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The Cloud and the Business Desktop (with QuickBooks)
Cloud computing is here – no longer is it considered to be temporary or just a fad. Even though there are many businesses in the country without access to high quality high-speed Internet connectivity, the levels of investment and revenue surrounding cloud and mobile computing solutions and technologies has proven that mobility and managed service matter to those who are connected. What’s interesting is that the popularity of the cloud and the emergence of cloud-based applications and services haven’t really put much of a dent in the need for the desktop, which remains as the business workhorse and – connected or not – represents the foundation for business productivity and getting work done.
Some years ago, business applications began to emerge in SaaS (software-as-a-service) format, meaning a customer could simply subscribe to an application on the web rather than purchasing and installing software. This option clearly resounded with many business customers and ushered in an era of online application services oriented specifically toward mobile users. Yet the desktop remains as the place where online solutions meet productivity (export any online data to an Excel spreadsheet recently?) and where accounting and finance connect with the rest of the operation.
Believing too much of the marketing-speak around cloud computing, many business users believe that they can only remotely access business software solutions if they are “cloud” and subscription model applications, and that the desktop products they know and have invested in cannot be available to them in a fully managed online model. In fact, a large number of the business owners I speak with that actually use hosted desktop services somehow believe that the software they are using is something special and different from that which would be installed to their PCs. The fact is that the software is not different, regardless of what they may think. More often than not, the hosted applications are EXACTLY what the customer had previously installed (or would have installed) to their own computers had they not been working with a hosting provider. Whether they are hosted or not… the desktop products generally function with all the features and capability designed into them because they are hosted on platforms they were designed to run on (like Microsoft Windows, for example).
Customers of the QuickBooks hosting companies often refer to their systems as “QuickBooks cloud, but not the online one”, not really understanding that it is simply the full desktop application that is being hosted for them.
Regardless of how many online application services emerge, and even if (IF) web-based versions of our favorite word processing and spreadsheet software become as useful as the installed kind, there will still be a need for the desktop if for no other reason than to make it easier to use and work with a variety of solutions at the same time. Perhaps this is why remote desktop computing and hosted application services are becoming increasingly popular approaches to cloud and managed computing services. The user benefits from having the feature-rich applications they need and a single place to access them and make them work together (the desktop value proposition), yet is able to have remote and mobile access, comprehensive system management and maintenance, data protection, helpdesk support and affordable monthly payments (the cloud value proposition). In many ways, application hosting models represent the best of both worlds for the business.
Consider how beneficial it would be to businesses who want the advantage of remote desktop and mobile access to applications to be able to run their QuickBooks (feature-rich desktop QuickBooks) and/or other business applications in an anytime, anywhere sort of environment. Businesses can obtain hosting services for QuickBooks Pro, Premier, and Enterprise – allowing organizations to have their QuickBooks financial applications managed, protected, secured, and made available to users all the time and from any location. Some hosting services may also support integrations and extensions for QuickBooks – for both desktop and Web-based applications and services. When the host can provide authorized subscription licensing for Microsoft Office, a business can have a complete, outsourced IT solution and pay only monthly service fees to get it. No installation or system management to worry about: the QuickBooks financials, the productivity, the operational systems and plugged-in applications can all be hosted in the cloud.
Banks and Small Business: Finding the “Just Right” Fit Isn’t Easy
Banks need business customers because business accounts provide more profitability than consumer accounts. By volume, there are more small businesses in the US than mid-size or enterprise businesses, which you would think would be a good thing for the banks – more business customers, right? It seems not so much.
For many banks, the problem is that they don’t appear to really know how to service – or even identify – these small business customers. The majority of small businesses in the US don’t have employees, so direct deposit and payroll solutions aren’t something they are looking for. Many of these small businesses operate from the business owner’s home rather than an office, and don’t generate the revenues (=deposits) that bigger businesses do.
To a bank, most small businesses look like consumers. These small businesses are treated like consumers – are offered consumer-level services and are not educated on what business banking services might be able to do for them. In reality, the banks really don’t have much to say to these small business owners, because the services offered by the banks are simply not a great fit. There are studies which suggest that the small business market is fairly evenly divided, with approximately 50% using consumer banking services rather than those designed for business use. Given the inability of the banks to even identify those consumer banking customers who are actually small businesses, I would suggest that the percentage is even higher.
There are three primary elements tied to banking which should be better-positioned to assist small business owners in leveraging their banking relationships to the benefit of the business and not just the bank. If the financial institutions can find a way to meet these three essential needs for smaller businesses, they would likely find that more small businesses would embrace business banking services, resulting in greater profitability for the bank.
Use of electronic payments services represents a growing trend in small businesses and needs to be better-addressed by the financial institutions rather than purely retail providers. Small businesses are increasingly using the Internet and online technologies to service their various business needs, and payments processing is among the top sellers. Providing SOLO/SOHO and other small businesses with the ability to process payments at any time and from anywhere has become a big driver for this type of solution. The popularity of Pay Pal, Intuit GoPayment and Square payment solutions is a testament to the need for such services in the small business market, yet the broadest use continues to be within retail providers rather than directly via the financial institutions.
Security and access controls to account and transaction information (frequently referred to as “entitlements” attached to business accounts) are hugely valuable for small businesses. Most small business owners engage bookkeeping or accounting professionals at some point, and the process of accounting for the business activities is improved dramatically when those professionals are able to access the information directly from the financial institution. Unfortunately, it is only with the more expensive business class accounts that most banks provide the means for account holders to grant access to account and/or transaction information for accountants and bookkeepers, financial advisors, etc. Allowing small businesses to benefit from this type of security and control of their accounts is tremendous, yet the overall costs of the associated business banking solutions are often simply too great for the small business to bear. The result is either a lack of privacy, security and control, where the business owner must grant unfettered access to account information to a 3rd party bookkeeper or accountant, or the business owner simply continues to pay for manual bookkeeping transaction entry.
Most small businesses operate on cash, and expense and cash management is essential to maintaining operations. Consumer banking solutions may offer limited capabilities for expense and cash reporting, but the services offered through many business banking portals would be far more beneficial for the business, reflecting trends and providing more insight relating to business financial activities and business behavior. Unfortunately, many of these services designed for business customers are oriented towards the larger organization, and are far too complicated or expensive to provide real value to the owner of a small business.
Small businesses fuel the economy, yet remain a largely untapped market in terms of business banking and other services. Small businesses run “under the radar” of many service providers because they have not reached the point where the obviously available business services (e.g, the more profitable banking solutions) seem attractive to them. Banks need to recognize that serving the small business customer well – providing the services which help small businesses grow into bigger businesses – is ultimately the key to acquiring new customers for whom the big banking solutions fit.
Read more about small business banking and credit