By Brett Owens
You've probably noticed that most new software is now developed for the Web rather than the desktop. This actually isn't a trend; instead, I expect Web-developed software to become the norm, and perhaps even accelerate, in the years ahead.
This trend is driven by several key factors:
The growing desire we have to access our data from anywhere.
You're probably "computing" with more than one device these days – a PC and/or Mac, along with a smartphone and perhaps even a tablet computer. With Web apps, this is no problem; you just log in from any device and pick up where you previously stopped working.
It's WAY easier to develop software for the Web than for the desktop.
Take it from me, a guy who builds products for both platforms. Software developers can move an order of magnitude faster on the Web than they can on the desktop. As a result, software startups, where most of the innovation in software comes from – if I do say so myself! – are focused exclusively on building their apps for the Web.
You're going to have a better selection of products if you consider Web apps. In fact, I think, going forward, you'll need to consider Web-based software for running your practice. Otherwise, you'll be stuck with a limited selection of antiquated desktop products.
There are already some useful Web apps for boosting your firm's productivity. We asked five tech-savvy accountants for their favorite picks. Here's what they recommend:
Remember Everything with Evernote
"Evernote is cool app that lets me do everything from taking notes when meeting with clients, creating to do lists, snapping photos of business cards, researching Web sites and clipping pages directly from your browser, and creating voice memos," she said. "All of your info is automatically indexed and made searchable, which makes it very easy to organize my notes and search them by keyword. I can also share my account with my staff.
"My practice is entirely virtual – we all work from home and this is one way we can share information," continued Williams. "I am constantly on the go and Evernote is like my mini-office. I like the fact that I can use it on my phone and sync my information with all my computers, other devices and my staff."
Evernote is a cross-platform app that works on mobile devices, desktops, and the Web. It has a fully functional and generous free product; the premium version will set you back only $5 a month.
Xero for Accounting
"Xero is one of the most innovative cloud-based systems I've ever used. Their commitment to a strong core accounting product means they spend a lot of time and development on building out the product," he said. "I love their invoicing tool and the latest ability to modify the beautiful clean invoice templates. When you tie that to PayPal's strong API, you have a seamless global currency payment system built right into the easiest accounting system in the world."
Blumer says Xero is easy and fun to use. "They even make bank reconciliations enjoyable. What a trip! Watch your back, QuickBooks!"
Knowledge Tree for Document Management
"We have been using Knowledge Tree for almost five years and it is our favorite Web application for document management. We are able to securely store and manage clients' and internal files and other data."
Sikacheva says her company has specifically benefited from:
* Knowledge Tree's customizability: the company sets up its own infrastructure.
* Security – because the program is password-protected, some areras can be restricted depending on the user's privileges
* Workflow – if this tool set up, the next required user receives an e-mail notification that the file was promoted to the next stage of work in process.
* File management – the ability to view users of the file and changes made by them, and even recover previous versions.
* Virtual storage. Sikacheva said the company was able to transition its business to a paperless office faster than first estimated.
Outright for Bookkeeping
is a great cloud-based tool for the sole proprietor who does not want to learn bookkeeping," she said. "All you need is an e-mail address to set up a free account. Outright has built-in interfaces with most online banking accounts, credit cards, and PayPal, and the program will automatically bring your transactions into the program, and categorize expenses and revenue using standard Schedule C categories. If you want to customize the reporting on Outright, it is simple to create your own unique categories.
Rives adds: "Outright handles basic bookkeeping, but a business owner can expand the capabilities by interfacing his or her Outright account with other cloud-based sites including FreshBooks
. Online sellers can also link their eBay account directly to Outright. Outright is simple to navigate and uses simple terms like "money in" and "money out" to indicate business expenses and business revenue."
Rives explained that a CPA can set up a bookkeeper account on Outright that allows the bookkeepers to use one login to see all of their Outright clients. The CPA has full access to help the client categorize expenses and reconcile transactions, without having to exchange files or use remote logins. The clients and CPA can access Outright from anywhere with an internet connection. Outright will create quarterly tax estimates based on the information entered and even populate a standard Schedule C with the line item totals for each calendar year.
Expense Watch for Spending Control
Hugh Glazer, CPA, managing partner at WinterView Group
, had great success implementing ExpenseWatch
for a client looking to get a handle on spending and compliance.
"My client needed to automate its requisition process. Expense Watch helped integrate company activity, such as employee expense reports, in one central location that could be accessed from any site, anywhere."
When Should You Go "To the Cloud?"
Though Microsoft's new cloud commercials may get you pretty jazzed up (you know, the series that rarely demonstrates any actual cloud computing), cloud apps can have drawbacks, depending on your situation.
"Cloud apps do a great job of providing simple access and data capture," said Glazer, citing his experience implementing these products for clients. "But the reporting aspects and ability to customize reporting can be lacking and often requires ongoing attention."
So how do you know if you're right for the cloud?
Solo and small firm CPAs probably have the most to benefit when it comes to Web applications. The plug-and-play aspects of these products are often exactly what an accountant wants and needs.
Meanwhile, medium- to large-sized firms may find that their reporting requirements are more complex than many "out of the box" Web apps are able to provide. In these cases, Glazer said they'll need to figure that out separately, perhaps by exporting the raw data into Excel, or alternatively by considering more traditional applications that are customizable.
In summary, it seems clear that Web apps are the future of software, so be sure to consider them when evaluating software for your practice.
About the Author:
Brett Owens is CEO and Co-Founder of Chrometa , a Sacramento, Calif.-based provider of time management software that accurately records and reports back how you spend your time. Previously marketed to only the legal community, Chrometa is branching out to accounting prospects. Gains include the ability to discover previously undocumented billable time, saving time on billing reconciliation and improving personal productivity. Owens is also a blogger and founder at ContraryInvesting.com , as well as a regular contributor to two leading financial media sites, SeekingAlpha.com and Minyanville .