start date: Started in beta in 2010
On record: Managing partner Joe Montgomery
Challenge/objective: Did not initially see the app as a necessary tool; thought they would "play around with it" to see what it could do.
Amount spent: Nothing to start, $4 a month now.
Process: The firm was already a "power user" of Practice CS. Thomson placed the firm on the beta test list for Mobile CS and Montgomery agreed to test it out, despite the fact that he "failed to see the need for mobile technology in the accounting profession."
Mobile CS allows mobile access to Practice CS, and installation was simple, according to Montgomery, who immediately saw the similarities in the look and feel of Practice CS, particularly with the dashboards. One day, while away on vacation in Florida, he decided to use one of the dashboard features called "Clients Near Me," which essentially locates a firm's clients within a 100-mile radius. He found there were three in his area and used his iPhone to send them a text stating, "I am in the area and thinking of stopping by."
"From a client perspective, I know my accountant is out of state, but when I texted them, now they think he's here on vacation and he was going to come by, that's huge," he said. "The more times you touch a client, the more you cement the relationship."
Montgomery was also impressed that Mobile CS has a time tracker, so if any users go offsite to a client they can start the timer from their iPhone and it syncs to Practice CS. A built-in GPS function also tracks mileage.
Results: Montgomery found that he and his staff are reaching out to clients more often through the Clients Near Me function. The firm is also using the time tracker more.
Next steps: The firm would like to use Mobile CS more for the iPad, and plans to purchase the iPad 2 to install the app on it.
Firm: Freed Maxick & Battaglia / Buffalo, N.Y.
Size: 250 staff
Product: Mobile apps sponsored through The Buffalo Business Journal and WNED-AM/FM Public Broadcasting
Start date: First phase - 2008; current phase - 2011
On record: Director of marketing Eric Majchrzak
Challenge/objective: The main objectives were generating awareness, lead generation, business development and recruiting. They saw mobile apps as an innovative and effective way to achieve those goals.
Amount spent: Approx. $10,000-$15,000
Process: The firm took a phased approach and explored using smartphones for marketing purposes. A second phase was the construction of mobile-ready Web sites, the first of which was a micro-mobile site on New York State's Excelsior Jobs Program, which offers tax credits that the firm can help companies to obtain. The firm created a mobile initiative around it, giving executives information about the program and providing the ability to ask questions directly from their mobile devices.
The most recent phase involved sponsoring mobile apps from TheBuffalo Business Journal and WNED-AM/FM Public Broadcasting, two large area media outlets that designed the apps for business and financial news.
"We chose the news outlets to bring relevant content for our community as they impact business within Western New York," said Majchrzak. "The iPhone apps we are sponsoring were designed to pass along the latest business and issue-driven information. We believe this complements our brand of being an accessible, pro-active, service-minded firm that stays on top of the latest issues impacting business."
Results: While the latest phase of the campaign is still new and specific results were not yet available, Majchrzak said that he was "very impressed" by what he was seeing, and that firms looking to take a similar approach need to consider several aspects of a mobile campaign. "There are lots of ways to determine return on investment. For one, we had [an estimated] $100,000 worth of media mentions from this recent effort. We had radio, print and online mentions," he said. "I can track business we get off Twitter or search engine optimization, but I look at bigger trends and initiatives and campaigns and that's much more powerful than seeing them separately. It just doesn't make sense to put a metric on a particular channel."
Next steps: The firm is looking to create its own branded apps that are more national in appeal.
Research on the go
Firm: Jackson Coles / Boise, Idaho
Size: 4 staff
Product: CCH Mobile
Start date: 2010
On record: Partner Richard Jackson
Challenge/objective: The firm decided early on that it wanted to be at the edge of technology, and using CCH Mobile was the next natural step.
Amount spent: Free to IntelliConnect subscribers.
Process: Jackson realized that more and more offices were becoming virtual, and being on CCH's advisory board afforded his firm the opportunity to see and test new products firsthand. He was curious what CCH Mobile could do.
"As we were walked through the beta program, I realized more and more people are commuting a long way to work or are simply working offsite more. So I thought during that time, if they could easily review a tax law or get your current tax status on a mobile device, that's a big deal," said Jackson. "It took about two versions to get it to where we wanted it to be, particularly with definitions of what we wanted to see, such as needing per-diem rates or wanting to track a specific tax law change. As long as you have IntelliConnect [CCH's research platform], it's there."
After downloading the CCH Mobile app to a smartphone, users have access to customized tax tracker news, Internal Revenue Service codes and regulations, tax tools and calculators, and smart charts, depending on their IntelliConnect subscription level. Additional subscription packages will also be offered to suit subscribers' specific research needs.
Results: "It gives us the ability to have the research arm available, from a remote campground in Idaho to a high-level CPE course or out at a client that asks you an off-the-wall tax question. Being able to carry the power of my office on my hip was a bit overwhelming and we're excited to see what's next," said Jackson.
Next steps: Jackson said that he and his partner want more "transparency" between home and work, so that if he is at home and wants to review a return, he can. He also wants to keep overhead down and be more efficient overall.
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