Lightening the Load

It's easy to understand why Wipfli LLP began a major paperless initiative four years ago. As a large accounting and business consulting firm, its work is document-intensive and often performed off-site at client offices. If documents weren't scanned into electronic format, auditors would spend more time physically handling information than working with it.

"If you think about the sheer volume of information we have to touch as auditors and tax preparers, it's frightening," says Dan Szidon, an audit partner at Wipfli. And with auditors working outside the office 70% of the time, "we want people to be as functional in the field as they are in the office."

For Tom Lenz, IT director at Wipfli, that has meant preparing standardized "kits" to enable groups of auditors to effectively work at a customer site for weeks at a time. The kits include a Canon DR-2080c scanner, a Canon i80 printer, a Linksys WRT54G wireless router and one of three models of Dell laptops.

With this equipment, teams can effectively share data via a wireless connection. Members of the auditing team can work on various tasks and then save data back to the team lead's laptop. The team lead also backs up the data either to a USB device or via an Internet connection to Wipfli's own servers.

However, although the kits have been in place for 18 months, there are still support issues. "As easy as wireless networking is now compared to five years ago, it's still not always seamless," Lenz says. The IT group provides upfront training and prewritten scripts to ease the process, but "it's not perfect," he says.

Updating software and managing patches is a smoother process, Lenz says. He uses IPass Inc.'s Endpoint Policy Management system, which enables updates and patches to stream out to laptops when employees connect to the Internet. Large files automatically deploy themselves in stages if the connection doesn't last long enough.

With the previous system, employees had to connect to Wipfli's virtual private network for software updates to occur. "It was a more time-intensive and hands-on process," Lenz says.

Although Lenz has standardized the equipment in the kits, he hasn't enforced a particular model of mobile phone or PDA, although employees are encouraged to get a Windows-based mobile device for remote e-mail access.

A big reason Lenz can't enforce standardization is that no carrier adequately services the wide geographic area in which employees work, particular remote regions of Wisconsin. "It would simplify things a great deal if we could pick one vendor and one device, but there's physically not a provider that meets everyone's needs everywhere," he says.

Lenz has found that he needs to provide support 12 hours per day and have an on-call support staffer in place. "Support calls come in all different times of day," he says.

But Lenz says that it's all worth it. "Associates have more control over their environment when they're out on the road," he says. "Having a mobile device and access to e-mail keeps you in the loop and allows you to contribute to whatever is going on." 

See the complete Faces of Mobile IT special report.

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The Faces of Mobile IT

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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