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The 2017 CPA Firm Management Association (CPAFMA) Paperless Benchmark Survey was completed just before this past busy season with the purpose of identifying technology trends within medium and large accounting firms, which eventually trickle down for use by smaller firms. A block of questions was targeted specifically towards audit and accounting adoption and highlighted areas where firms may want to rethink their current applications, tools, and procedures.

Audit Suites

Firms traditionally had a “best of breed” approach when it came to selecting which audit programs/approach and engagement binders they would use, with most firms using a combination of Thomson Reuters/PPC, CCH, and Caseware products. The 2017 survey found that 60% of firms had transitioned to a single audit suite (up from 34% in 2015), which points to increased efficiency and integration within a single vendor suite. This integration can also carry over into your tax practice, as the majority of respondents (62%) linked their engagement binder trial balance to their tax program for a digital import instead of re-keying the data, saving the firm time and reducing errors.

Audit Utilities

Beyond the engagement binder and planning approach, there are many utility applications that auditors rely upon, and this year’s survey targeted data extraction, audit scheduling, and digital confirmation tools.

  • For doing data extraction and sampling, 50% of responding firms utilized Microsoft Excel, which has traditionally been the dominant data manipulation application. Dedicated extraction tools, such as Caseware Analytics IDEA and ActiveData from InformationActive, were utilized by another 12% and 8%, respectively.
  • Audit scheduling has traditionally been one of the areas of greatest dissatisfaction amongst firm leadership, with most throwing their hands up and managing precariously with an Excel spreadsheet. The number of firms utilizing a dedicated digital scheduling tool increased from 19% in 2015 to 23% in 2017. ProStaff garnered the most users at 8%, followed by XCM (5%), Doc.It (2%) and Staff Trak (1%). While ProStaff and Staff Trak are standalone scheduling tools, XCM and Doc.It are workflow tools that have successfully integrated scheduling capabilities.
  • A new question this year dealt with the number of firms utilizing digital confirmation applications, which were utilized by almost half (47%) of responding firms. These tools streamline the administrative process of writing and tracking audit confirmations on a web-based platform so it can be accessed and updated in the office and in the field. Confirmation.com (Capital Confirmation) was used by 26% of respondents and AuditConfirmations.com had 19% of the respondents.

Field Equipment

Laptops have long been a staple for audit staff to take into the field to work remotely, but what was surprising was the trends in equipment that the firms are not taking into the field anymore, which would point towards the adoption of more paerless technology. Portable scanners, which had previously been on the rise, were being utilized by 57% of field auditors in 2015 but had dropped to 42% in this latest survey. 22% of auditors carried printers into the field in 2015, which was cut to 11% in the 2017 findings (along with a reduction of “multi-function devices” from 9% in 2015 to 7% in 2017). When queried, accountants said they were able to get digital versions of documents from clients by using portals/email or the client’s own digital copiers when they were onsite.

Mobile Monitors

The survey found that 62% of firms carried multiple monitors in the field. The most popular mobile display brands selected were from ASUS (20%), AOC (18%), Lenovo (13%), and HP (13%). Our consulting with firms found that Lenovo and HP were touted as being the most durable, while AOC displays were widely considered to be the “low cost” (sub $100) leader, but often received complaints of being the least durable. Accountants most often selected the ASUS MB169B+ model as it owned the middle ground between being able to withstand travel wear and tear with a price tag under $200. The 2015 survey had found that 74% of firms were carrying multiple monitors in the field, which points to a 12% reduction over the previous two-year period. While this supports the previous finding of auditors carrying less into the field, one interesting correlation from the 2016 CPAFMA IT Benchmarks survey was that 25% of firms had transitioned to buying larger 17” laptops, providing more screen real estate when working in the field, which could be a contributing factor in the decrease.

Digital Support Documents

One of the new questions this year asked whether auditors received the majority of source documents digitally before the start of the audit, which 57% of the firms responded they were doing. This finding supports the reduction in equipment discussed in the previous paragraphs and points to both the firm and clients using portals and secure email solutions. While vendor portals were the most prevalent tool selected by respondents, Citrix ShareFile was utilized by 8% of firms. When queried during our consulting engagements, firms using ShareFile selected it for “ease of use” from the client’s perspective.

Remote Access

In regards to remote connectivity, 76% of responding firms were able to access firm applications and information via a remote connection more than half the time when they were away from the office. While cloud-based applications, such as Thomson Reuters GoFileRoom and Virtual Office, accommodate remote access natively, firms that have their own internal servers had to utilize Citrix, Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (formerly Windows Terminal Server), or Virtual Private Networks to connect securely to their own networks. We have found that managing remote access solutions internally within an accounting firm can be complex, which is driving many firms to utilize external expertise or cloud-based applications.

Remote Support

A not-so-surprising finding was that 60% of firms were using remote control software to provide assistance to clients on their computer and accounting applications. Remote support applications allow the accountant to see the client’s screen and control the mouse, which is immensely useful for providing support and training while talking with the client on the phone. 31% of respondents had selected well-known Citrix products (GoToMyPC, GoToAssist, GoToMeeting) as well as 14% utilizing LogMeIn, who’s new product, Join.me, was on the rise. Accountants that haven’t used a remote support tool can try Join.me for free and experience the benefits of these types of tools.

Conclusion

While it seems that today’s audit team is always busy, the summer months often provide pockets of opportunity for firms to attend industry conferences and evaluate products and new processes. For audit team members, it may be well worth selecting one or two of the topics/applications listed above this summer and considering if that tool could make your practice better.

This article was originally published in The PPC Accounting and Auditing Update. Copying or distribution without the publisher’s permission is prohibited.

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Roman Kepczyk
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Roman Kepczyk offers over 25 years of CPA firm experienceRead more...

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