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Xerocon: How to Prepare for Your Move to the Cloud

Jun 29th 2016
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By now many accountants are growing tired of hearing the term “cloud” and would rather just discuss “work,” but moving vital firm and client functions into the cloud world still involves proper planning.

Since the general trend among accounting professionals, when it comes to cloud, is more about “what” and “how” than “why,” we need to first look at what is in fact working for other professionals who perform nearly everything they do in the cloud.

Amanda Aguillard, CPA, principal at Aguillard Accounting LLC, performs accounting and consulting services. The small firm’s focus is on bookkeeping and accounting work for 50-plus clients, but she has a small tax practice and has been more focused on crafting “ecosystems” for small businesses, working with third-party add-ons, training, documentation, systems, and processes for her clients. Like many CPAs, she came out of the large-firm world – in her case a career at Deloitte – and left, ultimately, to work differently than she had been.

AccountingWEB recently spoke with Aguillard about building a cloud-based practice, and how other firms may take practical steps to do so, as well as how she addressed her own questions along the way.

AW: What were your main concerns/considerations when moving firm and client functions to the cloud?

Aguillard: I built this practice in the cloud since day one. I knew that the most important thing was flexibility, geography, and time. I needed to be able to work from home at times, say if my kids were sick or if I’m on the road. I needed to be able to do billable work and not just check email. When I started, (the cloud) was more about data storage and security, very reactive. I needed to function there and not just store things. So, I did need document storage, but I also needed an accounting package for the firm to work with clients and a way to communicate with staff out of the office and track my billable work. I also had to look into what browser-based add-ons worked with the systems we had. I have a bookkeeper in the Philippines, and she’s not in our time zone ever, so we had to have tools in place to work with her, too. The first time we picked (cloud applications), sometimes they didn’t work and you have to be prepared for that and willing to try. There is really very little barrier to entry or exit with some of these apps.

AW: When it comes to setup, what are some first steps a firm must take before work begins?

Aguillard: We had to put pen to paper and write it out, and find out what specifically we needed. If you are converting from a “marble column” firm, find out what systems you have now and what you are getting from them, then look for an equivalent in the cloud. It may not be exact, but you can also find something that does three things to the one thing that one did.

Find a consultant to guide you, too, but go to tech conferences or webinars aimed at accountants. I went to a CPA technology conference in Louisiana and I saw apps I never heard of, sat in sessions, and someone knowledgeable about it laid it all out for me. At this point, there are a lot more experts now, too. Ask other like-minded accountants. Ask them what they like about reporting, integration ... whatever you need. You can do a Google search; sure it helps, but who knows what’s going to come up and it can be overwhelming.

AW: What are some best practices for vetting vendors you work with?

Aguillard: Definitely do your homework, find out what their security policies are, and then find out how information goes into the product, what are the integrations, and how detailed are those (i.e., if you have a retail client, what do systems like Square, Clover, or other point-of-sale systems look like in the accounting system I have). Also, find out how you get information out, what file types do they use, and what are their policies for receiving files, especially if you move on from the service.

AW: Is there anything at this point that does not make sense to have working in the cloud?

Aguillard: We run everything except tax out of a browser. We do that on a Citrix connection, which isn’t quite the cloud, but it lets us work remotely on the full product. Tax software is just so heavy and there aren’t very many browser-based tax packages that do all that I need to do, yet.

Amanda Aguillard will be speaking in a session entitled Product Mastery: Set-Up Strategies where she will discuss best practices to set up your firm and clients in Xero at the upcoming Xerocon SF 2016 conference August 15-17.

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