Cloud accounting: Outlook variable
Whatever way you turn, "the cloud" is a buzzword that is looming over accounting software.
Even desktop products like Sage Accounts 50, BrightPay and the IRIS Accountancy Suite are building in online functionality, some as an aside rather than a replacement. And there are products that are embracing the web-based cloud architecture for tasks ranging from bookkeeping to tax and accounts production.
Even accountants who are sceptical about technology's latest buzz can't ignore this trend. This is potentially because of what the meaning behind the buzzword essentially is; a way of working and storing information online, rather than a direct connection to a server.
Whether in a personal or professional capacity, every person visiting this website is using the cloud in some way, whether it’s using various phone apps, Dropbox, Gmail or simply even checking your statements via online banking.
Some accounting firms are choosing a holistic approach, going for on and offline versions and perhaps a hosted desktop.
And there are others who are going for the totally paperless, all-online everything.
There is no cloud one-size fits all, which is clear from the massive ecosystem of add-ons available for many cloud products at the moment. The beauty is picking and choosing what suits you and more importantly your clients.
Yet many remain unconvinced, judging from the debate that took place on a recent Any Answers thread, when AccountingWEB member Tickers asked if all this cloud accounting software was pie in the sky.
The no argument:
Tickers argued that it’s more of a ‘new toy’ for clients to play with on smartphones and tablets, and most of them don’t know how to use the products properly. He also argued that the premise is based entirely on internet connection which in some parts of the country are patchy at best.
Some members agreed with some of Tickers points, including John Hextall, who has been working with computers and finance/payroll systems for 30 years.
He argues that the "whole history of software development" is based on the idea that “it will all be fixed in next release” and cloud is no exception. He also queried getting relevant bandwidth outside of cities, but another member counter argued that the amount of bandwidth used while doing cloud accounting is a minor amount.
A real issue for some appears to be internet connection. Many AccountingWEB members have commented on the site that they cannot get speedy broadband or 3G in their area. However, Paul Scholes said he does log in to his cloud accounting package from a shed in Devon on 3G, which works fine.
This is of course but one example. What might be more interesting are the government's broadband delivery initiatives (such as this one announced in Budget 2015) and increased roll out of faster mobile internet connectivity such as the expansion of 4G by providers such as EE. But, of course, that means accountants will need to modernise their technological hardware and invest in devices that are receptive to the likes of 4G.
Another issue thrown up by comments is that there is still a feeling of the unknown as to where data is being held. Some firms such as Baker Tilly who offer services via a Twinfield cloud product, carry out their own due diligence on the servers. But for smaller firms, many reputable cloud vendors have noted that customers need only ask and they will explain about where the data is held.
Another no argument is Carolelmcarre, who is very happy with her current system, which she says gives her control over what is processed and how, in addition to it only costing her and her clients one fee. She said that paying monthly would be a pain, but if her client base grew and then processed a significant amount of transactions, it may be useful.
The yes argument:
There are many accountants who have adopted cloud over the past few years, and it is possible that that number is rising as more and more firms join in on the digital revolution, whether from pressure to keep up with others or the fresh onus on a digital way of communicating with HMRC.
Indeed there are growing firms which are very enthusiastic about cloud adoption, including Kinder Pocock, Hudson & Co, Pillow May and Tayabali Tomlin.
Members on the thread were of the general perception that the cloud is not yet a 100% perfect product. But, it is the way of the future, a "maturing market" and has made a lot of progress within the last two to three years.
James Reeves commented: “regardless of where we are now, we are only going one way and that’s online.”
Old Greying Accountant, a member who has spent more than 20 years using desktop software, now uses a cloud product. They say while it was difficult getting used to using it, they find the online help and support to be a positive.
In addition, cloud can allow those in control of their own practice as they get to 'pick and choose' what to adopt. But ultimately, as Della Hudson recently remarked, you should only adopt what's right for your clients.
Another bonus (or negative) that cloud provides for accountants is the ability to change work policies such as flexible working and working from home. This works for some firms. Online and hosted solutions can also change ways of working for accountants, such as allowing flexible working for staff, such as is the case with Egarnham.
Again Paul Scholes shared his experience using a hosted desktop. He advised that there are over two dozen cloud systems out there, and that accountants need to find one fit for purpose and not too advanced for them.
Other members were "amazed" that other accountants were still sceptical of the cloud.
ChrisScullard said since his firm adopted cloud, it has totally changed the way they work, who they work with, what they can do, and has increased value and productivity and recovery rates.
"But," he noted, "clients do make a total Horlicks of bookkeeping if left to their own devices, so we only let them have access to what they can be trusted with."
And KPEM Online agreed: "Everything is going into "the cloud". Might be a fancy new for everything online, but it works better than desktop by miles. The ability to collaborate and integrate online systems and cloud tools is how the biggest impacts are achieved."