What field auditors can teach us about working remotely under Coronavirus conditions.
By Roman H. Kepczyk
Quantum of Paperless
The advent of today’s audit “document container” applications has transitioned every aspect of audit production into a digital format. But the equipment auditors have been adopting in the field is now painfully relevant with new coronavirus work-at-home mandates. We can apply a few lessons today.
The key to successfully using these engagement applications is to make sure your personnel have the optimal equipment with them to work digitally. This includes multiple monitors, image capture equipment and remote communications capabilities.
Firms have experienced how dual monitors improved overall productivity within the office and it is just as important for auditors to take that advantage into the field. According to the CPAFMA Paperless Benchmark Survey, 79 percent of firms are carrying a second monitor in the field. As the tax department upgrades to triple and oversize monitors, older flat-panel monitors are available for the audit team to take into the field – or, preferably, portable units are purchased such as Lenovo’s LT1421, ASUS MB169B+ and HP’s U160 and EliteDisplays. Firms should always pilot a mobile monitor before buying in volume as firms that purchased budget monitors in the past found them to have inadequate brightness options, be bulky to transport and have poor screen clarity.
While it is preferable to have clients transfer files electronically to the firm, a number of supporting documents are not available to the auditor until they are onsite and meeting with the client. For those documents that are only in a physical format, the audit team should have access to a portable scanner that can capture images at a speed of at least 10 pages per minute. Traditionally, firms have standardized on the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX series, which have been cost-effective and portable.
One issue is that the ScanSnap has not been “TWAIN” compliant. TWAIN capabilities allow a scanned image to be edited as a document rather than as an image and today’s audit binder tools can import TWAIN documents directly into the index. This has led a shift to firms either buying the more expensive Fujitsu fi series scanners or to other portable scanners such as the Canon DR series that are TWAIN-compliant.
Finally, it is critical that firms provide internet connectivity to all audit team members so that they can
- access firm resources,
- synchronize their audit binders and
- enter time and expenses daily.
Often, clients provide audit teams with a usable internet connection. When clients provide access it is a good idea to outline the required parameters in the engagement letter. In any audit engagement of more than a few days, firms need to provide alternative access through digital cellular networks if the client cannot provide useable access.
Standalone mobile "hotspots" or those configured via today’s smartphones provide internet access at speeds of well over 1Mbps, which is effective if the firm has remote access through a cloud-based application or a direct link to their office workstation (via remote desktop access). They also can use a more robust solution such as Citrix or Remote Desktop Server for a larger number of users. Current smartphone "hotspots" and the MiFi devices allow up to five auditors to effectively share one connection.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Outfit audit teams with appropriate digital tools and training to work effectively in the field.