Remote access to client bookkeeping comes in many forms because clients come in many forms

There are a lot of conversations in LinkedIn and other groups, where bookkeepers and accountants are discussing their various methods of accessing client QuickBooks data and applications remotely.  While these conversations are quite helpful for some folks, there are others out there that simply get confused due to all of the possibilities.  There are many ways to work remotely with QuickBooks clients, and there are a lot of different situations where one approach may work better than others.

The key to remember here is that REMOTE ACCESS MATTERS.  Time and distance is the enemy when it comes to outsourced bookkeeping, and whether you like visiting your clients or not, having remote access to their data can be the key element in providing the highest level of service and value possible.  Remember when PCanywhere became available, and we were all excited because now we could use a modem to dial directly in to the client PC?  OK, maybe I’m talking to a crowd that’s too new to remember that excitement, but believe me, remote access is something all outsourced accountants and bookkeepers have been looking for.  Now that really good options are available (a lot of options), it makes sense to get a better understanding of what you can and can’t do with various remote access approaches.

First, when you’re looking at any true SaaS solution (true being a relative term, but here we mean an app service that was built for the web and is offered as a subscription model), consider that the solution exists only on the web, and that when a business subscribes they are generally subscribing to a single company data set.  Unlike QuickBooks desktop, for example, where you can have numerous company data files, QuickBooks Online and other SaaS solutions generally build a single company data file associated with the subscription.  When you want to access different companies, you may have to log in as a user of the company you’re accessing.

If you’re an accounting professional, there may be an edition or approach that allows you to connect to multiple client accounts, but then again, there may not be.  So be prepared to have to log in as each individual client to access their data.  When this becomes the situation, what’s the difference between one client having QB Online and one using Xero, Wave, FreshBooks or Kashoo?  None, really, other than the fact that you need to get to know all of the solutions a bit.  As a bookkeeper or accounting professional, this shouldn’t be so much of an issue, as debits and credits and basic accounting theory doesn’t change with the accounting software (basic “accounting theory” isn’t really available for redefinition).

The other thing to recognize about these solutions is that the data belongs on the web with the app, so it’s not like you’ll be copying the data file to your PC to work on.  You might export the data to another solution, but you won’t be using the SaaS solution offline.

If the client isn’t using a SaaS solution, then it is likely a desktop solution, where the application is installed on their local PC.  This type of solution – QuickBooks desktop editions being the most popular and easiest example to work with – gets installed and runs from the PC.  Data may be stored on the PC or on a network hard drive, but the program is running locally on the user’s computer, and is using resources on the local computer (memory, processor, etc.).  There are only a few ways to make this type of application into something you can access remotely, and one of them is by using a remote control approach.

Remote control is where one computer connects to and controls certain aspects of another.  This is like the old dial-up approach, using PCanywhere-type applications to control one computer from another.  These days, the Internet rather than a dial-up phone connection is the preferred method, and there are web service providers which “broker” the connection and communication between computers, providing added features and layers of security.  Using a remote control solution (examples are LogMeIn or GoToMyPC) simply allows the user on one computer to control the keyboard and mouse, and view the display, of a remote computer.  It doesn’t matter what is running on the remote, so a bookkeeper could use this approach to access a client PC and QuickBooks desktop applications and data, or even to connect with the client so they can log in to QuickBooks Online or Xero together.

Some bookkeepers work with their clients, showing them how to do things and connecting to client resources in order to get work accomplished.  Others connect using their own resources or accounts, and work concurrently with the client.  Still others may export data from the client solution into their product of choice, not even working within the client application at all except to make adjustments and data exports.  It all depends on the collaboration model you and the client have going, and it is unlikely that any single model or approach will work for the entire client base.

QuickBooks hosting introduces a bit of a wrinkle in the concept, but not much of one.  Really, hosted QuickBooks desktop editions should be viewed to be not less and not significantly more than a QuickBooks Online or other SaaS approach.  If the client would benefit from working online (most client would), then having them host their QuickBooks desktop applications and data with a hosting provider makes sense.  However, just because the client is hosting their QuickBooks doesn’t mean that you should immediately assume that you’ll have access to their applications or data.  Like with a SaaS solution, you’ll likely have to have an account to log in with, and that account could be a separate login allowing you to work at the same time as the client, or the account could be one that is shared with the client and where only one of you can log in at the same time.

Since a hosted solution is accessed online just like a SaaS solution is, you don’t have to have the software installed on your own PC, and you only need an Internet connection to access the application and data at any time.  A major difference of working with a hosted solution is that you could possibly have the application installed on your PC, and could copy the data from the host and work on it offline.

With all of the options available, accountants and bookkeepers have realized that the selection of client collaboration approaches depends on a number of factors, and that professionals may end up applying an unlikely combination of solutions in order to address meeting various client preferences as well as their accounting needs.

Make sense?


Read more about hosted QuickBooks desktop editions

Read about the race to find the secret sauce of hosted application services for small businesses

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