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Lightbulb moment
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The lightbulb moment: Help clients reach cloud nirvana

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22nd Feb 2017
Editor AccountingWEB
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Olly Evans of Evans & Partners is on a cloud awareness crusade. Soon, small businesses will have to retire their shoebox full of receipts. Evans has already spurred many of these cloud accounting novices to reach a cloud enlightenment.

“I love that light bulb moment,” Evans told AccountingWEB. “It’s that moment when people say ‘wow! I didn’t know you could do it like that, I’ve been doing it the hard way all my life.”

These lightbulb moments are common occurrences during the workshops Evans regularly holds with MacBook-toting small business owners.

Identify the need

The workshops at first resemble any other networking event. But once the introductions are out of the way, the business owners discuss their current challenges and desire to get control of their finances. As the same issue echoes around the workshop table, the attendees have identified a need for their businesses - and Evans has the answer.

“It gives them comfort, knowing that they're not the only person with this problem,” said Evans. “So we go through some of the issues they're having and how this as a tool can save time and run their business better, and take control back.”

The biggest hurdle in achieving this lightbulb moment lies in the communication. Granted, it’s easier to convince these cloud-curious businesses; they’re already well-versed in tech and are already looking for a financial tool to integrate with their MacBook or iPad hardware.

But even among the tech-savvy workshop attendees cloud awareness is low. One attendee, for example, told Evans that because of an old, unreliable laptop she backs up her business info by emailing everything to her mum and dad.

The pain businesses feel

To get to the level of unrest displayed by the workshop attendees requires a sharp nudge. Evans says the people who come along to the workshops already see the value. Their friends have planted the cloud accounting seed.

As the prospect of the cloud percolates into their minds, the small business owners come to the workshops looking for answers: “They're coming along to see what it's all about. Is it really as good as it sounds? Is it going to be really complicated? What's it going to look like for me? So they want to learn and explore. It’s the start of a journey,” said Evans.

The workshop

Over the next hour, Evans gives the attendees a quick history of Xero; aware of his tech surroundings, Evans hinges this background talk on Xero’s design-led approach to its software and how the cloud doesn’t require software to be installed. He then introduces the different features: the bank rec, the sales side of running a business, and reporting.

Evans realised that business owners don’t see cloud accounting as software. “It's not software,” he said. “It's a tool to do the business with; a tool to run their business. They're not looking at it from software or an IT point of view - it's an app.”

“People are used to the idea of downloading an app on their phone so why not have one which you can run your business on.”

Other accountants are looking towards this workshop format as a way to communicate the upcoming digitalisation of tax. Jane Falconer-White of KF Accounting services, the winner of the TaxCalc self assessment prize, has pencilled in a number of workshops in the coming weeks to educate her clients about cloud accounting. What Falconer-White hopes, and what Evans has discovered, is that the workshop set-up provides a supportive environment for business owners.

Convey the benefits

From doing these workshops, Evans learned to focus on the real benefits as a way to ensure that lightbulb moment shines bright. “It's about focusing on things that make a difference rather than here's a list of features,” said Evans.

As way to get through to the workshop attendees, Evans imagines what the benefits mean to him: “You're person running a business, you're working 50 hours a week, you've got a family and a house to run:

  • What's this really going to do to you?
  • How's it going to save you time?
  • How's it going to make your customer relationship better?
  • Where's it going to let you not worry about bookkeeping to let you do what you love about your business?”

By passing the Xero features through this filter, Evans says that you can see the workshop attendees applying this to themselves. It’s not long before the penny drops. “I can email my invoices to my customers, I can get paid a bit faster,” said one attendee. “I can run a report to see how we did last month - it was just guessing before,” said another.

Judging from the reaction of the question and answer section, the reaction is always positive. Hands strike up in the air. The attendees are full of questions, wondering how they can use this app to enhance their business. The lightbulb shines.

How do you communicate the benefits of cloud accounting to your clients? Have you tried a workshop with your clients? How do you spark that lightbulb moment?

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Replies (15)

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By dogsbreath
23rd Feb 2017 10:36

Struth, words like Nirvana.. What could possibly go wrong.

Loose all your data? Privacy? Security? Resillience? Data ownership? Tie ins to specific vendors? Subscription model? Uncontrolled costs? Migration in (and out)? Switching vendors?

One person's Nirvana is another person's purgatory.

You cannot simply switch to "The Cloud" without careful consideration of the implications.

Why is a vendor pushing that particular model. A benevolent vendor? Do you believe in fairies too?

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By dgilmour51
23rd Feb 2017 11:52

Tremendous stuff - once the Cloud providers' storage locations and contracts are sorted out vis-a-vis the constraints of the GDPR.
The combination of MTD and the advent of GDPR within the same timeframe
o MTD because its been thought about but not thought through.
o GDPR because its been thought through [thus far] only by very few lawyers and not at all by data-flow architects
is beyond a nightmare of confusion and cost.
I see nothing in Xero regarding the consents for storage, processing, portability to name a few.
I think the rush to the Cloud as mooted is both naive and dangerous.

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By P2
23rd Feb 2017 16:46

"Evans hinges this background talk on Xero’s design-led approach to its software and how the cloud doesn’t require software to be installed".

...and this change in working practices has resulted in it taking much longer for users, clients and accountants, to get through the basic processing work these last couple of years we have been using cloud based software.

We are still running in tandem software on our in-house server and software in the cloud. The differences in the time taken to process transactions is noticeable.

We find we are spending extra hours on every assignment that involves remote software (and this is in Manchester with fast broadband speeds available for uploading and downloading of data).

The truth is that currently when clients and their accountants are using cloud based software they are finding the "screen refresh" time is lengthy and (tbh) just "tedious".

The transaction response times from the cloud based software are noticeably slower when you have just finished working on a job which involves posting transactions to a program installed on your own hard-drive, (desktop or laptop).

Do others find this? Please just say.

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Replying to P2:
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By dogsbreath
24th Feb 2017 18:51

One of the main reasons cloudy stuff runs slowly is that it's out of your control and in the control of goodness knows whom. As any cloud-based application will be running at a *much* larger scale, all sorts of scalability issues will be encountered.

A lot of the smaller applications which run on a PC or a small company server simply cannot scale to the application sizes encountered in cloud computing. Thus you need all sorts of specialists to untangle the mess and apply the performance enhancements required. This isn't cheap as it's like having a team of specialist accountants running an investigation and audit. Suddenly you're needing specialist enterprise/solution architects, communications and security specialists, web developers, application developers, testing teams, and a bevy of project managers to put it all together. Loadsamoney.

Then there's the simple issue of many customers sharing the same server stacks: a failure of which will bring down everyone. If you're lucky this will often this can be peak time delays -- HMRC for example. If you're unlucky you could loose the lot.

Somehow all of this gets forgotten in the rush to proclaim the Cloud as The Promised Land.

When done properly, cloud applications are superb. Poorly implemented they're an utter disaster.

What's not mentioned is that Cloud computing is pretty much analogous to the old Mainframe computer model. You're centralising all your data and application development. What goes around, spins around, etc.

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
23rd Feb 2017 21:30

This would have been the perfect article for April 1, why have we jumped the gun on it?

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By carnmores
25th Feb 2017 11:22

The luddites are out in force today LOL ;-0

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Replying to carnmores:
By Charlie Carne
25th Feb 2017 13:40

carnmores wrote:
The luddites are out in force today LOL ;-0

You're being a little unfair, carnmores. I too find that computers tend to be very slow. In fact, even pen and ink is too much of a fad for me. I think that the ancient Egyptian system worked very well, so I use a reed brush and papyrus to record my clients' transactions! :)

Seriously, dogsbreath, ggilmour51 and P2, are you really so stuck in 20th century thinking? Sure, if you or your client have VERY slow internet access, then cloud accounting may occasionally be problematic, but you don't need your broadband to be very fast. I've run QBO on a tablet tethered to my mobile phone's data connection at a busy conference (when the data speed was at a crawl) and it worked fine. The advantages of the cloud so overwhelmingly outweigh any benefits of desktop software that I could not imagine going back.

Dogsbreath, you say that building cloud computing systems to scale costs "Loadsamoney" - that's true, but guess what? The major players like Intuit and Xero have spent hundreds of millions developing their platforms so you don't have to spend much at all. The advantage of the cloud is that ALL of the infrastructure is located on the provider's servers, so the cost to the user is limited to buying the cheapest computer that can run a web browser and then just paying the software license fee. You don't need to run an office server and there are no ongoing IT maintenance costs, as there is almost nothing on your premises to go wrong. If your Chromebook gets a bug, just run a factory reset on the hardware and it's good as new. No need to call an engineer. Why do you think you need a "bevy of project managers"?

P2 says that "transaction response times from the cloud based software are noticeably slower" than desktop. Not in my experience. The cloud offers so many solutions that dramatically increase the speed of data entry (eg automatic bank feeds and receipt processing software) that I look back at my days using desktop software and heave a huge sigh of relief that I don't need to do that any more.

I'm presenting a panel at QuickBooks Connect in London on March 6th and 7th. Come along and hear from your colleagues how the majority of the profession are migrating to the cloud and the benefits they obtain.

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Replying to charliecarne:
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By dogsbreath
26th Feb 2017 16:43

Throughout history computer architectures have drifted between a centralised model and the client-side model. Cloud computing is, in essence, a shift back to centralised computing.

The beauty of this model is the centre's managed by people who are experts in this. Professional administrators, architects and developers.

All good.

Now, step away from flogging your latest wares and get into what the end-client needs. End-clients need software solutions that work - everything that you've said.

You, as a vendor, want the client locked in as tightly as possible paying a "subscription" every month on pain of deletion. This is completely at odds with end-clients who do not want is to be permanently tied into a specific vendor, i.e. a monopoly supplier. If they are, then they're tied to whatever that vendor supplies; they've little chance in changing or staying on an old version that "works" for their business.

For example, the monopoly supplier changes their terms of use to say all your data are ours. Or just massively hikes up their prices (they're a monopoly now, so have all the power in the relationship). What can the end-client do? They're utterly stuffed. Take it or face a massive effort to leave it.

Similarly what when the aggregated data becomes very interesting to some seriously good hackers: you're stuffed and reliant on that supplier having met their duty of care. Meet collateral damage.

I think Cloud Computing is great. To be able to configure an environment in minutes -- not weeks -- is amazing. To stand up a test stack temporarily for next to no cost is truly amazing. But you must have people who know what they're doing, you know, professionals. These people aren't cheap and are in great demand.

Accountants are famous for knowing the cost of everything. There's a massive value in Cloud Computing; but it's got to be carefully managed and takes a big change in the mindset of the end-client.

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Replying to dogsbreath:
By Charlie Carne
26th Feb 2017 19:58

dogsbreath wrote:

You, as a vendor, want the client locked in as tightly as possible paying a "subscription" every month on pain of deletion. This is completely at odds with end-clients who do not want is to be permanently tied into a specific vendor, i.e. a monopoly supplier.

I'm not a vendor. I'm an accountant in practice, so I have no vested interest in what systems you use. I'm simply giving you my opinion on the benefits of the cloud. Some desktop software requires an annual licence to continue its use, so those are not that different to cloud licensing. Some desktop software can be used indefinitely for a one-off purchase cost and you are right that the cloud pricing model is different. However, many cloud products will allow you to cease payment and continue access for free on a read-only basis. If you want a desktop copy, you can download all of the relevant reports as Excel files.

dogsbreath wrote:

Similarly what when the aggregated data becomes very interesting to some seriously good hackers: you're stuffed and reliant on that supplier having met their duty of care.


I agree with you; you need to do your due diligence and pick a vendor that you can trust. But where, I'm guessing, that our opinions differ is that you perhaps believe that you can take better care of your data than a reliable software supplier can. Whilst the lure of hacking thousands of data files at once via a single cloud server may be more attractive, I strongly believe that the major cloud providers have security systems that are orders of magnitude better than my own. I know accountants whose servers have been hacked or whose laptops have been stolen but I do not know of a single cloud accounting provider of note that has had its servers hacked. The hacking reports one reads about tend to be for free, personal products such as email, rather than commercial (i.e. paid), professional products.

dogsbreath wrote:

I think Cloud Computing is great...... But you must have people who know what they're doing, you know, professionals. These people aren't cheap and are in great demand.


This is where I must disagree with you (if I've understood you correctly). Once you've picked a cloud provider that you can trust, you don't need to spend a penny on hiring the professional software experts. That's the whole point of cloud. With desktop software, you need to install it on your PC or a local server, which requires a certain level of expertise (either your own or you pay to hire someone) and you then need to keep it maintained, updated, backed-up, etc. You don't need to do any of that for cloud software. You just open up a web browser on any computer and log in. You don't need any experts to help you, as none of the software (beyond a simple web browser) is installed on your hardware.
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Replying to charliecarne:
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By dogsbreath
28th Feb 2017 10:59

I'm a techie that builds this stuff and I have had to go through the "paradigm shift" (yuck) that the Cloud computing architectural change has brought.

We're looking at two ends of the spectrum here; you're looking at general purpose applications, I'm looking at bespoke developments.

My biggest concern is security. You have to take it on trust that the cloud vendors do what they say they do, because you no longer control where your data is and who can get to it. If you have secret data -- e.g. PCI card numbers -- then you must build the appropriate security into the systems assuming that everyone can look at your data.

The architectural changes are also huge. The database tier is provided by the vendors (e.g. Amazon's RDS) and this is resilient out of the box, but your application will need to be written to cater for this - it's no longer a simple connection to a single database running on the same box.

Anyway, I spend a lot of my time integrating with other vendors who have real problems with scaling. There is a large amount of learning how to properly develop to exploit all the cloud has to offer.

I have a deep dislike for marketing gimps who give the alternative truths to the Cloud, painting it with the rosiest of tinted spectacles -- no, I'm not accusing you of this!

Managers and accountants need to appreciate that costs will change. You can't buy the asset and have a fixed cost. Cloud computing is uncharted waters when it comes to costs -- you just don't know what the bills will be as there's so many variables: network bandwidth, virtual server types, CPU performance, storage, memory, etc., etc. Obviously this is offset by not needing "men in white coats" to look after your kit, there's no power bills, maintenance, etc.

But you will get big bills. And you will still need specialist developers, architects, security specialists, network people, etc. Little boutique development consultancies are good places to seek out people with those skills.

The future's bright. For developers:-)

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Replying to dogsbreath:
By Charlie Carne
09th Mar 2017 11:39

dogsbreath wrote:

I'm a techie that builds this stuff and I have had to go through the "paradigm shift" (yuck) that the Cloud computing architectural change has brought......

Managers and accountants need to appreciate that costs will change. You can't buy the asset and have a fixed cost. Cloud computing is uncharted waters when it comes to costs -- you just don't know what the bills will be as there's so many variables: network bandwidth, virtual server types, CPU performance, storage, memory, etc., etc. Obviously this is offset by not needing "men in white coats" to look after your kit, there's no power bills, maintenance, etc.

But you will get big bills. And you will still need specialist developers, architects, security specialists, network people, etc. Little boutique development consultancies are good places to seek out people with those skills.

accountingWEB is designed for accountants, not developers, so it seems reasonable to me that the responses on here should be focused on the needs of the former group, not the latter. If I understand you correctly, dogsbreath, you are saying that the cloud has created new problems for developers. I'm sure that's true, but I don't care and nor, would I guess, do the overwhelming majority of readers on here.

As an accountant, all I need to know (in regard to the cost and network issues you raise) is what will it cost me to buy a licence for my chosen cloud product(s). Contrary to your view, this is an easy question to answer as it is a fixed monthly cost. I wholly disagree with your assertion that there are "big bills" from "specialist developers, architects, security specialists, network people, etc.". NO - there won't be for the accountant using the cloud product. That's the whole point. Those problems are yours (as a developer) to contend with and, once you have solved them, you will market a product with a fixed price for us accountants to consider purchasing. When I buy a car, i don't care about how emissions regulations have made it harder and more expensive for auto manufacturers to develop new models. I simply look at the cars that are in the marketplace and consider their features and costs.

Most of us won't need bespoke developments, as the cloud has enabled a huge ecosystem of supporting apps that provide thousands of narrow-focus add-ons that would cover the needs of most companies. Sure, there will be some businesses that still need bespoke features that cannot be provided by existing add-ons, but they are in a very small minority that won't impact the rest of us. I don't dismiss BMW as a provider of my car just because my neighbour needs a tractor.

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Replying to charliecarne:
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By dogsbreath
13th Mar 2017 01:03

I'm talking to the target audience; accountants. My warning is simply that the Cloud is most definitely not the panacea it's often portrayed as being. The reason that large companies such as Microsoft like the cloud is because it locks customers in to a subscription model from which it's hard to extricate themselves.

Buying off-the-shelf, or rather, out of the cloud solutions, particularly from the medium and smaller vendors, needs scrutiny. These people own your data and it may be hard to get it back in the format you need to move to another vendor later.

Most companies need some kind of system to run their business. The most cost-effective is often COTS - commercial off-the-shelf systems. If running in the cloud there are many new caveats to emptor.

And, of course, if choosing developers for a bespoke cloud solution, be careful that they have the experience behind the scenes. There's many a pig in pretty lipstick. What they're selling you now may well be impacted by other customers of theirs as it could well be a shared environment. Or they may well update it in ways that doesn't suit you - just look at the mess that is LinkedIn.

Cloud is good. Cloud really is the future. But see the reality as well as the hype.

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Replying to dogsbreath:
By Charlie Carne
15th Mar 2017 12:53

Sure, if one is buying a bespoke system, one needs to take great care that the vendor has the experience and ability to maintain what they provide, but that remains true whether it is in the cloud or not. For the overwhelming majority of users, the cloud is the obvious and (with MTD on the horizon) necessary platform. There are just as many issues to be wary of from an off-the-shelf, installed system as there are in the cloud, so COTS are not likely to be the most cost-effective any more. As for extracting data from a cloud provider with whom you have fallen out of love, there are ways of doing it and companies that can manage the process for you at reasonable prices. The same was true for a long time with desktop software. Cloud is the future and MTD will make it compulsory. We need to embrace it and explain the pitfalls to avoid, not scare new users away so that they remain forever in 20th century thinking.

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By carnmores
26th Feb 2017 14:49

you had me going for a minute. I am in Spain for a few days and been updating QBO for a few clients while here all very simple even with a slow connection there were no hanging delays. Its the way forward and combining QBO with Taxfiler saves me about 40% of my time; I haven't quite got the hang of Receipt Bank didn't like their attitude but I suspect I will succumb shortly

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By carnmores
26th Feb 2017 14:51

you had me going for a minute. I am in Spain for a few days and been updating QBO for a few clients while here all very simple even with a slow connection there were no hanging delays. Its the way forward and combining QBO with Taxfiler saves me about 40% of my time; I haven't quite got the hang of Receipt Bank didn't like their attitude but I suspect I will succumb shortly no doubt

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