Looking after accountants in the cloud

The needs of accountancy practices are hugely varied, and for a reason. Firms can be anywhere from one or two people through to 50+ staff. More importantly though the IT knowledge and degree of technical amplitude varies ever more greatly. A small modern firm will have millennial staff that expect Wi-Fi, document management, and don’t see a problem with using social media at work. Conversely a very traditional firm will still embrace paper files, even faxing, and of course keeping the sacred office hours limited to 9-5pm.

Probably the biggest challenge to face the industry over the last twenty years has been the adoption of desktop applications – software to deal with complex compliance work. Tax returns of all types, final accounts and company secretarial matters have been, for a long time, managed in many case by professional software. Not only is that software potentially expensive, it typically requires a good level of IT knowledge to manage it properly.

In addition to managing the software tools needed for staff, stakeholders and owners are also under pressure to recover the full working week from staff who are often billed out by the hour. Add of top of this complex software upgrades and it is easy to see why an accountancy practice would love to outsource it’s IT function if economically viable.

PaaS versus SaaS
This is where a specialist firm such as Hosted Accountants can help. We are simply providing a managed platform to free owners from the perils of managing and updating IT systems. We are not pretending to be a full SaaS solution – that will arrive but it will take the industry several more years until there is a suitable, quality option available. For now the best way to embrace the cloud is to utilise a cloud (data centre) based server and access and run applications from there. Modern RDP/Citrix technology means this can be done on any device, anywhere in the world subject to some form of internet signal.

In our service provision model we manage not just the applications but also the other aspects of running an IT function that would have previously taken up staff time. This includes backing up not just daily, but daily to at least two geographically separate secure locations in the UK. Add into the mix anti-virus, a full telephone help desk team, server monitoring and it is easy to see why the service is very appealing to firms. When considering providers it is important examine all the issues and requirements.

The Cloud Revolution
Many of the accountants we work in collaboration with are still confused as to why the cloud has suddenly appeared. They have been using the Internet, email, online banking and Facebook for nearly ten years – that is all cloud, held on a server somewhere waiting to be reached.

For many this confusion has been further compounded by the arrival of pure SaaS bookkeeping applications that now compete for the market compared to more traditional packages. Numerous packages now compete in a true online SaaS model with traditional players such as Sage, IRIS and Thomson Reuters.

The Tipping Point
Adoption of such services and the whole cloud ideology has increased within accountancy practices but is still patchy depending on the leadership of the individual practice, and how much they trust “the cloud” to manage data for them versus on-site.

Within the microcosm of the accountancy world our clients are bombarded with marketing messages, services, and new things to buy. Traditional vendors confuse the customer offering hybrid solutions or a quick-fix solution whilst they plan to produce a full SaaS offering which will take years.

Certainly for now a hosted DaaS platform is the ideal solution allowing both access to all legacy applications and data but also from anywhere, and without the worry of backups and security in-house.

For all the cloud marketing and adverts the real appeal for accountants is just being able to use all their stuff anywhere. I think this will happen eventually but there is a long way to go and a huge market at stake for those involved.

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