The term “cloud” has been applied to all sorts of online or Internet-based application models, and there are a great many approaches to developing cloud-based services and solutions. What this translates to is a volume of options and possibilities for information storage, management, and access in the cloud.Understanding where information is stored, how it may be accessed, and how it might be transmitted to others becomes essential knowledge that business owners should have when they engage with any information technology (IT) solution or service. Yet the plethora of “simple, affordable, and instantly gratifying” services currently available on the web all but ensure that businesses will engage with one or more solutions that provide them with little or no information (much less control) over the placement and management of their data.
I’ve seen a lot of articles lately (and written more than a few myself) directed towards accounting professionals and “taking your practice online” or “taking your practice to the cloud”. At this point, when a professional asks me the question “should I take my practice to the cloud”, my response generally comes in the form of two return questions.
The first is “what leads you to believe you have a choice?”
The second is “what makes you think you haven’t already?”
There are a few realities about doing business today that can’t be ignored and cloud computing is at the top of the list. Professionals can recognize these realities and work with them or fight the changing tide and lose out to more relevant providers.
To address the question of choice, let’s consider the fact that many of today’s entrepreneurs and small business owners have been exposed to Internet services and online technologies for quite a long time. Use of these services has become an ingrained element in daily life. Not using online technologies seems “old school” to these folks and is often perceived to be due to some deficiency in the ability to understand or use new tools. If professional service providers aren’t able to leverage online tools to provide the access, collaboration, and higher level of service which business owners demand, they won’t work with those business owners for very long.
In addressing the “what makes you think you aren’t already?” question, let’s consider the fact that almost all of the accounting software offered today has incorporated cloud-service or Internet-based functionality in some manner. Even the tried and true desktop editions of QuickBooks financial software have quite a lot of web service functionality designed in to the product. Where credit card processing was once an offline (or telephonic) process, it’s now an instantaneous service delivered via the net. Payroll? Tax tables aren’t just downloaded to the software where you perform the processing and calculations. Payroll is a service, delivered via Internet connectivity to Intuit’s payroll service bureaus (or ADP, Paychex, etc.). Even banking is less traveling to the establishment and more Internet access and data exchange. We don’t think twice about downloading transactions from the bank computers instead of working from the paper bank statement.
Internet/web/cloud service and functionality has become a pervasive element to almost every aspect of software and computerized business support systems, and it’s a pretty good bet that your firm is already using it. So, let’s not spend our time asking a silly question about whether or not it makes sense to “take the practice to the cloud”. The obvious answer is yes.