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Firms Moving to Collaboration in the Cloud

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March 28, 2016

Industries of all kinds can see positive benefits from better collaboration, and that's particularly true in the accounting profession where more firms are starting to use cloud-based collaboration technology.

A new survey from Huddle, a technology provider in the cloud collaboration space, found that accounting firms suffer in terms of employee productivity when they have no reliable method of collaboration. Seventy percent of those surveyed admitted to forgetting where they saved a file within the last 12 months, while 51 percent of the survey respondents said they have wasted time editing a document, only to discover later that it wasn't the latest version.

Meanwhile 40 percent of the respondents admitted they typically spend six to 20 minutes each time they search for files on which they want to work. While many firms continue to rely on email, Huddle contends that email can be a hindrance to productivity and a problem for accounting professionals.

Huddle, which has headquarters in both London and San Francisco, works with six of the 10 largest accounting firm networks around the world, according to vice president of marketing Tim Deluca-Smith. Customers include members of Baker Tilly, Grant Thornton and Nexia International, along with some of the Big Four firms.

“It's become quite an important area for us to focus on,” said Deluca-Smith. “That was one of the reason why we started to conduct a lot more research into this space. We're kicking off a large research project at the moment to start looking at the technology and tools that are in use across firms, and how they impact success in terms of productivity.”

By using collaboration technology, he believes firms can be more productive, freeing up time for their staff to earn fees by doing more billable work rather than administration chores. “Every organization is aware of the wider macro pressures facing the industry in terms of increased competition, price pressure, attracting talent, all of these things that affect the business,” said Deluca-Smith. “They all start talking about how the differentiator in the market has got to be the client experience, being able to deliver a better, more engaging experience than anyone else in the market. They talk about a more collaborative, engaging relationship, a more transparent relationship. That's all well and good, but it falls down when you start to look at the technologies that people are using. They're still relying on the occasional weekly conference call and email to manage the flow of documents backwards and forwards. That's where things start to fail.”

He sees cloud technology making its way into the office because of how so many people are using it in their personal lives. “We have all these great technologies in our home life, consumer tools,” said Deluca-Smith. “We're on Netflix or on Facebook and they're simple to use and effective. Then we step into the office and we are presented with legacy software, a 10-year-old SharePoint deployment that nobody has trained us on, so we're not even going to use it because we don't understand it, with old email infrastructure that's not necessarily fit for purpose in a more collaborative organization, and people just accept that that's the norm. It’s 2016. Should we still be in a position where we can't reach our clients because email servers are bouncing back copies of big files? Is it still the case that it takes me 10 minutes to troll through email to find a conversation thread? Why is it taking so long to find that file that I'm sure I put on my desktop that seems to have been moved? We just kind of accept this stuff as the norm.”

But Deluca-Smith believes there is an increasing trend toward "consumerization" of IT. “Slowly, employees are starting to say, 'No, this isn't good enough,' What the cloud has done is to make software and tools a lot more accessible to me and my teams.”

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