Yearend is often the time for hardware updates, network replacement, and software renewals in preparation for the upcoming busy season. Before going on auto-pilot and updating everything with the same mindset as previous years, it is well worth considering the impact of cloud applications on those traditional decisions from both a financial and improved functionality perspective. Below are a dozen reasons why CPAs should consider moving applications, and even their entire infrastructure to the cloud.
- Latest version: Count out the number of upgrades to tax software during busy season and the impact on availability when the upgrades occur, particularly when a critical upgrade must run and the IT person kicks everyone out of the system, or worse is delayed to the weekend, so everyone is running on the older system. Everyone loading cloud applications has the latest version running when they login, which reduces potential conflicts when some people may be working on a local application such as fixed assets that has not been updated.
- Reduced maintenance: Internal IT personnel currently spend a significant amount of time doing maintenance on software, particularly applications that run on local workstations. These hours are significantly reduced by cloud applications as virtually all maintenance is done by the cloud provider during off hours. In the case of firms moving their entire network to the cloud, all server applications, antivirus, security, and disaster recovery are transitioned, significantly reducing the firm’s IT needs, particularly at the higher (and more expensive) levels of network administration and management.
- Optimized application support: When firms manage their own IT, tax application support personnel must figure out the local network to evaluate whether it is their application not running properly or the client’s network being the issue. With CPAs accessing cloud programs via a browser, these issues are almost entirely eliminated, allowing the tax vendor’s support personnel to focus on providing guidance on their application in their managed infrastructure.
- Fixed managed cost: When firms purchase and maintain their own servers, they must consider the anticipated needs of the servers and workstations over the life of that equipment, adding capabilities such as remote access, disaster recovery, security, and the use of outsourced providers to assist with implementing solutions that internal IT personnel may not be experienced in. This often leads to significant fluctuations in the IT budget. Moving applications or the firm’s infrastructure to the cloud provides support at a fixed monthly fee per user.
- Scalability: Firms managing their own networks and applications must build the infrastructure and purchase software licenses for the peak busy season anticipated over the life of that network (including staffing seasonality). This gets exasperated with mergers that expand the firm beyond the capabilities of the existing networks and cause significant spikes in IT upgrades. Using cloud applications or infrastructure allows the firm to add and reduce user counts on a month to month basis even if a merger causes the firm to double in size.
- Smaller IT footprint: Maintaining your own server room requires a secure space, adequate air-conditioning, backup power supplies, etc. which can be significant the larger the firm. Moving applications or the entire server infrastructure to the cloud eliminates the majority of this infrastructure leaving a smaller IT footprint with a significantly lower cost to operate.
- Remote access: The ability to work anyplace and anytime has become a strategic differentiator for CPAs. Firms maintaining their own networks have struggled to provide secure remote access to all the firm’s applications consistently, including access via tablets, smartphone and home computers. Cloud applications are accessed through a web browser, so they are optimized and available through any allowed mobile device.
- Improved collaboration: Cloud applications process and store information in real time and are built to allow access to any authorized users. This improves collaboration on projects as staff have access to the latest data on the same version of software minimizing version control issues. Cloud portals and applications also allow clients to access them 7/24 directly at their convenience.
- Enterprise infrastructure: Internally managed networks are only as good as the skills of the IT personnel which built them and varies significantly from one firm to the next. Very few firms have IT personnel with all the necessary enterprise-level skills to optimally manage today’s requirements for CPA firms and those that do outsource them, find that they do not have knowledge of the hundreds of applications unique to the accounting profession. Accounting vendors and CPA cloud providers focus exclusively on accounting firm needs.
- Enterprise security: CPA firms have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the financial and personally identifiable information they have been entrusted. Internal IT personnel seldom receive adequate training and have the time to manage the security and disaster recovery needs required by the firm. Accounting profession cloud providers, whether managing the entire network or a single application realize this need and have built teams of security personnel and resources that very few individual firms could ever accumulate.
- Disaster fortified: Few firms have disaster fortified network infrastructures with redundant servers, power, Internet, offsite backup and security personnel to resist the impact of a fire, flood or equipment theft. Cloud providers have data centers designed to handle significant disasters and allow users to continue working from any location where they have a workstation with usable Internet.
- Regulatory compliance: Keeping up with legislative requirements (SAS70, SOC2, GLB, HIPAA, PCI, etc.) can be overwhelming for firms, particularly those with understaffed IT departments having inadequate knowledge. Cloud and application providers deal with these requirements at an enterprise-level, so the firm does not have to worry about them.
CPAs rely more than ever on technology to make them more productive and effective dealing with clients. Before following the familiar upgrade path, take a moment to evaluate how your clients and staff can be served more effectively by considering the appropriate cloud upgrades.
Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA.CITP is the Director of Firm Technology Strategy for Right Networks and works exclusively with CPA firms to implement today’s leading best practices and technologies incorporating Lean Six Sigma methodologies to optimize firm production workflows. Roman is also the author of “Quantum of Paperless: A Partner’s Guide to Accounting Firm Optimization” which is available online to members of the AICPA PCPS.