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Cloud questions answered: Xero webinar

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22nd May 2013
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AccountingWEB recently ‘hung out’ with Xero in a live webinar to answer practitioners' big cloud questions.

More than 300 of you tuned in to view it live on the day, with a further 700 tuning in to the recorded version later on. 

Because of the large attendance, we received some questions from the audience we found we simply couldn't fit into the webinar time-slot. 

We gathered eight questions and passed them on to Xero managing director Gary Turner, who used his cloud expertise to answer them:

What are the benefits of cloud-based IT hosted services?

Gary: For accountants, the ability to remotely access and work on clients’ live data at any time is much more convenient than passing client records back and forth.

Working online also permits the accountant to offer more proactive and timely advice such as forecasting a client’s likely tax liability well before the end of the year, or preparing management accounts for clients as the year progresses.

For clients, the ability to share their financial data securely with their accountant or other advisers and stakeholders in their business makes it easier to collaborate and share insight into the performance of the business. It also makes it easy for clients to access their accounts data and carry out bookkeeping tasks wherever they like, such as in a coffee shop, at home or on the go with smartphones or tablets.

If clients give us “brown paper bag jobs”, why would using cloud software make them improve?

Gary: The accountant or bookkeeper can easily access to the data and the if client’s accounting system is being regularly refreshed by a bank statement upload or a live bank feed.

Therefore, the job of preparing accounts using the banking data as the primary source is a much more efficient way to quickly resolve the financial position of a business, and the reliance on paper records becomes the exception rather than the rule.

This way, a practice is able to grind through low value compliance work in much less time than with manual records and traditional software.

What are some of the business uses of cloud apps in accountancy?

Gary: As mentioned earlier, flipping the compliance process to being driven off banking data is a significant and more efficient way of working.

Alongside that, the convenience and efficiency of having a single set of client data in the cloud that both the business and practice are working on simultaneously is quite transformational for both the client and the accountant, never mind just more convenient.

What happens if the cloud company I’m with goes into administration?

Gary: It’s critical that accountants and clients conduct sufficient diligence prior to using any new cloud-based service or service provider. Just because it’s easy to set up doesn’t eliminate the accountability and need to check the credentials of the provider, their commercial viability as a business and the processes they use to safeguard client data and maintain a reliable service.

It’s great that there are so many new cloud services coming to market, but the reality is some of these will fail and if users fail to exercise sufficient care up-front, so I’d advocate adopting a “buyer beware” mind-set and make doubly sure that you’ve thoroughly checked-out potential suppliers and services adequately before deciding to use them.

As for Xero, we recognised early on that in order to provide a reliable and resilient service that people could put their trust in was not going to be something we could do cheaply.

So, we’re a very well capitalised publicly listed company with £40m of cash reserves and over 400 staff to ensure all our systems and operations, and our ability to build a strong, reliable service should withstand even the toughest scrutiny.

Some questions to check potential cloud suppliers against would be:

  • Who are you? Who is behind the business, How long have you been around? Are you here to stay? Prove it
  • How safe are my accounts? Have you ever lost any data?
  • Give me some references? Who do I trust that trusts you?
  • How good is your support? If I have a question at 3am will you be there?
  • Why is your system better than the rest?

What are the costs and implications of moving from cloud back to desktop?

Gary: It is possible to do this, but the thing about cloud is that you can try before you buy. 

My advice would be to try the cloud out before you commit to it, that way you will see if it is best suited to you and will lessen the need to migrate your data back to the desktop. 

But if, for some reason you did want to migrate back to desktop because, if for example you were relocating to a remote location with no internet connectivity, you can export your data. In my personal experience, I've never heard of someone going back to desktop from the cloud. 

Any decent cloud software will give you the ability to migrate back to desktop, but the implications of doing this will increase with the size of the employer and how big the user is - i.e. how many employees they have.

How much storage space does one get per client in the cloud?

Gary: We don't have a notion of storage as such. Xero's target audience are companies with hundreds of invoices per month and we give them more than enough capacity to do that. 

There's no limit to the data, but I would say if you have more than around 1,000 invoices per month, you will probably need a bigger product.

Can we get a free trial of Xero?

Gary: Yes, you can. Anyone can play around with the Xero trial, on both the client and accountant side. 

We have an accountant partner programme for bookkeepers, where you can partner up with Xero, which provides software, marketing leads, training, promotional material and support for free, which is worth looking into too.

Should you include in your engagement letter that you are putting clients' information on the cloud?

Gary: Yes, I think you should make it very clear to your client - there's no reason why you should hide the fact that you're using cloud software. 

Be encouraging of it and definitely make them aware of it. Do go out of your way to tell them, don't simply inform them that you're using it; explain what it is and address their questions or concerns about it. 

You can't work with a client on cloud accounting software without making them aware that it is that kind of software you're using. 

After all, you're doing it to help them, once they understand the benefits of working with you online, they'll thank you for it

If you want to see more cloud questions answered, you can re-watch our webinar, recorded live at AccountingWEB offices.  

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Teignmouth
By Paul Scholes
22nd May 2013 14:43

Security of data

Following on from the risk of the provider going into liquidation there is always (as we all know) the possibility of data corruption/loss or just the internet connection going down.

There's no way to guarantee that data will stay secure (although I actually feel safer now all of mine is up there somewhere) and so the easiest way to add a bit of safety is to regularly export key data to Excel and save it locally. All of XERO's reports, covering every aspect of the accounts, can be saved in this way and FreeAgent has a full export facility whereby in a few seconds you have one spreadsheet with tabs for every transaction ever posted.

If (and god knows why) you ever wanted the grief of moving it back to desk bound then these spreadsheets can be used as import files.

So, in addition to checking up on the provider's own ability to stay solvent and awake for at least the next 12 months, also make sure they enable easy data exports.

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