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Evaluating if a Cloud Solution is Right for You

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As information technology and accounting professionals, we seem to always be in search of the same things: ways to build customer relationships, streamlined processes for managing those relationships, the ability to foster an environment of collaboration among employees, and methods to do so cost-effectively. As luck would have it, cloud computing has answered our call.

However, while cloud-based software solutions have begun to proliferate, the question still remains for many “what systems do I consider putting in the cloud?” 

For many, the cloud is effectively providing the tools necessary to cut technology costs and take advantage of enterprise-grade technology without large scale investments. Along with promising ways to reduce IT expenses and risk associated with business interruptions or security breaches, cloud computing has given us the means to be more productive, agile, and develop closer relationships with those we conduct business with.   

For the past several years, information technology has been undergoing a shift from computing resources and services based on on-premise equipment, to the cloud, where users can access those same services and resources from anywhere, at any time, via the Internet. 

Perhaps you’ve already made an initial foray into cloud computing, or have moved select resources. If so, you may be wondering how to take cloud computing to the next level in your business or firm. 

For now, let’s look past some of the low-hanging fruit like e-mail or social networking applications for example, and focus on the advanced computing made possible by cloud technology. While some of the applications I will mention here may be considered risky by standards of the CPA profession, I would argue that they are time-tested by organizations of all shapes and sizes, and you certainly would not be considered an early adopter if you decide to move any or all of these applications to the cloud.

Customer Relationship Management

Even though many organizations have yet to implement a formal CRM system, many of us are surely leveraging the concept, if not the formality of true CRM.  If you’re in search of a way to enhance customer relationships, sales capabilities and sales management, look no further than placing CRM in the cloud.  With solutions like NetSuite, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Salesforce.com in the market today, there are many viable options for your business. 

Information Exchange/Client Portals

One of the most challenging areas we as CPAs and IT professionals face is facilitating the exchange of information with clients in a way that allows us to overcome complexity on two fronts: security and ease of use.

Whether you build your own client portal and host sensitive client data in the cloud, or leverage a third-party solution such as CCH’s ProSystem fx Portal or Microsoft SharePoint, these tools if used properly can lend both security and usability. From my experience, much of the perceived concern surrounding the security of cloud computing is related to the ease of use of sending files via e-mail – generally an insecure transfer mechanism.

Client portals, on the flip side, allow for meeting confidentiality requirements of customer data without having to internally support sophisticated infrastructure requirements. What’s more, client portals keep your clients’ best interests in mind and allow you to manage client relationships without placing onerous expectations on the clients themselves. In a nutshell, it’s all about striking a balance between security, the cost of security, and ease of use, and cloud solutions provide just that. 

Why Not Put My Accounting Data in the Cloud?

Frequently, I hear business owners express a general level of distrust when it comes to putting their sensitive data, such as financial systems, on the Internet by leveraging cloud computing solutions. While I can certainly understand their initial reaction and hesitation, I would emphasize the fact that cloud-based accounting solutions are safer and present less risk than housing the data yourself.  In fact, thousands of businesses have made the migration to hosted financial systems, moving past the point of distrust and taking note of the advances this technology is bringing to the table on many fronts – security, availability of data, up-to-date applications and more. All of this is provided at a lower cost over what we could do ourselves. 

For many organizations, the resources required to support an active business’ IT infrastructure can be enormous.  With the growth of cloud computing, businesses must take a strategic long-term view of their application footprint – understand how applications and business processes cross departments and lines of business, and optimize their applications and architecture around collaboration and process. 

By combining an integration applications strategy with cloud delivery, businesses and firms alike can position themselves for efficient, cost-effective growth and improved competitiveness, while focusing more on their core business and less on the underlying technology. 

Ken Klika is the director of networking services at BCG Systems. Inc. (www.bcgsystems.com), an Akron, Ohio-based technology consultancy and value added reseller of Microsoft Dynamics GP, CRM; Sage 500 ERP; and NetSuite. He has over 25 years of experience in business and technology consultancy. In his current role Klika serves as a specialist in IT strategy for small and medium-sized businesses.

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