There is a tremendous amount of excitement, curiosity and even some fear around all of the incredible possibilities of the cloud. If you haven’t read Thomas Friedman’s “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations,” please jump on your smartphone – if you’re not on it already – and pick up a copy. In a mere 497 pages, Friedman does a superb job of framing up acceleration, how we got to where we are and where we are likely going with technology.
Consider artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), automation, optimization, portals, collaboration tools, massive libraries with endless content, and big data farming to help businesses large and small. It is difficult not to get caught up in all of the marketing hype and propaganda swirling around the professional tax, audit and accounting industry. But what about those who have made the switch — is there anything we can learn from their journey online?
Absolutely. Let’s take a look at five reasons to consider moving your business to the cloud based on feedback I’ve gotten from tax accountants.
1: Collaboration. When interviewing small firms that have taken the plunge, I typically hear collaboration as the top reasons for the switch: “It’s (just) more straightforward to share documents, chat and review information in a shared space outside of servers, hosted solutions and email.”
2: Real-time insights. Another plus to working online is the ability to glean real-time insights from various points of data, including banking and financial transactions, which adds confidence and efficiency. Information at the moment of need is especially enticing in the world of accounting and tax.
3: Data is more secure. Most companies that support online services have teams of security professionals monitoring and responding to live events. That type of investment typically far exceeds the capabilities of most small business owners who fight to protect their firm’s physical servers and external backup hard drives.
4: Client training and education. I’m connected with small business owner – a CPA and QuickBooks ProAdvisor® –who recently shared a story of something entirely unexpected happening during her journey to the cloud. First, you should know that her business renders a value pricing model, so the services she offers require a periodic audit for client utility and perceived value. Her revelation arose from how the firm has typically delivered financials. Like many others in the accounting profession who currently use cloud file sharing services, her team directly uploaded their financial statements to her customers’ online portals every month. Easy enough right? Well, not so fast.
During the firm’s annual services review, which is a must to complement the value pricing model, the team discovered that only around 10 percent of her clients logged into the portal every month to download and review the financials. All of her customers understood the online resource, knew to look in the portal for reports and claimed they valued the service; however, their actions revealed something quite different. After much consideration, she and her firm decided to take a different course of action. They opted to annotate the financials with a brief video review of the statements. In the videos, the team speaks directly to the client, highlights critical areas such as cash and inventory and takes the time to explain how the numbers fit together.
The result? Her firm now experiences more than 90 percent engagement. Her customers view the firm as going “above and beyond” to provide more profound insights into the small business. This is a classic win-win if there ever was one—all by thinking outside the proverbial box and reimagining how to deliver value in new and exciting ways via a shared resource: the cloud.
5: Improved workflow. Another surprise benefit of moving to the cloud comes to us from a CPA and ProAdvisor in the northeast United States. Her firm is heavy, and I mean heavy, into tax accounting, with more than a thousand returns and an emphasis on corporation and partnership tax planning. She operates what some might call a hybrid cloud business model because while a majority of their services are in cloud-based software, some of their programs are hosted, and others remain on their servers.
In years past, before adopting the cloud, and like so many other tax offices throughout the country, the firm experienced a rush to get all corporate returns on an extension by the March 1 deadline. Their extension process would fuel countless attempts over the summer months to collect the data required to eventually file the tax return before the extension deadline in September. Ask any corporate tax professional and they will tell you, “It is just the way it is done.” For her firm, it was the way it had always been done as well, until last year.
Cloud accounting presented a new level of efficiency, greater collaboration and a completely unexpected benefit. Her CPA office, once bound to a summer of data collection and repeat client requests, gave way to the firm not having a single corporate tax return on extension. Imagine that for a moment.
Gains were made because of the capacity created within the firm by not having to spend several months, opportunity cost and non-billable hours to chase paperwork leading up to the extension deadline. Now, consider the customer’s point of view. What a delight it must be to know that they no longer have to contend with the back-and-forth emails, snail mail and phone calls dedicated to the gathering of documentation. Now, that’s a value proposition on steroids.
Whether it is additional bandwidth for the firm, higher customer engagement and perceived value, or merely the need to collaborate on-demand from anywhere in the world, firms are rapidly adopting applications and services that join forces in the cloud. I suspect we will continue to see further exploration into the cultivation and explanation of massive big data sets, automation ushered in from advances in ML and AI, and engaging new ways to connect with internal partners and employees – all which will be leveraged by even the smallest of firms.
This leads me to consider what other unexpected benefits are lurking under the exterior of working in the cloud? If you have some personal experiences to share, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.