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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.
QuickBooks Hosting Services for IT-Capable Accountants
Small businesses in large numbers are looking to the cloud as a platform to deliver solutions for the problems of escalating IT costs, mobility, and remote access to business data. The cloud is also becoming the recommended platform for the delivery of services from accounting and bookkeeping professionals, as the benefits of remote data access and real-time collaboration nicely address the requirement for accounting pros to exchange and share information with their business clients. One of the popular “cloud” hosting solutions addressing a collaborative accounting model is a hosted application approach to using Intuit QuickBooks desktop products. While accounting professionals may be aware that QuickBooks can be hosted by 3rd party providers, many firms are not aware of what is referred to as the “self-host” model, which is a QuickBooks hosting model for accounting firms with some in-house technical capability.
For small businesses and many accounting service providers, working with a 3rd party hosting provider makes a lot of sense, as the host has the infrastructure and the support organization necessary to service large-scale hosted customer requirements.
On the other hand, there are a lot of accounting and bookkeeping firms which have skilled in-house IT personnel who are more than capable of creating a hosting environment to serve not only their internal needs, but also to meet basic requirements of the QuickBooks-using clients they work with. It makes sense to explore the possibilities of implementing a “self-hosting” model for client access to QuickBooks, overcoming the cost and other barriers involved with 3rd party hosting services.
When an accounting firm works with a number of clients with QuickBooks desktop edition files, the firm has to install and manage not only their own software products, but also the relevant QuickBooks software products in use by the various clients (must have the right QB program in order to open the QB data file). This often puts an undue burden on the internal IT systems of the practice which has its own internal-use software and systems to support. With an internal hosting approach, the firm can provide standardized/centralized application hosting services to their clients, building their own “economy of scale” on the platform and reducing the IT management while achieving all the real-time and remote access benefits of an outsourced hosted model. The firm does not experience a retail cost for a hosting solution, and the cost to host the client is generally offset through the efficiency gained at the firm level through direct access to client data and applications.
The technical model for delivering hosting services to a relatively small client base is not overly complicated. Commercial service providers have complex architectures because they must serve a large and diverse client base, and they never really know what sort of devices (computers and printers) or connectivity the customer may have. Commercial providers have to be prepared to deal with any and all situations, where a “self-host” firm needs only to concern themselves with supporting their particular client users and use cases. Additionally, when the solution is offered as part of the accounting or bookkeeping service, the support requirements of the customer tend to be focused during mutual working hours, as opposed to the 24×7 support demanded of the commercial host.
As accountants and bookkeepers search for solutions to improve efficiency, increase profitability and differentiate services, it makes sense for those serving QuickBooks desktop clients and having an in-house IT capability to explore becoming a QuickBooks self-host. It is one possible way to eliminate cost as a barrier to working closer with QuickBooks desktop clients while providing the mobility and collaboration businesses need.