Using Slack in the internal audit department

I love the idea of Slack. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s collaboration software for teams that replaces a lot of what we’re currently using email to do. It’s main features as far as I can tell are persistent chat rooms (channels), direct messaging, and file sharing with cloud integration.

It would be so great if audit software did something like this, along with the audit specific features we need like work paper approval and sign-off, issue tracking, and report generation. All the audit software I’ve seen and used is just so clunky and poorly designed. I guess it’s too much of a niche market to get really well designed software that is polished and complete.

With Slack, you could set up a specific channel for each audit, or even sections within an audit (e.g. procurement), or phases of the audit (e.g. planning). Invite only those team members that are involved in that area of the audit to the channel, and add people later as needed. They’ll be able to read back and catch up on what’s happened before they joined.

So much of email is sending files back and forth, which would be eliminated with Slack. You wouldn’t even need to let someone know via email that a file’s been updated and is ready for review by the team or manager, since that communication would be within Slack too.

Are there any internal audit teams out there using Slack to reduce email volume and work collaboratively?

Twitter for accounting professionals?

Dennis wrote a post a few days ago about Twitter within “a business context” entitled “The pain of disruption“:

I want to DO something with Twitter. The more I think about what Twitter might deliver, the more scary it becomes. Twitter challenges my ingrained notions of how services and value are delivered.

In case you haven’t heard of Twitter, it is basically like group instant messaging. You create your own account and start making small (144 characters is the max) posts about what you’re doing or thinking about. Other Twitterers “follow” you and receive your postings on their home page.

For whatever reason the post really ignited something within me and I found myself commenting right away, although with an idea that sort of just fell out of my brain half-baked:

Off the top of my head, how about Twitter channels for large, distributed groups working together (I’m thinking specifically of audit teams but there are obviously other applications) to aid communication. Group IM seems useful as long as it can be secured for sensitive business.

I continued to ruminate on the issue and hoped some more ideas could be generated.

How about for Twitter for an entire accounting firm office? I could throw out a question to the entire firm, like “Does anyone have a GST reconciliation schedule template handy?” or “Why is the capital gains exemption limited to only qualified small business corporation shares?”

Being able to ask those sorts of questions is helpful since I’m rarely in the office unless it’s busy season (and even then it’s just evenings and weekends). Being able to ask my more senior colleagues technical questions when I’m in the field would be great, but not too different from using email. The difference I guess would be not having to enter all their addresses.

How about using Twitter to communicate with clients? This has some possibilities as well. Being able to communicate with clients about new accounting standards coming into effect, or relevant changes to tax law would improve client service and provide timely updates that blows the current model away.

Any other ideas for using Twitter within a business context or specifically for accountants?

IT departments are not leading innovation in firms

An article in The Economist’s December 23, 2006 holiday double issue caught my attention. It reported on how Arizona State University was converting their email system over to use Google’s free hosted service, under the “Google Apps for your Domain” offering that I blogged about back in August last year. I’m still using the service for my @neilmcintyre.ca email and it works great.

Unlike the university’s old system, which stores emails [sic] on its own server computers, the new accounts reside on Gmail, Google’s free web-based service. [The IT department at ASU] is not forcing anybody to change but has found that the students, many of whom were already using Gmail for their private email, have been voluntarily migrating to the new service at a rate of 300 per hour.

Unfortunately since The Economist protects its online content and I’m not a subscriber, I don’t have access to the online version of the story and cannot link to it in its entirety. Shame.

[The new head of IT at ASU] is ahead of his time because most IT bosses tend to be skeptical of consumer technologies and often ban them outright. Employees, in turn, tend to ignore their IT departments.

That passage really resonated with me. I think accounting firms have the most extreme cases of this happening since so many employees of firms are young like me and have used these technologies since early high school. I know more of my peers at work with banned software on their computers than I know without.

But as long as IT departments are so out of touch with their own area of expertise, it will continue. Just last week our IT department sent out an email with this gem: “Windows XP is extremely stable…”

I can’t figure out whether they were trying to put on a strong face about our critical IT infrastructure, or whether they actually believed the fiction that Microsoft products resemble anything close to stable.

There are myriad free tools available to improve productivity in corporations. Accounting firms should lead the charge given that auditors are most often out of the office at client sites where IT resources are varied and usually inadequate for our needs.

Tools like Basecamp for organizing and collaborating with audit team members, IM using Google Talk or MSN, and web-based email such as Gmail which integrates smart calendaring and the aforementioned IM, would lead to massive productivity gains. Security is the only issue at this point, but with the right approach to mitigating the risks, it can be done, and it can be done now, rather than years from now.

Online whiteboard perfect for collaboration

GE has designed a free web-based whiteboard you can use without any registration and can invite others to join your session via email or instant messenger.

The service offers more advanced drawing tools than just scribbling around freestyle, too. You can create shapes, type text, create straight lines, change the background colour, and stamp various symbols. It’s crying out for a tablet but is still pretty useful.

I may try to incorporate something like this into a future audit planning meeting, as soon as I’m experienced enough to run one.