Accounting & CPA Firms Improve Productivity with Cloud Technology
Cloud technologies help you collaborate with your clients with greater ease providing higher levels of service. When you use the cloud, much of the hard technology work is done by others and you can focus on delivering your knowledge and providing value. Solving your client’s business problem effectively makes both you and your client more productive, thereby increasing your value to the client.
What capabilities are working well in the cloud and should be considered to improve productivity? What are the risks and costs? When should you choose Software as a Service (SaaS), private and public cloud offerings? Most importantly, how do these decisions affect productivity?
Several software publishers are now providing tools that enable us to work entirely in the cloud. For example, Microsoft Office 365 is a blend of storage in Microsoft public cloud data centers, applications that can be run through a browser and traditional Microsoft Office that can work locally or connect to the cloud storage. Alternatively, everything that you are running on your local machine today or on a network in your office can be hosted at a cloud provider. The key capability that cloud technologies provide are simpler user experience for clients and yourself.
First, the Options
A big transition is occurring in the technology industry where vendors have completely re-written their applications to be multi-user and multi-tenant, running only in a browser, known as SaaS. Here are some examples – and keep in mind all of these product examples are public cloud offerings and can be connected to each other.
- SmartVault created a document management system that can be used with all Intuit® products for storage of documents in the cloud.
- Bill.com created a bill payment and cash flow management system.
- ShareFile created a portal and file transfer system that is also integrated into Microsoft Outlook.
- Productivity applications that are SaaS include the Microsoft Office Web Apps and Google Docs.
- Intuit Tax Online and QuickBooks® Online run in SaaS versions as well as authorized hosting providers for QuickBooks desktop software.
Traditional Windows-based applications can be hosted in a data center. Publishers of legacy software are releasing updates to aid in the transition from the local area network and personal computer-installed model to enable smooth operations in a hosted environment. Files and applications can be private or shared on a computer hardware infrastructure used by more than one company.
Intuit lists authorized QuickBooks hosting companies on their website including: Cloud 9 Real Time, InSynq, Cloudvara, Right Networks, Unidata and many more. All of these companies would be examples of hosting services for traditional desktop applications and are also public cloud offerings. When security is set up correctly, your private data will be secure. Some vendors would argue that even though you are sharing common data center and applications, your firm’s data is kept private and they’ll refer to their offering as a private cloud.
Private clouds are where you build your technologies in-house or in hosting centers that provide a completely separate infrastructure using offerings such as Citrix XenApp, Citrix XenDesktop or VMware View. You may find the long-term costs to be more or less when you build a private cloud in-house and you will typically see greater speed and flexibility. Private clouds also provide users the ability to run from anywhere, anytime with similar performance to the traditional office. A few vendors, including Cloud 9 Real Time and InSynq, will build a separate private cloud for you at a premium charge. The key benefits to a private cloud are more flexibility, integration and customization, and in most cases, greater security but at a premium price.
So, Where’s the Productivity?
You should look at what you are trying to accomplish with your clients. How much data entry or other work is performed by the clients? Can the transaction data be keyed once or not at all? Can clients download transactions directly into their accounting software from their bank and credit cards? Can the transactions be automatically classified, or at least classified with minimal effort? Do you and your clients have multiple locations or the desire to work from home or other alternate locations? Do you have the need to quickly check the status or approve transactions? What if you can do this from a web browser, smartphone or tablet while waiting for an appointment or during idle time? Can the applications be used from anywhere, anytime and on any device?
Now think about your clients’ experience:
- What can you do to make everything a client touches easier?
- What if you can deliver reports, key business measures and other alerts automatically?
- What if you can standardize processes and chart of accounts by industry?
- Would you be able to deliver better operational information and business advice?
- What if there are no file transfers needed for everyone involved to look at current data?
We want our clients to stay on current versions of the applications, but there is no value that helps the business in updating software. What if this can be done automatically by someone else in non-business hours? SaaS and hosting providers update the software for you and your clients, which is a key productivity gain.
Picture every service that your client needs. Consider how you can automate and integrate that service with cloud technologies. Solve each problem from billing and document management to payment integration, ecommerce with cloud solutions. You’ll discover that the integration is getting easier and better. The convenience and value of having the solution in the cloud makes the investment of time and money all worthwhile.