By Michael Callan, CPA, cofounder of Swizznet
It wasn't that long ago that small and medium-size business (SMB) accounting software resided on a PC – and only on a PC. Today, with more than 1.3 million Intuit QuickBooks users alone accessing the online version of QuickBooks, it's time for every accountant to take a look at what Cloud computing can offer for streamlining the process of everyday tasks. When coupled with mobile devices, the Cloud offers the freedom of anywhere/anytime availability that can be hugely beneficial to in-house financial teams as well as consultants.
In a recent American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) white paper, Accounting Services: Harness the Power of the Cloud, based on research by Dr. Geoffrey Moore, the AICPA strongly endorsed the move from paper to digital, recommending that members harness the power of pervasive computing: "The key investment to fund is a technology transition focused on aggressively displacing the use of paper and on-premise PC hosting in favor of digital workflows hosted in the Cloud. Paper is the anchor that keeps CAS [client accounting services] practice margins at unacceptably low levels, so driving it out of the system is fundamental to building a sustainable business."
I'd go one step further. While it's called Cloud computing today, in the very near future, it will just be the way we do business. And mobile technologies will play a key role in amplifying the Cloud's usefulness by enabling accountants to exchange information with their teams and/or clients on demand, 24/7.
It's already happening. Now that the full power and data of applications like QuickBooks are available to users on a mobile phone or tablet, businesses are taking the opportunity to rationalize their internal processes. For example, a construction firm or plumber can create and enter a quote or invoice while on-site using a tablet, rather than taking down data, going back to the office, and creating an invoice there. Not only does this save time, it minimizes the need for double entry and reduces mistakes, thereby improving overall data accuracy.
Arguably, small businesses have the most to gain from the transition to Cloud computing and mobile devices. Sole proprietors and employees of small firms often wear many hats. Being able to access critical data from anywhere and record transactions directly onto a mobile device and have the transactions sync to a Cloud-based accounting system is a huge time-saver.
Small businesses also have limited time and/or personnel to deal with IT issues, such as data storage, software updates, and server maintenance. Cloud computing shifts these tasks to the service provider and can result in enormous time savings by enabling small businesses to concentrate on their business and customers instead of on IT needs.
But engaging with one of the dizzying array of potential solution providers can be a daunting task. So, if you're just now exploring how to migrate to the Cloud and provide access to employees and clients via mobile devices, here are two ideas to consider:
1. Establish BYOD policies. Today, at least 30 percent of accounting firms have generic bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies for employees. BYOD policies are regulations set in place that align and support the corporate environment. Traditional office boundaries are vanishing, and BYOD is one way to enable employees to easily check e-mails and to work off-site or at home on their smartphones or mobile devices.
2. Select a Cloud technology that allows for mobile device flexibility. Your customers and staff already own mobile devices. Make it easy for them to use the device they're most comfortable with to access and share critical documents via the Cloud.
Moving to the Cloud and enabling mobile devices to access needed information anywhere, anytime will not only erase some business headaches, it will prepare your operations for future technological improvements while adding to the bottom line through more efficient accounting practices.
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