“Cloud computing is like going from DOS to Windows,” quipped Rick Telberg, president of Bay Street Group, LLC, at last month’s Accounting Technology Show in New York.
While many CPA firms have embraced cloud computing with open arms, just as many are still skeptical and wary about what it really is and whether it is just a passing fad. Still others are confused about the concept altogether and don’t want to be the last ones to ask, “What the heck is cloud computing and can it really help my firm?”
Dr. Chandra Bhansali, president of Hauppauge, NY-based AccountantsWorld, was keen to demystify cloud computing to a substantial crowd at the same show.
So, what is cloud computing? “It’s just a fancy word for web-based server,” said Bhansali. Bhansali asked the audience to think of cloud computing in the same light (no pun intended) as setting up a generator to get electrical power in your home, while the Internet is like the utility company that provides your home with electricity. “All you need to do is plug in.”
Eight Cloud Computing Benefits Your Firm Can’t Do Without
To put things in perspective, Bhansali revealed eight immediate potential benefits your firm can glean from using the cloud:
- Enhance Client Satisfaction. With cloud computing you and your clients work collaboratively. They enter transactions (bookkeeping), you make adjustments (trial balance) and then you create customized financials (financial) accordingly. You have the ability to maintain control and create a client bookkeeping system for beginners and novices and a separate one for your more advanced clientele. The clients have documents available to them 24/7, so there is no need for them to keep calling you every time they need a particular document and it reduces you cost, time and hassles, as your client accesses the documents they need and prints them directly to their printer. For example, if your client needs financials from previous years, they can now access your portal and find the information they need.
- Improve Cash-flow and Cash Management. The cloud permits you to pay as you go through Software as a Service or SaaS, set up automatic clearing house (ACH) payments, and accept online credit card payments through such merchants as PayPal. It also provides you with better time tracking and quicker invoicing. Practice management applications are available that can be downloaded and can track time onto your mobile devices, providing you with the exact amount of time you spent with each client.
- Help Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans. BCP and DRP have always been a concern for accountants and rightly so. With cloud computing, you don’t have to worry about floods, earthquakes or other natural disasters that can make you lose your data because your data and applications are located offsite. Even so, you can access all your data at any time through the Internet. As Bhansali noted, with the advent of smartphones and other mobile devices that have 3G and 4G capabilities, data access is there when you need it.
- Tap Into Untapped Pool of Professional Talent. Perhaps one of the most overlooked benefits of cloud computing is finding top people to do your job. There are many high-level professionals who are unable to travel to a physical office, but can do a fantastic job.
With the help of cloud computing, you can more easily tap into this pool of quality individuals.
- Offer Payroll Services. For instance, your firm can simply eliminate data entry and enjoy, automatic e-filing of compliance forms and say goodbye (and possibly good riddance) to printing and mailing paychecks and reports in your office. “You are paid on the spot,” said Bhansali.
- Reduce Clientís Bookkeeping Errors. Three out of four CPAs complain about the bookkeeping errors their clients make and how much time it takes them to go back and fix these messes. "Cloud computing eliminates or minimizes these mistakes,” beamed Bhansali. Bookkeeping in the cloud allows your clients to scan their documents including invoices and receipts and upload them right into your system and enter amounts as needed. As the invoice is attached correctly to the data field, it allows for a very profitable bookkeeping process. As an early adopter of cloud computing, Bhansali said that the cloud has “tremendously reduced our headaches and our work.”
- Eliminate Travel to Clients’ Offices. With cloud computing, your firm can create a portal that provides your clients with 24/7 access. Since you control your portal, you also have “admin rights” and are the one in command in provide access as you see fit to your clients. As Bhansali pointed out, if you’re aware that a client makes bookkeeping errors regularly and you prefer that the client only writes checks, you can give that client access only to that portion of your portal in which he can write checks and nothing more. All other portions will be grayed out. You also have the ability to set up your portal with different access rights to different clients as you see fit. “Data is kept in one central location and there is nothing to transfer,” he added.
- Conduct Paperless Reviews. “The cloud allows you integrate both your document management system and portal into one unified accounting system,” pointed out Bhansali. This system cuts down much of the manual labor to six short steps for a review process (in an audit process, you may need the additional step of scanning documents that are not available electronically):
- Your client to enter data,
- You make adjustments,
- You create financials and reports,
- Your client views a dashboard with your adjustments and financials/reports,
- It automatically uploads into the Document Management Portal, and
- Your client can download any report they want from this same Document Management Portal 24/7 without calling you. They have it on their fingertips.
Cloud computing enhances integration, keeping data in one central location and “changes the very paradigm of client accounting,” pointed out Bhansali. He advises CPAs to take advantage of this new technology by:
- Charging clients by the amount of work you do, rather than by the hour; and
- Use the same philosophy with your virtual employees and pay them by the amount of work they do for you and not by the hour, keeping workflow more effective; and
As Bhansali said, “It is time to bring all components into your virtual office. Cloud computing is here to stay. What are you waiting for?
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Sukanya Mitra is managing editor of the AICPA Insider™ e-newsletter group.