The tipping point has come for tax pros and accountants to move to cloud-based products, according to the responses from the 2016 National Management of an Accounting Practice Survey. The survey found that the use of cloud services by CPA firms has grown since 2014, with 56 percent of all firms stating that they use cloud-based software, up from 48 percent in 2014 and 29 percent in 2012. In the Future of the Cloud Computing Survey, 90 percent of respondents reported that cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) are the most popular technologies, with seven in 10 companies indicating they use some sort of cloud functionality.
Many accountants are starting to see the benefit of the cloud and the ability to tie tools and applications together – and you don’t need survey results to see the increased usage by accountants of cloud-based products. QuickBooks® Online (QBO) has increased to more than 2 million subscribers as of April 30, 2017, with more than 350,000 coming in last quarter.
Every major vendor in the accounting space has created cloud platforms for accountants and to market the benefits. Now, it is up to us as accountants to determine which tools are right for us, saving us time, as well as making us more efficient.
Last year, I migrated to Intuit® ProConnect™ Tax Online from Lacerte® for many reasons, including the “Book to Tax” functionality within QuickBooks Online Accountant (QBOA). The difference has made the preparation of my business returns much easier and accurate. I can complete most of the detail of the tax preparation right on my Trial Balance within QBOA, allowing me to do all my journal entries and then pressing a button to put it on the return. By working both ends within the cloud, I have no connectivity issues, and no need to be tethered within an office. Desktop software has its place, but it is much more difficult to connect different tools together, usually requiring network or virtualization ware.
Technology is the great disruptor in the accounting and tax space, and new tools are being created at a rapid pace. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are making what we used to do by hand automatic – but, of course, we always need to review the results. New firms tend to choose cloud tools at the start of their practice because of the scalability and low cost-of-entry. We keep referring to it as “cloud,” but it is really a combination of the internet and the use of mobile devices to give us 24/7 access to real-time information. When they call, my clients’ information is always at my fingertips and I have access to my research tools to look up answers.
I can be my clients’ trusted advisor. The cloud allows me to automate functions I previously did by hand and pull data in quickly. My clients’ accounting information is automatically gathered via apps from within the QuickBooks Ecosystem, and I can create dashboards to monitor my clients’ KPIs that are automatically updated. There are various tools, including Hubdoc, Bill.com, Expensify and TSheets, to capture information and automate the process on the front end. On the back end, LivePlan, Qvinci and others do the strategic planning and dashboarding. Once it is all set up, the automation moves the data in and out of the QBO platform.
This process has made it easier to gather the information necessary to prepare tax returns in the cloud. An added bonus is that I don’t have to worry about the backing up of data. The data in ProConnect Tax Online is protected by Intuit with the same back-level security used to protect QBO files. I can also manage my tax workflow within QBOA. I can see all my clients and what I need to do for them in one spot.
The cloud has made my disparate functions work together. I can click on a tax return and immediately be placed on my data entry field.
Every day, there is a new tool being released to automate the flow of data. For example, Intuit Link makes it easy for your clients to get you the exact tax data you need, when and how you want it, so that you can focus on what matters most. I can go on and on and describe the benefits of the cloud, as well as how it connects data and improves workflow and automation, but the time is now for accountants to check out the tools they want to use as they move forward into the next tax season and beyond.