Category: Mobile Productivity

Business Grade Hardware Only, Please

One of the more important things that CPAs and other financial professionals should do is to buy good quality hardware.  This can be accomplished in a number of ways, but I have two basic rules for purchasing computer hardware

The first rule: Buy hardware produced by a leading manufacturer.

While you can save a little money by purchasing “off brand” hardware, you will almost always lose that time when you have to deal with proprietary device drivers or cheap build quality.  Although you could purchase that computer from someone besides HP/Dell/Lenovo, I have a suggestion:  Don’t do it.  The risk is too high, and the return is insignificant.  Don’t.

The second rule: Buy business grade hardware

Most computer makers have two grades of hardware: Home grade hardware and business grade hardware.  Unfortunately, many professionals pay more attention to the hardware branding rather than the build quality.  I generally feel good about the products coming from the “big 3” major manufacturers – Dell, HP, and Lenovo.  I would add to that list (insofar as build quality is concerned) the Microsoft Surface Pro line of tablets (but not the Surface tablet/laptop).  I also list Apple hardware as home grade – primarily due to the complexity of dealing with MacOS and Windows on the same machine.  Many people disagree with me on this point (the Apple fans, primarily), but given that I do speaking and consulting to CPAs, and they generally are required to use Windows applications, I generally discourage Mac adoption.  (I would remind you, the gentle reader, that it’s a free country, and if you want a Mac, go buy one – but don’t complain to me when your users can’t handle dealing with the cost, complexity, and memory requirements of Parallels desktop running a purchased Windows license – to each his (or her) own.)

My current working list of product lines which appear to be “Home Grade” vs. those which are “Business Grade” follows.

Business grade laptop/desktop hardware lines

· HP laptops: EliteBook, ProBook, ZBook

· HP desktops: EliteDesk, ProDesk, EliteOne, ProOne, Z-series

· Dell Laptops: Latitude, some Vostro, Precision Mobile Workstation devices

· Dell desktops: Optiplex, Precision

· Lenovo laptops: Thinkpad, B-series devices

· Lenovo desktops: M-series, P-series, Thinkcentre, Thinkstation

· Microsoft Surface Pro tablet/laptop

Home-grade laptop/desktop hardware lines

· HP laptops: Stream, Streambook, Pavilion , Phoenix, Envy, Omen, Spectre

· HP desktops: Stream, Pavilion, any others not in business grade device list

· Lenovo laptops: Ideapad, Flex, E, G, L, S, U, and Z-series

· Lenovo desktops: A, B, C, H, K, and Q-series.  Horizon and Erazer series devices

· Dell laptops: Inspiron, some Vostro

· Dell desktops: Inspiron, XPS, Alienware, 3000, 5000, and 7000 series

· All Chromebooks, Chromeboxes

· Microsoft Surface (not Surface Pro) tablet/laptops

· All Apple-branded laptops and desktops


Recent Software Company M&A Activity

As readers of this blog know, the only constant in the accounting technology space is change itself.  With that in mind, I wanted to let you know about some recent acquisition announcements in the accounting space.

SAP to Acquire Concur– Enterprise software giant SAP announced after the market closed last Friday that they have an agreement in principle to acquire the outstanding shares of Bellevue, Washington based Concur Technologies.  Concur provides tools for managing the expense reimbursement process in small companies (with a SaaS offering) and with an on-premises expense management toolkit for enterprises.  (Source: @WSJ)

Sage to Acquire PayChoice  – Small and mid-sized business management company Sage has announced an agreement to purchase PayChoice, a provider of payroll and HR services for small businesses over a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform.  Sage’s press release described PayChoice as follows:

Founded in 1990, PayChoice is headquartered in New Jersey with 260 employees and 16 offices across the US.  PayChoice provides full-service and self-service payroll and HR services to more than 100,000 SMBs in the US, through a direct sales force and third-party licensee channel.  PayChoice’s revenue for FY13 was US$38.9m.

PayChoice has developed a next generation, cloud-based payroll and reporting platform called ENCORE.  The platform, which was launched in September 2011, encompasses both mobile and web-based payroll applications, operating from a single codebase for both its direct and licensee clients.  ENCORE supports the needs of businesses with self-service solutions through to more complex full-service solutions on the same platform, supporting the needs of SMBs as they grow.

The release also disclosed that consideration for the purchase was approximately $157.8M (converted from GPB at a rate of 1:$1.628)

From the release:

“PayChoice is an excellent business, with a strong management team, attractive cloud platform and a proven business model based on supporting the needs of small and medium-sized businesses and licensees,” said Pascal Houillon, president and CEO, Sage North America.  “We are excited about the growth opportunity that the combination of Sage and PayChoice creates in this market and delighted to welcome the management and staff of PayChoice to Sage.”

Payroll and compliance with constantly changing employer regulations are two consistent challenges for SMBs.  This acquisition will enable Sage to provide intuitive payroll solutions as well as integrated ancillary services such as tax filing and direct deposit as part of the company’s core offerings, making it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to consolidate and review business data, manage relationships, and simplify day-to-day operations.

Infor Completes Acquisition of SalesLogix – Infor announced earlier this month that they have completed their acquisition of the assets of the SalesLogix CRM application from Swiftpage.  Readers may recall that Sage spun off both SalesLogix and Act! to Swiftpage in early 2013. as part of a series of deals which included spinning off Sage Non-Profit Solutions (now called Abila) to a private equity group run by KKR-Accel.

Consideration was not disclosed by either party, but Infor did mention that SalesLogix is used by 70,000 customers at 1,700 organizations who use SalesLogix.  300 of these companies use both SalesLogix as well as one of Infor’s solutions.  Infor plans to incorporate the product into Infor CloudSuite, a set of cloud applications which run on Amazon to meet the needs of specialized industries.


Shocker: TrueCrypt Discontinued, Official Page Says It Has Security Issues

Open source drive encryption tool Truecrypt announced that the product is discontinued on its main website today, and the official website has been replaced with directions for getting any encrypted data moved to Bitlocker-protected drives. The website says that “Using TrueCrypt is not secure as it may contain unfixed security issues”

Story from Ars Technica:

Directions for Getting Data Out:

Coming on the heels of the OpenSSL vulnerability, this may shake the confidence which businesses have in the reliability of open source software. Although the purchase price seems right for open source (free), the cost of unexpected announcements like this, the lack of professional management, and other issues with the practical maintenance and implementation of such products makes commercial software look better all of the time.

If you are using TrueCrypt as your hard disk encryption tool, we recommend that you transition to Windows Bitlocker, PGP Whole Disk Encryption, or another solution ASAP.

Update 6/4/2014

A group of developers has set up a website for a new “branch” of TrueCrypt development.  While this new group may do a great job, disk encryption is not a place where you should cut corners.  I’d stay away from TrueCrypt and go with commercial solutions – we need some answers on why the first group shut the project down and what the code audit has discovered before it gets back onto my “safe” list.  (I’m using Bitlocker in W81 Pro).

Update 3/30/2018

A branch off of the TrueCrypt code has been launched called VeraCrypt.  You can learn more about it at their website,

#CES2014 Kickoff Event: #Drones #Cloud #POS #Wearables #FuelCells #HomeAutomation

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#CES2014 kicked off last night with the “CES Unveiled” event. I attended, and as it’s not my first trip to CES, it seemed like there was a good mix of evolution and revolution in the products on display.  Some of the major themes on display were as follows:



Even though I called #BS on the Amazon Prime Air publicity stunt a few weeks ago, drones are still going to be a big leap forward in 2014.  The drones on display at the event were very impressive, and I could see how they could be utilized in a number of scenarios for home and business use, including:

  • Imaging and agricultural yield management in a large field
  • Live traffic reporting from trouble spots around a city
  • Crowd management at an outdoor event
  • Real time overhead video at a football game
  • Surveillance by law enforcement
  • Overhead security camera for a large parking lot
  • Delivery of packages by Amazon

While I’m still not crazy about having millions of drones overhead, I think there are some practical uses of this technology.  Let’s just make sure that we get the NSA under control before we start using these things in earnest, OK?

If you are still not convinced about how far robotics and design have come in this area, I encourage you to watch Adam Savage’s video where he demos his robotic spider.  The capabilities which have been achieved in this space are amazing.

#Cloud #POS

First Data was exhibiting the Clover point of sale system, which is a tricked out Android tablet that’s used along with a cloud-based point of sale system to process transactions and manage retail stores.  (Clover was purchased by First Data in 4Q 2013)  While I spent a very short period of time at their table (which was very crowded), it looked very impressive, and I plan to visit them during the show.  The overview video from their press kit appears below.

An Intro to the Clover cloud-based point of sale system


It is clear that wearables will be a big topic of discussion at this years International CES, but I didn’t get a good barometer on how ready the products are for the real world. Everyone had their obligatory “Dick Tracy” bluetooth smartwatch which served as a second, smaller screen that pairs with your phone, but none of these have impressed me as “life changers” thus far. More on this later in the show.  There were a number of exhibitors at the event who were presenting their take on the next evolution in the FitBit exercise tracking devices.  Notably absent was Google Glass as well as other devices which use “heads up displays” to access information without using traditional screens.


The most interesting wearable I saw was a pair of swim goggles with embedded heart monitoring.  This item was displayed in a showcase of award winners by CEA (pictured above), but was not available for testing at the event.


The Upp fuel cell, which will be distributed in the US by Brookstone (MSRP $199, available in Q1 2014) looked very interesting, and there were signs that this technology will be on display elsewhere at this year’s show.  I’m glad to see this technology finally reaching the market, and hope to be able to evaluate this product for a future post.


A second fuel cell vendor named Brunton was on display in a glass case as a CEA award winner, but I was not able to speak with a company representative about this product’s capabilities and US distribution outlets.  I hope to see them during the show later this week.


The Lowes Home Improvement Iris platform (via the Killer Bee) was announced, and is an interesting platform for managing connected devices in the home which I would love to review in my own home at some point (hint, hint, Lowe’s PR people).  (existing components and offerings are available online here).

The Arrayent Connect platform is a cloud-based framework for integrating connected home devices
from multiple ecosystems together.  This toolset appears to make it possible to connect enterprise applications, mobile applications, and analytical tools to devices which four major communication protocols (Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, AC900/868, and ZigBee).  The company’s offerings are targeted at manufacturers, systems integrators, and others who want to connect devices together from multiple manufacturers across multiple platforms without needing to write code.

Since Arrayent is selling their technology to go under the hood of products from Maytag, Whirlpool, I don’t expect you to hear much news about them in the coming months.  The company’s efforts are still important to solving the problem of communications and “data plumbing” between the wide range of connected devices we use every day.

In summary, I recommend that you stay tuned.  I’ll continue to separate the wheat from the chaff at this year’s harvest of new technologies and devices over the next few days, and will present many of these items in a webinar, “From CES to You: New Productivity Tools for 2014” on February 6 from 1P-3P ET.


It’s Time for Two Factor Authentication, SaaS Vendors. NOW, not later.

You’ve heard about the security issues at a number of organizations in the last few weeks.  Thankfully, there haven’t been any breaches at software companies who serve professional accountants (except maybe for Evernote – although I don’t know that I would put HIPAA or taxpayer data in that service).  One of the important things that is coming out of this is that major software vendors like Evernote and Google are planning to implement a security approach called “Two Factor Authentication”.  While I won’t go into much detail on how it works (although there’s a good Wikipedia article here), the basics are as follows:

Security tokens, like the RSA SecurID above, have a formula which generates a new six digit code every minute that is used as a one time password.

There are three basic ways to validate someone’s identity

  • Something they know (username, password, PIN, etc.)
  • Something they have (cell phone, RSA token, USB key, etc.)
  • Something they are (biometric identification like fingerprinting, face identification, or iris scans).

Historically, we’ve used only one factor of authentication – a username and password – to access most online systems.  While this is adequate for some information types, the sophistication of phishing attacks and other techniques used by the “bad guys” requires a more sophisticated approach to security.  Two factor authentication normally requires users to validate their credentials to two servers – one which controls the username and password, and a second which validates that they have a particular device or item through a one time password.

I’ve used a number of two factor authentication devices in my career, including:

All of the devices worked well, and I still use some of them to authenticate to many services.

One important point is that the use of factors other than passwords (something you know) is not a panacea.  Use of any of the items listed above in lieu of a password doesn’t accomplish anything.  The real benefit comes from using these tools in ADDITION to a username and a password.  Even if a person with bad intent knew your username and password, they would be screened out by the second factor, whether it is biometrics (fingerprint, iris, or face) or a device you have (token, cell phone, smart card, USB key).  Just like high security installations have more than one layer of security, you want the same layers of security verifying that you are really you online.

The ugly reality of the accounting profession is that a significant breach would undermine the confidence that others have in the profession, and could send us back to the ‘90s with some technologies used in business today.  It’s hard enough to be a small business in our economy without having to deal with concerns about security of data.

It’s time for two factor authentication with online services, people.  Ask your vendors about their support for it, and look for opportunities to protect your data with these types of authentication regimes.  It’s time for this technology – we can’t wait for some practitioner to lose their house over an online information breach to deal with this significant issue.


Finding Your Apple or Android Device

While I was at CES last week, I quickly wrote up my success in locating, tracking, and retrieving my cell phone from one of a company’s 400 taxis in Las Vegas.  (The article is here).  Although it cost me $100 in reward money to get my Windows Phone back, the money it took was nothing compared to the $550 it would have cost to replace the phone.  At the end of that post, I promised to revisit this topic and let users know how to locate, track, and recover their iOS and Android devices.  While the tracking in iOS and Android takes a little more work (you have to use iCloud on iOS/MacOS X, and it requires a third party app on Android), it is possible to locate your device on these popular operating systems.

Disclaimer: Do NOT use these tools to track your employees or significant other, as it’s extremely creepy, and tracking employees may be illegal and/or a violation of your terms of service with the carrier and/or manufacturer.

Apple Devices (iOS and MacOS)

While the previous post was focused on locating your Windows Phone, it is relatively simple to implement location tracking on Apple devices.  To track the location of your device requires you to do the following:

1. You must register your device in iCloud.

2. You can then track your device when it connects online in iCloud when you go online.  An example of me tracking my MacBook Air is in the image below.

FindMy iPhone

3. If required, the device can be locked, wiped, and reset from the iCloud console.

Note: It is a violation of the End User License Agreement to track business devices with iCloud.  Don’t do it – it’s creepy, and you WILL be found out by the target.

Android Devices (Prey Project)

There are a number of different tools for tracking Android devices; some of the more popular tools include The Prey Project , LookOut Mobile Security (requires a subscription), and Where’s My Droid (Lifehacker 2010 post here).

Tracking your device using the Prey Project is shown in the image below, which is a location report from my Nexus 10 tablet.  I have a personal subscription to this tool. which is $5/month for device tracking on up to three devices.  Lifehacker has a good article on how to use this tool.

PreyProject Nexus 10


Recovering a Lost Cell Phone in 2013

I’ve lost some cell phones in my time (a hazard of traveling 100,000 miles a year).  It is no fun to lose anything – especially a smartphone.  Lost smartphones have lots of data, and are $500 or so to replace.  No fun.  In the past, I’ve spent hours calling people to find my lost phone, but today, I was able to lose, locate, track, and receive my lost phone in about 15 minutes total.  It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had with technology, and my hat’s off to Microsoft, Verizon, and the Lucky Cab Company of Las Vegas (no, I’m not kidding) for making this post possible.


This week, I’m in Las Vegas covering the Consumer Electronics Show.  Today, I took a taxi from my hotel to the Venetian for a meeting.  Unfortunately, I was “under-caffeinated”, and accidentally left my new Windows Phone (HTC 8X for VZW) in a taxi.  [For those keeping score, a lost HTC 8X is a $550 problem].  Needless to say, I was a little… um… stressed.  I then remembered that I could locate my phone any time at, and located the my phone, which I could verify was in a taxi.


I locked the phone from, and made it make noise so the driver or subsequent passenger would find the device.  I also put a message on the phone that said “Lost Phone, Please call 865-202-4160  (My friend Sean’s phone) to arrange for return and payment of $100 reward.”

My friend, Sean, called the taxi company on his phone (I had a receipt with the company name and number), and over five minutes, I tracked the phone.  We refreshed the location about every two minutes, and passed the location of the phone to the dispatcher at the cab company.  The dispatcher tracked the position reports from the 400 taxis which worked for the taxi company we used, and called our driver on the radio.  The driver located the phone (large sigh of relief), and we continued to coordinate meeting the driver at the Venetian.

Our cab pulled up about 10 minutes later, and I was thrilled to see my phone again.  I gladly gave the driver a $100 tip for bringing my phone back.  I entered my lock code to enable my phone, and I went to my meeting (with five minutes to spare).  Overall, this was a great experience.  [Sometimes technology really saves your bacon.]

[Next time, I’ll explain how you can do this kind of tracking and (if necessary) remote wiping of data on the Android, Windows Phone, and iOS (Apple) operating systems.]


CES 2012 Wrapup

As happens every year, I ran out of caffeine, battery power, or both toward the end of CES 2012.  As such, I’ve been looking through my notes to clean up some of my writing for various sources which will discuss what I saw there. Some of the things which I found very interesting included:

  • DocuSign Ink, which is electronic signature service used by millions.
  • iTwin’s simple file sharing device, which now supports multiple paired keys to a single shared location.
  • Encrypted storage from Imation and Ironkey, as well as the future of authentication.
  • Two Factor Authentication from a credit card, with PIN authentication (!)
  • Kingston’s WiDrive flash-based file sharing device
  • New scanners from Visioneer/Xerox, LG, and Canon to fill niches in the portable scanner market
  • Security and filtering tools for smartphones from Absolute Security and NetNanny
  • Home automation tools such as the Nest Learning Thermostat and smart garage door openers from providers which can (1) tell you what the condition of the monitored system is (e.g. temperature or whether or not the door is currently open) and (2) change the temperature or close the door from you using a smartphone app.
  • Elder care devices from some providers which use your cell phone instead of the Lifecall (“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”) device, and which will tell you if your senior didn’t take their medicine, as well as if they haven’t checked in when they’re supposed to.

Since I’m selling the stuff I’ve written on this to someone, I’m going to withhold the data from this space, but I’ll post the link (and the content, if the contract permits it) when the story goes live.


Tax Research, Rethought and Mobile Apps for Practitioners

There are a lot of questions about how social media outlets will change the way practitioners do tax research in the future.  While practitioners need access to authoritative publications and interpretative guidance, there is also a need to ask a peer a question.  In the past, we might have done this at the water cooler, or over lunch with a peer, but in the age of the virtual office, these opportunities may be more difficult.

While Intuit is a long-time provider of tax tools for individuals and practitioners, they have shown some fresh thinking in their professional tax research offering.  The tool, ProLine Tax Research, includes authoritative content from BNA and IRS Forms/Publications.  Peer to peer advice is facilitated on a virtual community.  Questions and answers can be searched and retrieved at will from a user community.

The White Paper is available for download from at the following link:

Another place where innovation is taking place is in the mobile space.  Many publishers are creating mobile applications or websites which support mobile browsers for their product offerings.  Mobile applications for practitioners include:

There are many other applications out there related to tax & accounting.  These include the recently announced IRS2GO application, vendor provided tax refund checkers, and many others.  Many authors have written about mobile applications for practitioners in The CPA Practice Advisor, my favorite publication for the tax & accounting space.


Report from CES 2011, Part 3: Digital Ecosystems and Device Convergence

This is the final article in a series of posts about innovations on display at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month in (fabulous) Las Vegas.  This article will discuss how your electronics can talk to each other using standards like DLNA, as well as show the latest “SuperPhone”, the Motorola Atrix.

Interconnected Ecosystems of Electronics

Although new mobile phones are traditionally announced at telecommunications-centered trade shows, CES 2011 featured many new devices which illustrate how mobile devices, consumer electronics, and computers are converging into a series of devices which work together. This new model means that in addition to connecting your Blu-Ray player to your home theater and your LED television, you will be able to connect many other devices in a “plug and play” ecosystem which can be operated easily. This new model means that:

· Users can connect a smart phone or a tablet to your wireless network, and it can either play back content on the phone/tablet or use the wireless network to work as a remote control for any supported device.

· Smart television sets can run applications to access web content like FaceBook, Yahoo!, YouTube, make phone calls using Skype, or to display media files from your existing network. Most new television sets feature digital connections such as HDMI, DVI, fiber optics, wireless networks, or traditional wired networks to transmit data between devices and work with your internet connection.

· Set top boxes like the D-Link Boxee Box, Apple TV, the Roku HD, or Google TV allow existing “dumb” TV sets to access this new digital world.

· Gaming devices like the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox360 serve as players on these networks, and also integrate with gaming ecosystems like Xbox Live and Windows Phone 7. Devices like the Xbox Kinect allow for remoteless control of electronic devices, and will allow users to socialize virtually using Avatars in a virtual world to connect people around the world.

· Smart speakers allow audio to be “pushed” to network-attached audio devices using a remote or other device.

· Devices which you may have never considered “personal electronics” may interface with your home theater and gaming systems in new and useful ways. For example, the Panasonic booth at CES featured a NordicTrack exercise machine that communicated with Panasonic’s Viera home electronics ecosystem.

Most of these devices uses a relatively new standard called DLNA – the Digital Living Network Alliance ( to communicate with each other over direct digital cables as well as using existing wired and wireless computer networks. Although most major electronics companies participate in DLNA, which was founded by Sony, some companies such as Apple prefer to market devices which do not communicate using the open DLNA standards.

Businesses should consider the security risks associated with attaching these “smart” devices to business networks, as they may become a new vector for malware, spyware, and privacy breaches. For example, a home network attached storage device which includes a media server might offer hackers and disgruntled employees an open portal into confidential files through security vulnerabilities on the media server.

The Motorola Atrix: A Case Study in Convergence

Probably the most innovative device at CES 2011 was Motorola’s Atrix 4G smartphone. Although this device is really a smartphone, it represents the first wave in a series of new crossover devices which have the form factor of a smart phone, but can morph into a portable computer by placing them into a series of docking stations, including:

· A “lapdock” docking station which allows the Atrix 4G to function as a traditional laptop running the Android operating system.

· A more traditional docking station, which allows connectivity to monitors and TV sets using a micro-HDMI cable, as well as the use of a mouse and keyboard connected with USB or Bluetooth.

This device has both front and rear-facing cameras (1.3MP and 5.0MP, respectively), will record video in 720P high definition format, and will play back content in full 1080P HD resolution over an included micro-HDMI port. (Motorola indicates that this tiny powerhouse will make phone calls on AT&T at its initial launch, but eventually should land on most major carriers).

imageimage image

Figure 10 – The Motorola Atrix 4G represents a new breed of smart devices which can morph into a laptop or a media player when properly accessorized. Some journalists are classifying the Atrix in a new category – the “SuperPhone”.

The Atrix can also download applications from the Android Marketplace to accomplish additional tasks, such as controlling home electronic devices using a remote control application.