How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cloud

I learned the craft of accounting in an apprentice-like way from my father.  

25 (no way it could be that long) years ago, I practiced my debits and credits using a mechanical pencil and 13 column green shaded paper.  Yes, there was Lotus and Works; we had computers and printers in each office - dot matrix printers on rolled sheets that took so long to print out a spreadsheet that the good old 10 key and 13 column paper was quicker.

Things have changed "a little" since those heady days of the early 90's; that bizarre time when high and low tech had equal space on the desk.

Along the way we had One Write Systems, QuickBooks, Laser Printed Checks, Online Banking, and...the Cloud.

The Cloud has been looming on our horizon for several years now.  (Specifically, we're referring to General Ledger/Accounting software sold in an SaaS format with a monthly subscription fee, delivered via the Web.)

Early incarnations of the Cloud were easy enough to dismiss.  Page load times, security (cough cough), what happens if the Cloud provider goes belly up overnight - all these things are, well, they are still concerns.  

However, there are actual benefits brought by today's Cloud that should be considered:

1) Collaboration.  You, your clients, and your staff can literally be anywhere in the world and everyone accesses the same data set.  This really is the most important reason and outweighs any argument against the Cloud.

2) Reducing data entry time.  Using the bank feeds available on most respectable Cloud Accounting platforms, you can reduce your bookkeeping hours.  So much of "accounting" in the prior decades was really just mundane data entry.  The integration of bank feeds frees us up to offer higher level services - to provide insights and advice.  This is the next most important reason to consider the Cloud behind collaboration.

3) Version control.  You no longer have to deal with "Accountant's Copies," or track which version is the live copy.  Similarly, you don't need to play the game of "should I upgrade to this year's software or can I slide a year or two or decade...(we know a few companies using versions of a particular desktop software circa 1998)

4) Managing receivables.  As our firm has migrated to the Cloud, we've seen our Days Receivable Outstanding metric improve.  Many Cloud platforms send out automated reminders to clients for you.

5) Audit logs.  Everything is logged and tagged in the digital environment.  You can see which user took what action at any given moment - forever.  This one feature alone can help our smaller clients improve their internal control - if they let it.

6) You can integrate a host of other apps into the Cloud-based ledger for seamless (and time saving) efficiency.  You can create a curated Cloud environment that is tailored to each client's unique needs.

7) Clients can pull their financial statements at any time - they don't need to call you.

These are all great reasons to consider the Cloud!

But take off the rose-colored glasses.  There are some tradeoffs.  

1) Security is always a concern.  This is where your password hygiene and internet practices will protect - or harm you.

2) Additionally page load time, even in this era of high speed internet, is a factor.  If you're using hotkeys on a desktop program, you'll notice the time lag on the Cloud.  It is as inevitable as gravity.

3) You must have internet access in order to work.  If your internet is down, or slow, you might as well take a day off.  We suggest having two different forms of internet service; one as the primary, one as the stand-by.

4) You need to train your clients, your staff, and yourself.  There is a learning curve - don't ignore it; plan for it.  Even if you're going from QuickBooks desktop to QBO; there is a learning curve.

5) Things can go wrong on the Cloud.  Don't let the gleaming user interface, or "U/X" in the current vernacular, fool you.  Bank feeds can map to the wrong account one day and the correct account another day.  Things can get deleted, edited, misposted in such a way that it can take hours to correct.

6) Companies can still go belly up overnight.

And yet, and yet, even with all these things, the Cloud is the future.  The future is here.  Embrace it and be part of the future or resist it and get left behind.

For us, there was one moment this past tax season where it all fell into place and our stormy (that was actually unintentional) foray into the Cloud  paid off.  After the many months of our steep and aggravating learning curve, we encountered a last minute problem that would have resulted in a late filed tax return.  The fact that the client's books were on the Cloud and we had been granted access meant that we could get all the information we needed and turn the return around in orders of magnitude less time.  

We all came away from that experience with the idea that we want to get all of our clients on the Cloud; that we are considering charging more to clients who don't go on the Cloud - a "luddite surcharge" as it were.  Well, let's not get totally blown away (OK - that one was intentional; sorry-not sorry).

The point of this post is to help you get to a point where you can at least consider the Cloud.  Future posts - as well as CPE offered by the MSATP, can help you select and implement a Cloud platform into your practice.

Jonathan Rivlin