[IMGCAP(1)]Everyone is talking about moving to the cloud as though you can just snap your fingers and suddenly change everything from software to workflow to paperless systems. But the reality for most businesses and firms is that getting to the cloud, no matter how compelling, will take a while.
For one, there is lots of fear to overcome plus there are several embedded processes and staff training that must change as we move to the cloud. And if moving to the cloud means having to retrain the staff and switch to a complete new set of workflows it gets even worse.
Then there is the fear of whether it will really work “for me.” Many owners and managers don’t perceive pain with their current systems and there is a fear that by moving to cloud systems, they might not like the result so there is a general feeling of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
At the same time, people are beginning to see the benefits of anytime, anywhere, remote access, and professional management of their computers, operating systems, and networks.
Many are facing the question of whether to replace or upgrade servers, or to finally shoot them and move to the cloud. While it may feel good to own equipment and "touch it" every day, it's clear that continuing to invest in on-premises equipment will have diminishing returns in the coming years and there are a few reasons why:
1. On premises equipment needs babysitting. This is expensive, so the idea that you can "buy it once" doesn't quite tell the whole story.
2. Providing quality "offsite access" to your on-premises equipment is difficult and expensive. When you first look at it, it looks Free, but like most things, free doesn't usually mean free. Businesses are increasingly hiring staff who need to do some or all of their work remotely. When all of the systems are located inside an office, providing our offsite workers Fast internet access to these systems is often impossible. Although it can be accomplished, it sure is expensive!
3. Security of on-premises data is very hard to guarantee. In most small businesses there is almost no real security for your data. In a typical office there are many devices with USB connections (easy to quickly insert a thumb drive, copy data and slip out the door), open wireless access to the network (easy to sit just outside the door and jump onto the network), unattended screens when someone goes on break but forgets to lock or log out of the machine, and much more. All of these are serious risks to the security of your important business data.
While this isn't anything new, many small businesses and firms are still not aware of the costs and risks they take every day by using desktop software on local hardware.
A great option for those who want to move to the cloud, but don’t want to change everything all at once, is to move at least some of the desktop applications to a reputable hosting company. This is a gradual transition rather than going "cold turkey" and changing everything in one big step.
Since much of the most sensitive data is in the accounting system, getting all of your accounting functions hosted is a good place to start. You may not move All of your data and computing to a hosting company, but by at least moving your accounting and business processes to a hosting company you can be assured of 24/7/365 access, professionally managed servers, industrial strength security, and reliable remote access for your staff.
And for the small businesses that are still addicted to the desktop version of QuickBooks, a great solution for getting them into to the cloud is to keep QuickBooks, but get it hosted by one of the Intuit-authorized QuickBooks hosting companies. I think they all do a great job, but each has a slightly different offering, so make sure you research them and think about your needs before selecting the provider. The one my group chose to host our accounting systems had overall offerings and pricing that fit us best.
We selected the relatively more expensive solution of a "virtual server," rather than using one of the many shared server solutions available in the market. This virtual server is a virtual Windows Server, completely dedicated to us and hosted in one of the top enterprise-class data centers in the nation. You can think of it as the server in your back room, but instead of being in your office, it’s hosted in a secure data center, and you can access it from anywhere.
One of the most compelling benefits of getting your systems hosted is the speed with which you can be up and running. Once you settle on the plan you want, you put your order in and within a few days (often sooner), you can log into your new server, upload your data, and within hours you can be up and running with your accounting and business process software and all of your add-ons.
When it comes to the speed of the system, you would think it would slow things down to move to anything “cloudy,” but because the hosting companies generally use much faster hardware, more RAM, and the fastest possible Internet connections, your overall performance on a hosted solution is likely to be even faster that you’re experiencing with your local hardware and LANs. Plus all the backups are now handled for us by the vendor, and keeping the hardware up and running is now their responsibility.
As for support, we found our provider to be outstanding. They have been available by telephone, email, and online chat with very short turnaround times and their support people are knowledgeable, courteous, and responsive. This is probably the most important thing to investigate before selecting a hosting provider, because if you can’t get to your systems, you’ll really need the support people to help you resolve your issue.
Having your Windows applications hosted with a professional hosting company will also reduce costs, improve performance, enhance your security and I bet your staff will love the experience. Some final tips:
- Move the accounting software to a cloud provider who is licensed to host. If you use QuickBooks, make sure you select from the list of Intuit-authorized QuickBooks hosting companies.
- Move your Microsoft Exchange Server to Office 365.
- Begin to identify strategic processes where cloud-based "chunks" of the business process can be better served by selecting SaaS software that connects to your back end accounting for managing accounts payable, accounts receivable, and cash flow forecasting.
Doug Sleeter (@dougsleeter) is the founder and president of The Sleeter Group, a worldwide network of over 700 accounting software consultants. He is also a CPA firm veteran and former Apple Computer Evangelist.