Is it the next paperless office?May 7, 2009
by Barry MacQuarrie, CPA
The term Paperless Office has been around for years. It started to gain momentum in the CPA profession at the beginning of this decade. By now, most firms have adopted some form of paperless engagement solution, document management software or both. As the technologies have matured and gained significant market share, it has left many in the profession wondering, “What’s next?”
I think that Cloud Computing is posed to replace Paperless Office as the next big buzz in the profession.
Just What Is Cloud Computing?
The concept of Cloud Computing involves a person using a computer to access applications, resources and databases that are located on a distant computer. Typically, the person is using a Web browser and high-speed Internet connection to access a remote computer. If you have ever used a Web-based e-mail solution like hotmail.com or a photo-hosting site like smugmug.com, you are familiar with cloud computing.
Salesforce.com was a pioneer in this space and offers a very popular Web-based CRM (Customer Relationship Management) product. I found their tagline, Success, Not Software, captures the essence of the cloud computing concept. It points to a world where we no longer have applications loaded on our computers and instead access them across the Internet.
Life Without Microsoft Office
Can you imagine a day when you turn on your computer and Microsoft Office® is not there? What would we do without Excel, Word, PowerPoint or Outlook? Well, there are several vendors who think they have a viable alternative. Interesting enough, their alternative doesn’t even need to be installed on your computer!
The folks at Google and Zoho have developed alternatives to the Microsoft Office suite. Google Docs is a Web-based product that allows you to create, share and collaborate on a document, spreadsheet or presentation. Zoho offers an extensive suite of online applications that include the basic office suite and so much more.
While I am not quite ready to give up my locally installed version of Microsoft Office, I can already see some of the advantages of these online applications. I can also see the potential downsides!
You May Already Be There
Some of us may already be using cloud computing application and not even know it. There are several areas where cloud computing applications have gained significant market share.
E-mail security is one area where companies rely on a Web-based solution to inspect their e-mail before it is delivered to an e-mail server. The vendors maintain the infrastructure (hardware and software) and provide anti-virus, anti-spyware and spam-filtering services. This process is often transparent to the end-user. All the customer has to do is point their e-mail to the vendor and they do the rest! The customer uses a Web interface to administer the system setup and view quarantined e-mail.
Social networking is another area where Web applications are the norm. Although, it is possible for a company to develop and implement their own internal social network, I think most are relying on popular Web applications. It is almost impossible to watch a local Boston newscast without being prompted to check out their site on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.
Our Vendors Are Moving to the Cloud
The CPA profession may never be accused of “living on the edge” when it comes to new technologies. However, many of the vendors that serve our community are already offering cloud computing solutions. Here are few examples:
I hope this brief list of CPA industry vendors helps you to see that cloud computing is here and viable for the CPA profession. Several other leading vendors in the CPA profession have announced initiatives to develop Web-based versions of their existing applications. Beyond our industry, there are numerous vendors who have developed Web-based applications that can be used on a daily basis by CPAs.
Sounds Too Good to Be True
There are those who would lead you to believe that we can do everything on the Web. They might go on to say that this means life without a formal IT department or local infrastructure.
The need for IT leadership has never been stronger. While I understand the benefits of and make daily use of Web applications, I am not convinced that they may be the solution for every computing problem. I am also convinced that there CPAs who will never give up their locally-installed applications and locally-stored data.
I think the future includes a balance of local and Web applications. Leading organizations will find ways to seamlessly integrate the two approaches and deliver a reliable and transparent solution to their end-users.
As you consider moving applications to the cloud, there are some many things to think about. It starts with Internet connectivity. How good is my cloud computing application if I cannot access the Internet? Management has the responsibility to consider all of the alternatives and develop reliable solutions. As CPAs, we often approach new concepts with much skepticism and I envision our view of cloud computing will be no different. Don’t delay, the vendors are here, the concept works and it just might make you more productive!
I have spoken with many CPAs who feel they missed the boat on the paperless office and have only recently implemented solutions. As an early adopter, I can tell you that our firm enjoyed many of the benefits of a digital office. We are approaching cloud computing with the same hope of improved efficiency and productivity.
Don’t miss the boat. Life in the cloud can be pretty cool!
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Barry MacQuarrie, CPA, is the Director of Technology at KAF Financial Group. MacQuarrie has extensive experience working with CPA firm technologies and expertise in workflow, process improvement, disaster recovery planning, security and paperless office technologies.