The accounting function is a back office desk job where employees have long been tied to their desktops and laptops. Countless spreadsheets, ERP systems, and the constant need to communicate with employees, vendors and customers have chained them to the desk for decades.
Outside of the accounting department, employees are interacting with computers and communicating on a whole different level. Our society has become a culture of right now – Google, YouTube and instant access to friends – making people tied to their mobile devices. Multi-tasking has invaded our every waking hour leaving little time for down time.
Meanwhile, accounting professionals are still largely tied to their desks, waiting patiently as the computer tries to keep up with the number of tasks required. But change is coming. The increasing popularity of the cloud has allowed businesses to access critical information wherever they have access to Wi-Fi, paving the way for mobile applications in the accounting department.
A lot of accounting functions are already automated such as electronic invoicing and electronic transfer of funds. So there exists a huge opportunity to leverage today’s mobile technology to make accounting even more efficient.
Step One: Cut the Chains
The most obvious benefit of mobile applications is they allow you stay connected to the order-to-cash process both at your desk and on the go. For example, with Bill.com’s app, users can perform critical collections processes and make important decisions with just a few taps.
Having a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet, in the office allows accounting professionals to multi-task more easily. Mobile applications can also be of benefit when you may be in the same building but do not have access to your computer. For example, a manager has to take a break from the office to attend an important meeting on another floor. While some tasks can wait, the manager still needs to be available for quick approvals and questions. The solution is to have the manager take an iPad or smartphone with him to handle approvals, questions, applications, contracts, and disputes on the way to the meeting, during quick breaks, and immediately following the meeting. This prevents the process from being bottlenecked because the manager did not have access to his computer.
Finally, mobile applications can help accounting professionals stay productive outside of the office. A customer from Tokyo may be waiting on a credit approval but because they are in a different time zone, the credit manager responsible for approving the application has left for the day. Instead of upsetting the customer by waiting an additional business day, the credit manager can immediately pull up all of their essential credit information on his phone and make a decision.
Step Two: Increase Visibility
Most companies do not have the convenience of having every department that interacts with accounting in a single room, or even a single building, making communication often difficult and time consuming. According to a 2013 Yast.com survey, employees waste an average of 74 minutes a day trying to get into contact with colleagues and customers – significant drain on productivity and could possible diminish the customer experience.
A large portion of cross-department calls are made because of lack of visibility, so increasing the visibility of involved processes can help decrease wasted time. For example, the sales department may not have access to the system the credit department uses and are consequently forced to make frequent calls to get updates in order to serve the customer. Mobile applications can increase visibility between departments by offering immediate, up-to-date account statuses, eliminating the need for time-consuming calls and emails. Instead of picking up the phone, the sales department can open up the credit application on their phone or tablet, click on the customer-in-question, and get a current status on their credit approval.
Step Three: Minimize Interruptions to Your Personal Life
Imagine you are a credit manager, and you are watching the last couple of innings of your favorite baseball team. You get a frantic call from the office that a potential client is tired of waiting to get an answer on how much credit can be extended. Being away from your computer, you have to wait for your subordinate to email the multiple PDF applications and financial spreadsheets to your Blackberry in order to expedite the decision. You sneak in a few minutes to watch the game but your attention is given to the back and forth communication with the office. When you finally put the phone back in your pocket, the game has ended.
Employees know these personal interruptions all too well, but advances in smartphones and the advent of accounting mobile applications can help minimize the disruptions. New companies such as ZenCash.com have some great option to give a user the ability to manage invoices and collections, anywhere and anytime.
Step Four: The Future
Mobile accounting applications are just now starting to reach the level of polish and ease-of-use that we are accustomed to with consumer applications. But many companies are apprehensive about adopting mobile apps in their accounting department due to security reasons or they simply lack the technology requirements to do so.
Security is the most common concern potential adopters have. What happens if an employee loses a smartphone? What data can be extracted and used? Can someone hack into the phone over the air? The reality is that sensitive data accessed through mobile applications is often more secure than data accessed through laptops. If you lose a laptop with QuickBooks data on it, someone could potentially pull that information off of the laptop. However, mobile apps are cloud-based and generally do not store sensitive information on the device. Instead, the solution provider hosts the content, and the user can only access it from their mobile device after entering their private credentials.
Security apprehensions aside, the most significant stumbling block to adopting mobile apps is the lack of technology or capital to invest in such technology. Thus, manual processing remains the path of least resistance. While manual processes are usually slower, less productive, and more inefficient than automated processes, not every company has the means to implement an automated solution. Unfortunately, companies with manual processes will not be able to take advantage of most mobile applications because, in general, as they are designed to pull information from automated solutions.
Also, implementing any new technology can be difficult. People are inherently resistant to change. Upper-level managers and executives are often hesitant to change processes when they perceive their current processes work. New technologies can be seen as expenses that may make a process fancier but do little to the bottom line.
But as mobile applications permeate nearly every aspect of our personal lives, more businesses are looking to mobile solutions for their accounting processes. A 2013 Bill.com survey of 510 finance executives found 66 percent were using mobile applications to approve bills and collect payments on some level.
Maybe it is time for a change.