Kickin' and Screamin' into the Cloud
By Jennifer Katrulya
How many times have you heard someone say, "I'd rather chew nails than go to the dentist?" Believe it or not – with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek – there are still some accounting professionals who would rather chew nails than move some or all of their practice to the Cloud.
As an early adopter of Cloud-based product and services, I'll admit that in the beginning, the Cloud had its ups and downs. Think about some of the earliest services available – online banking, for example. You'd submit a bill to be paid from your bank's website only to find out the bill wasn't paid due to "technical difficulties."
Fortunately, we've come a long way since then with significant improvements, based in a large part on Cloud providers like Cloud9 Real Time, Avalara, and Bill.com that specialize in doing what they do best: building solid infrastructures that speak to the three tenets of Cloud computing: reliability, availability, and security.
Just like any other activity, we move along with our daily lives without any real thought to what makes the Cloud actually work – you know, the man behind the curtain we really never want to see.
That's why I'm writing this article – to shed light on a series of LinkedIn discussions that was started by Carla Demers of Demers Accounting Services in Brooklyn, Connecticut. I reached out to Carla to get her thoughts about why she's been hesitant to move more of her work into the Cloud. I'm thinking many CPAs, accountants, and others in the profession reading this will definitely identify with what Carla had to say.
Jennifer: What's the ONE key thing that's keeping you from moving to the Cloud?
Carla: The major obstacle keeping me from moving to the Cloud would be the lack of understanding about how my client's information will remain secure. Often, you hear of data being hacked and information stolen. Of course, this could always happen on an office network, but I'm more concerned about an international breach and cyberspace terrorism. In a catastrophic event, if the Internet went down, it could be a period of time before it's "business as usual." If a client's data file is stored on-site, business can continue outside of the Cloud. Paychecks can still be issued, bills paid, and invoices generated.
Jennifer: I know you're working with some Cloud-based programs and services. What are they?
Carla: I have a small group of clients using QuickBooks Online, and I use ShareFile as a safe portal for transferring data. I have clients using hosted servers such as Right Networks, nonprofit clients using DonorPerfect, and clients exchanging information with several CPA firms through their own portals.
Jennifer: How do you back up your information?
Carla: I'm an advocate for on-site and off-site backups. This is one of the first areas I cover with my new clients, and I support having the data available from the Cloud. My own business is backed up on an external hard drive as well as through Mozy. A couple of examples of why a Cloud backup is important are in case a fire destroys your office space or if part of the building you're renting becomes uninhabitable. Not only can your computer information be destroyed, you may not be allowed into the building to retrieve anything! Having the data in the Cloud eliminates your business coming to a standstill.
Jennifer: What do you tell your clients about the Cloud when they ask you about it?
Carla: When a client inquires about the Cloud, I ask what type of services they're looking to perform and the goals they're trying to meet. I feel confident recommending all services I use in my own business. If a client was considering a full move and eliminating the bricks and mortar, I'd refer them to an expert, such as the BMRG Group Advisory Program. I'd love to shadow a client's full transition to the Cloud in order to get some hands-on experience.
Jennifer: So will you move more business into the Cloud anytime soon?
Carla: Although I'm hesitant about moving my entire practice to the Cloud, I'm not against it. It would take an enormous amount of time to educate myself on the details. Once I find a comfort level and the confidence that the Cloud is the place to be, I'd feel more apt to make the recommendations to my own clients. The issue is finding the time to become educated!
Three Tenets of Cloud Computing
As mentioned, there three tenets of Cloud computing: reliability, availability, and security. Here are simple definitions of each:
1. Reliability – Programs based in the Cloud are going to work the way providers tell you they'll work, without any blips. Programs or services are continually updated without the user having to do any kind of update on PCs and servers.
2. Availability – Cloud-based programs are always on – 24/7/365 – and available anywhere you want them to be: in your office, on the beach, and even on an airplane.
3. Security – All data is 100 percent safe and secure; the provider has geographically dispersed, redundant data centers.
What Do You Think?
Again, thanks Carla for your thoughts and your honest answers. There's a lot here to digest, but two points jumped out at me that are worth a few comments:
"The major obstacle keeping me from moving to the Cloud would be the lack of understanding how my client's information will remain secure."
I can certainly understand her concern about security, especially when you factor in something like cyberterrorism. I think all of us – no matter how entrenched we are with the Cloud – are concerned about IT theft. I recently heard that even First Lady Michelle Obama's e-mail was compromised.
While this might make some stay home and pull the covers over their heads, we have to face reality; as long as Web technologies exist, there will be hackers and thieves. It's just a fact of life. However . . . that doesn't mean that Cloud-based providers aren't securing your information. What it boils down to is a matter of trust in providers to protect your data to the fullest extent, with redundant data centers and continuous monitoring.
I also encourage my clients and colleagues to only move to the Cloud with established and proven providers. I'm just as interested as anyone else to use a generic house brand, but when it comes to something as precious as data and information, I want to go with a proven, name-brand company.
"Although I'm hesitant about moving my entire practice to the Cloud, I'm not against it. It would take an enormous amount of time to educate myself on the details."
Carla, I think you've hit this spot on. Let's face it; as humans, most of us aren't going to take the time to learn something until we're forced to do so. It's just the way we're programmed, so here comes another one of my "howevers." As professionals serving clients, I think we have a commitment to our clients to educate ourselves on what we don't know – and what we need to know to pass on to our clients to help them grow.
I know that sounds a bit preachy – and I mean it to sound that way. While I'm not advocating signing up for every webinar that lands in your in-box, there's quite a bit all of us can do; for example, read more industry trade publications or even contact Cloud providers to understand more about the Cloud.
As accounting professionals, we've thrived for years because we haven't put our head in the sand waiting for others to lead the way. The Cloud is a very good example of that!
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About the author:
Jennifer L. Katrulya, CPA, CITP, CGMA, is president and CEO of BMRG, LLC. Katrulya provides advisory and mentoring services to growing and large CPA firms seeking to successfully establish best practices, educate, and motivate management and staff during periods of change and to streamline integrated processes in a hosted and SaaS environment. She is a frequent author and instructor on a wide range of technology topics. Katrulya also serves as a consultant for a number of software developers who seek input from her regarding their anticipated road maps and strategic plans, constructive feedback about solutions and/or features as they are developed, and ongoing feedback from her as her firm and BMRG's clients use many of the solutions. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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