With more than three decades of experience in the accounting profession, I have seen firsthand the impact that information technology has had on the tools and applications that we utilize, as well as the way we work and manage our firms. Below is a list of seven business reasons for firm owners to consider when comparing workflow processes in a traditional, on-premises environment compared to those moved to cloud-based solutions.
1. Remote Access
Accounting applications in the cloud are by design built for remote access allowing anyone with an Internet-enabled workstation to access the program from their office, their home, or the client’s location, whichever is most convenient to the accountant. Data is accessible at any time without needing to go to the office and in many cases, applications can also be accessed on smartphones or tablets, providing even more mobility and client responsiveness.
2. Data Centralization
Working on a file in the cloud centralizes all data, reducing issues with version control that can happen when files are checked out and worked on locally. This is an issue that has long hounded auditors. Cloud applications allow accountants working at a client site to have their work reviewed remotely by a partner in the office and concurrently make corrections on documents, such as financial statements.
3. Improved Collaboration
With data centralized and accessible remotely, all team members can work concurrently on the same data set in real time versus passing the work back and forth, which can cause differences in interpretation. Utilizing collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and Slack allow for team members to see and work on documents together.
4. Reduced Maintenance
Firms maintaining their own applications usually need to schedule a time when everyone is out of the application, which can delay the updates and requires firm personnel to run the updates. This can lead to delays in critical tax software updates that could require some returns to be reprocessed after the update. Cloud providers load the latest software and make it available for all users concurrently (which is not the case of internal applications, some that need to be loaded on individual workstations when the workstation is available).
5. Improved Support
When firms call an application vendor for help, the support person has to figure out the firm’s network environment and versions before offering direction. Cloud-based applications all run on the same platform and version, making it easier and quicker to resolve application support issues.
6. Managed Cost
Firms that maintain their own network infrastructure need to estimate their five-year growth and capacity needs and integrate those estimates into their existing network infrastructure, including managing the design, vendor quotes, installation, and ongoing maintenance. In the event of an acquisition or sudden growth, the process must be repeated. This can be an issue, as most firms do not have the optimum IT resources to ensure they are making the best decisions. Cloud-vendors allow for almost unlimited scalability and manage all of the technical aspects and decisions for a fixed per user fee which makes it easier from both time- and cost-perspectives to manage.
Internal IT people do the best they can to ensure the firm’s networks are protected, but seldom have the ongoing training and resources necessary to make it a full-time responsibility, something that in today’s world is required. The majority of cloud vendors have enterprise-class infrastructures with dedicated security teams with 24/7 monitoring, going well beyond the capabilities for any individual firm to implement.
Firm owners need to educate themselves on how digital workflows and cloud technology can improve teamwork and client service. Discussing the seven items above before renewing any software license will allow the firm to focus more clearly on the optimal solutions that cloud provides.
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