Just because your smartphone sits on your desk all day doesn't mean it's working for you. We talked to long-time expert accounting technologist Carlton Collins about mobile apps for accountants. Here are five ways your iPhone, Android or (in some cases) your Blackberry can benefit your practice and please your clients.
Collins, who's been on the road frequently for almost his entire career, remembers a time 20 or so years ago when he got to a strange town and forgot where his lodging reservation was. He ended up calling hotels to confirm his reservation until he found one that recognized his name.
So the need for mobile recall of critical travel details has always been there, he says. If you're driving, of course, you can get a lot of utility out of smartphones. For example, you can find out where the nearest service station is when you're almost to Fargo with an almost-empty gas tank in the middle of the night, or see what the traffic is like up ahead. "But I really love TripIt," Collins says. "I use it all the time." Concur Breeze is also in his top five. He likes that his itinerary is organized for him, with auto-hyperlinks to online content like maps, directions and hotels. He can make a dinner reservation or schedule a meeting and his itinerary continues to grow in an orderly, accessible fashion. He can remind himself about which hotels he should never again book and store a picture of his rental car before he takes off to prove it was undamaged.
Collins also likes making use of his idle time by assembling his expense reports while he's still traveling. "If I had to wait until I got back to the office, it'd take an hour and a half," he says. Now it's all done when he walks in the door.The ability to plan and document as he goes along – and to let Concur do the organizing part – greatly simplifies what can be a disjointed, unruly process. And he has a permanent records of his trips, which pleases both him and the IRS.
Mobile File and Account Management
Because mobile technology has become so affordable and accessible, you have a connection to your professional life wherever you go. And that can be a double-edged sword – you're never truly unplugged from work unless you simply power off the phone.
But the cross-section of data that's available to you through some very innovative smartphone apps can help you deal with critical issues of your own and of your clients. Here are three more:
Dropbox. Everyone should have this on their smartphones. It's free unless you want to pony up several hundred dollars for the team version. Dropbox was designed with the multi-locale, multi-device user in mind. Using a simple interface similar to what you're accustomed to in Windows Explorer, it's a storage and sharing space for documents, photos and videos. When you invite people to view something in your Dropbox, they can simply open it on their own computer or mobile device. So you can start a file in the office on your computer, save it to the Dropbox and take another crack at it from your smartphone while you're sitting in Starbucks. Files are always saved to the Dropbox website, so you can't lose your work.
Bill.com. This online solution is technically not an app, but it's available through your browser and optimized for smartphone use. It's tremendously popular with CPAs because it provides anytime, anywhere access to payables and receivables, works to maximize cash flow and integrates with major desktop accounting applications.Using Bill.com Mobile, you can access all of your accounts from one dashboard and view, approve and pay bills.
It would be nice if there was a universally-loved contact manager available for smartphones. Your phone rings and you instantly see a screen identifying the caller and displaying your recent interaction with him or her, with links to a complete contact profile and transaction history.
Alas: not yet. The major desktop contact managers, ACT! and Outlook, have apps that let you, for example, maintain contact databases and keep up with your schedule and to-do list. Sage ACT! Connect comes the closest, since it includes contact history.Outlook Mobile is only available for the Windows Phone, and you'd really need to add OneNote to have a reasonably capable contact manager solution.
Hootsuite. What you use on your smartphone to manage contact relationships remotely depends in large part on how you accomplish this on your desktop or notebook back in the office. So for our final app, we'd recommend HootSuite.
When you have a few minutes here and there to check and contribute to social media -- to see what your clients are doing and saying and respond quickly to comments -- you can use one of HootSuite's mobile versions. These apps let you manage multiple social accounts, schedule messages to be dispatched immediately or at a future time, and see statistics related to your social media activity. They're free for a single user and limited reporting; $9.99/month to add a team member and get more in-depth reporting, like Google Analytics and Facebook Insights.
Just Around the Bend
Certainly, there are more apps beyond these five that can help you better manage your practice and provide services to your clients, like the dozens included at the Intuit App Center and the recently announced Paychex mobile solution. And we'll undoubtedly see many more mobile accounting solutions since the smartphone market is so vast.
"The need for it has always been there, for cloud-based, centralized information," Carlton Collins says. "You'll see more apps coming out in the future for the CPA market, like links to the IRS tax code."
You can't take your office with you on your smartphone; its screen size will always limit the depth of the applications available. But you can use your smartphone in small ways, here and there throughout the day. That availability, responsiveness and access to information that may save the day sometimes will illustrate your concern and involvement to your clients.
You can't bill for that, but you never know how your smartphone "mobile moments" might impact the future of your business relationships.