Remote vs. Cloud: The perks of working with clients in cyberspace

By Kara Haas, CPA

There are many benefits to working with clients utilizing Web-based software applications.
While there have been many advances with computers to assist us in eliminating the time involved in the physical transfer of source documents and data, these steps are once again proving to evolve further in reducing costs, time and potential errors.
Remote technology applications such as LogMeIn, GoToAssist, and Adobe Connect allow us to assist our clients by accessing their accounting systems jointly so we can troubleshoot a problem, train, or assist with performing a backup. Applications like these eliminate unnecessary travel and the need for onsite data exchange.
Gravitating toward Web-based financial and industry specific solutions offers a further reduction in certain areas, including cost, time, and errors.
The more robust remote assistance applications, such as the ones mentioned above, have a cost affiliated with them and an annual contract. Most online solutions are offered as subscriptions and without contracts. This pricing model offers limited capital requirements for a small business owner. Many online solutions include the opportunity for an outside accountant to access data at no additional cost.
Desktop software generally carries an initial purchase price and paid annual upgrades. With online solutions, clients and accountants enjoy continuously improved software and the ability to always work in the same version.
If users are struggling with tasks such as learning how to make a back up copy of their data, restoring changes to their system, or installing updates, we are able to log into their system to assist with troubleshooting faster than traveling to the client site or preparing written instructions. However, there is time involved to establish the remote connection, and insure that there is adequate Internet connection speed on both sides. Users often have multiple documents and windows open on their machines that they would prefer to close first. New users may need time to comprehend that only one person can control the mouse at a time.
With online financial systems, such as Xero, QuickBooks Online, or Less Accounting, outside accountants can access the data simultaneously with the user. Time is saved by both logging into the data on the accountants' own devices and working through the solution.
Accountants are not limited by client schedules. When accountants rely on remote access to a client machine to perform maintenance updates or bookkeeping functions, they are at the mercy of the clients' regular business hours. There are only so many clients that one can serve constrained by operational hours. With online solutions, accountants can perform work without interfering with the client operations.
The ability to access data instantly makes interpreting financial information more timely. Fax, mail, and physical transportation of data are trumped with bank feeds, file exchange for source documents, and data imports.
Potential Errors
Working with an online software solution eliminates many potential errors that can occur with the remote exchange of desktop data. When backing up and restoring desktop data, there exists the potential error of exchanging the wrong data file, creating a duplicate file and increasing the risk of operating in two data files, or not properly restoring the current data file.
Additionally, there is the potential of data entry error if clients submit data that needs to be keyed into the system. Most online solutions offer direct links with banks to provide timely data feeds into the software. If a bank connection does not exist, Web-based products are generally more data import-friendly, accepting data through .csv, .qif, or .qbo formats.
David Enix of Enix & Associates, LLC, recently shared with me the savings of time, costs, and frustration for processing payroll on a timely basis for clients utilizing Web-based software. He explains how he has been able to grow the number of clients he serves by reducing time, eliminating the need for exchanging data files each pay period, or transferring data. Many firms hesitate to offer payroll services for fear of travel, conflicting schedules, or lack of staff to meet the needs of clients. David captured his transfer from after the fact payroll processing to Intuit Online Payroll for Accountants with the following:
"We can process client payroll from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. Being Web-based, we do not need access to our clients' data file. This allows us to process payroll in a fraction of the time that is required when using traditional desktop financial software. Equally important, the ability to make tax deposits and file tax returns electronically is faster and more accurate than traditional processes."

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