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Mobile phones help accountants improve client service

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11th Mar 2009
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BlackBerry BoldA recent study from BlackBerry manufacturer Research In Motion and the ICAEW found widespread use of mobile technology within accountancy. Nigel Harris examines the findings and presents a rundown of currently available devices.

With accountants increasingly filling the role of trusted business advisors to their clients, it is even more important for them to be accessible to clients and colleagues throughout the working day and to have access accurate information wherever they are, according to a joint study from the ICAEW and Research In Motion (RIM), the company behind the BlackBerry smartphone.

The research project found that 75% of the 566 senior practitioners surveyed said the current economic climate made it more important than ever to be contactable when they are out of office. And what better way than with the latest mobile technology?

Of the accountants surveyed:

  • 74% say that it is important that clients could contact them while they are working out of the office.
  • 95% of smartphone users say effective mobile working not only enhances client satisfaction, but it also helps accountants grow their practices.
  • 53% of those questioned who use a smartphone have won a piece of business when on the move.
  • 82% of all respondents said that being able to work effectively when out of office increases personal productivity - with this figure jumping to 90% for smartphone users.
  • 59% of respondents said that being able to work effectively out of office will allow them to increase billable hours to clients.
BlackBerry and me
Baker Tilly partner John Oates uses a BlackBerry as a separate email device to his mobile phone. "I travel to see clients all over the north of England and wherever I am, they can reach me. The BlackBerry co-ordinates my email with Microsoft Outlook and what used to take 2-3 days now takes a few minutes," he said.

"It's all part of the first time closure ethos - you can pick something up and sort it out immediately. You often get a better result because you've come to the problem in a better state of mind. You also get more work done - for example when travelling by train or plane. It's a great way to keep up as long as you learn how to manage it."

A couple of comments from respondents sum up the flavour of the study. "Being in a very client-orientated, service-driven practice, the ability to maintain and keep clients up-to-date and in the loop ensures we keep up our professional and respected image," said one practitioner.

Another respondent added: "Being connected makes my life considerably easier, and makes my clients feel more valued."

RIM says a number of accountancy practices use BlackBerry applications to access key information. Doing so helps them and their clients make more informed and timely decisions based on up-to-date and accurate information, regardless of their location.

Any mobile phone can send and receive SMS text messages and voice calls, but smartphones such as the BlackBerry add easy-to use email and access on the move to diary functions, PDF documents and Microsoft Office files.

John Oates, ICAEW IT Faculty Vice Chairman and Baker Tilly IT Advisory practice partner (and BlackBerry user), commented: "The research results echo my own experiences over the last few years [see box right]. I would simply not be able provide the service they need in this harsh economic climate if I were not able to communicate with them wherever I am during the working day."

A recent Any Answers posting reflected the survey's findings, when the questioner asked for advice about smartphones that would allow them to keep in touch with clients. "All I want is something that will allow me to answer emails when I am out of the office."

The BlackBerry has gained several endorsements, but one or two members pointed out that it is not the only smartphone able to push email out from the office to remote users.

AS, for example, suggested that many BlackBerry users at their firm had upgraded to Windows Mobile smartphones such as those manufactured by HTC (rebranded as MDA by T-Mobile or XDA by O2). Light email users also liked Apple's iPhone.

Based on these conversations, here is a brief summary of currently available smartphone handsets and the contracts under which they are available.

SMARTPHONE OPTIONS

Apple iPhone 3GApple iPhone 3G
Available UK networks: O2 only
Cost: £999 or £35/month with O2 Contract
Pros: Nice interface, good screen for web browsing; availability of third party software apps. Cons: Not so good for running Windows applications and integrating with Outlook. Expensive
What they say: "Good for the 'entertainment' side of things, browsing net etc, but find the [on screen] 'keys' too fiddly, so no good to me as a email phone."
Would suit: Fashion-conscious user who wants the media player features and downloadable apps.

BlackBerry
Available UK networks: All
Cost: Curve 8900 £360 or from £25/month with T-Mobile contract
Pros: Fast “push” email - messages are delivered automatically, you don’t have to download them; good Outlook integration, stable operating system. Cons: More expensive than some Windows Mobile handsets
What they say: "The BlackBerry Curve is so easy to use for everything including GPS, viewing and editing attachments, messaging - a very clever device."
Would suit: Corporate users, email addicts and road warriors.

Windows Mobile phones eg HTC Touch HD
Available networks: All
Cost: £443 or from £30/month on Orange
Pros: Runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional and includes sat nav; can be configured to receive email from normal POP3 account. Cons: Touch screen versions can make for slow typing, but other models have built-in or slide-out QWERTY keypads for faster text entry. OS can be a little unstable - just like Windows desktop PCs - and slow on lower-powered devices.
Would suit: Mobile users who MUST have Windows on their handheld to create and edit Office documents.

Symbian mobiles eg Nokia N96
Available networks: All
Cost: £421 or from £30/month on O2 or Orange (but cheaper alternatives available)
Pros: Sat nav and media player; Word/Excel/PDF file viewer software built in; easy to use as designed for consumer market. Cons: Windows it isn’t, so you won’t get full Outlook and Office compatibility.
Would suit: Cost-conscious, light user happy with a range of average features.

Do these findings match your mobile working experiences? Share your techniques and handset recommendations using the Post a Comment button below and help AccountingWEB.co.uk compile a comprehensive guide to smartphone technology. Download the full RIM/ICAEW Connected Accountant report here.

Replies (7)

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By AnonymousUser
29th Mar 2009 11:26

As a long term BB user
it is hard to find any fault with the latest Curve 8900 model for its general ease of use and reliability. In terms of functionality, it is probably is the best piece of kit I have ever used.

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By User deleted
13th Mar 2009 09:18

John...
apologies if it sounded sceptical - I was genuinely asking the question to see how I could make use of my BB and other applications more.

The next user comments about enterprise costing £1k - you can get free professional software for 1 user and 4 additional user licences for about £50 each

I am not certain what the full difference is with the all singing dancing enterprise - I understand that you have a separate server and can see full HTML email on BBs rather than just certain handsets

John - as you say I use BB with full wireless synchronisation with emails, calendar and tasks as well as notes. I can track emails received and sent from/in my curve and manage tasks and meeting requests on the go. I also use full wireless sync of outlook contacts with the blackberry adress book and this conveniently enable sone to navigate to these contacts using the telmap service.

On a personal front, I use facebook occassionally and the web browser. Often people comment on the fact that you cant view/edit office docs on a BB which is why they go for a windows mobile device - that is untrue - you can view office docs/pdfs and with software (eg dataviz documents to go) can edit. I understand that this comes with certain BBs and or the updated accredited OS which can usually be dowloaded from your service provider. I use O" and find it great.

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By User deleted
12th Mar 2009 14:59

Applications?
Please would someone care to enlighten me on the applications which can be used on the move apart from using the curve as a phone, email and calendaring tool. I use the GPS (sat nav) and email/calendar on BES

What else can we use as accountants?

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Mark Lee headshot 2023
By Mark Lee
13th Mar 2009 11:54

I use an iphone
To be fair I didn't seriously consider a blackberry or the other alternatives.

Windows VISTA was the last straw for me so, as I don't have to worry about compatibility across a big office network, I decided to move to Apple. It was for this reason that I wanted my phone to be compatible.

I only get emails when I ask it to check for them but that's fine. Emails only have the appearance of urgency. If it's critical the phone (or texting) is better and gets to me straight away.

Synchronising itunes (and especially re podcasts) is a doddle. I don't have any games on the iphone but I am amassing a range of useful free applications.

So far I haven't experienced a downside. (I have no problem with the 'keyboard' which I've now been using happily for 9 months).

Mark Lee
Tax Advice Network

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John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
12th Mar 2009 17:40

BlackBerry apps
Thanks for all your previous contributions on this subject, Simmy. (*see below) You always seem to be plugged into mobile phone trends and practicalities, so I was surprised that you struck a sceptical tone even though you use a couple of BB apps yourself. I have to declare an interest here as a corporate BlackBerry user - here are the applications I use (as a journalist rather than accountant):Calendar that synchs with Outlook to alert me to appointments and deadlines
Full back up between smartphone and MS Outlook - not only can I contact people at desk or on the move, I've got an instant back-up to hand if either device fails.
Still camera, audio recording & video - Still in experimental phases. I actually shot an entire mini-movie around a Softworld event, but the memory limitation meant that all the clips cut out after 32secs. BB may not be the right tool for that, but I can now post pictures direct to Twitpic. Which brings me to my most recent download:
TwitterBerry - from which I can now update the IT Zone home page from our SiftMediaTech Twitter account.

I'm not a road warrior or a CrackBerry obsessive (yet!), but I have found the facilities to be increasingly useful as I integrate them to my working life. I do confess to a bit of iPhone envy, but spend enough time glued to the web that I don't need to do an awful lot while on the move. Look forward to hearing if any other members have found killer smartphone apps for accountants yet.

(*Simmy - apologies for making an erroneous assumption about the tone of your post. That's always a dangerous game to play online and in retrospect I definitely misinterpreted the direction of your comments. Silly me!)

John Stokdyk (via Web)
Technology editor
AccountingWEB.co.uk

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By dialm4accounts
13th Mar 2009 08:24

Planning a Palm Treo
As I'm now out of the office a lot more than I used to be, I needed a phone where I could easily pick up my e-mails.

Having started off using Outlook to pick up my e-mail, I looked at a BlackBerry, until I discovered that to get the full use of Outlook there, I'd have to buy BlackBerry Enterprise Solution for a whopping £1,000. That's a lot of money for a one-woman start-up business like mine!

Without Enterprise Solution, as I later found, the only serious problem is not being able to see sent mail from a BlackBerry. But by then I'd already switched to Google Mail.

I haven't yet got my advanced phone, but I plan to get a Palm Treo 500, which will let me pick up my Google Mail, doesn't have any frills that I don't really need (like GPS, Bluetooth, or radio), is available on Pay as You Talk, and has a full QWERTY keyboard.

M

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By User deleted
11th Mar 2009 11:18

iPhones not just for fun
The notion that iPhones are for fun and Blackberrys for the 'serious' user is long out of date. Since the 2.0 firmware upgrade, iPhones have full push ability with MS Exchange, and in fact communicate directly with Exchange rather than by BES, which Blackbery must use.

Word Excel and pdf can all be viewed too, although not edited. Maybe a drawback on the road, but no-one uses their phone for intensive document production I would guess!

I guess touch-screen typing is an acquired taste, but i find it almost as quick as conventional keyboard - the autocorrect is very clever and deals with most mistypes.

Having used both I think Blackberrys are marginally better on email and calendaring, but when they're so awful at web-browsing I would go for the iPhone every time. And Windows and Symbian platforms are in awful need of either a total overhaul or putting down. IMHO.

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