While it’s not fully there, the accounting profession is finally starting to be ready for the cloud -- and vice versa, according to technology expert David Cieslak. 

“I feel like cloud, over the last few years, we’re finally doing it. It’s really starting to change everything,” Cieslak said, in a wide-ranging address at the 2013 Sleeter Group Accounting Solutions Conference, held here.

In his trench-coated persona as “Inspector Gadget,” the Arxis Technology principal covered a host of technology issues, including the growing importance of the cloud and the Internet. Noting the number of attendees at the early session who were using smartphones and tablets and other connected devices, he noted, “We can’t imagine even a single morning without access to the Internet.”

More and more critical servers and services will move to the cloud, as more and more users understand the savings and other opportunities available there, and as vendors move toward the Software-as-a-Service model -- which is easier for them, Cieslak noted, than supporting legacy systems.

That said, not all business functions are ready for prime time in the cloud. Cieslak noted three areas that were ready: productivity suites (including word processing, spreadsheets and so on) and e-mail; file storage, sharing and collaboration solutions; and backup. He added that some accounting/ERP and CRM products also look ready.

He recommended that firms move their e-mail to the cloud as a first step, pointing out that services from Microsoft and Google can offer the service more efficiently and securely, and at a lower price, than most people can do for themselves.

Mobile, and much more
Beyond the move to the cloud, Cieslak called out the growing importance of mobility and mobile devices as a major trend in technology.

“‘Anywhere, any time’ has become ‘anywhere, any time, any device,’” he said.

He also noted that the move to more mobile technology has led, in part, to a new approach to hardware. “We’re moving from ‘break and fix’ to ‘break and replace,’” he said. “What are your two happiest moments with your cellphone? When you buy it, and when you get rid of it” -- hopefully to replace it with something more up-to-date.

But for those who don’t like to upgrade, he offered a warning: Microsoft will stop supporting and patching Windows XP in April 2014 -- leaving many users significantly more vulnerable.

Among the other developments Cieslak touched on:

  • The ultrabook as primary computer. While many of these very light, very thin computers now have the horsepower, speed and battery life to replace a user’s desktop computer, Cieslak said that screen size is what really matters. “A 14-inch display seems to be the cutoff at which an ultrabook can become your primary computer.”
  • Windows 8. “I don’t like Window 8 -- I love it,” he said. “One of the reasons I like it is because I use it just like Windows 7.” He noted that the new version of the Microsoft operating system is much faster, with better boot times, faster Web browsing, and better security.
  • Online backup and storage. “Backups are useless until you need them -- and then they’re priceless,” he said, adding that there should be an online component to any backup strategy. He mentioned a number of reasonably priced online providers, including Mozy Pro, Carbonite and Intronis.
  • The homogenization of smartphones. “These are all so darn close in features and functionality -- just pick a vendor and an approach,” Cieslak said, in a run-down of the major smartphone vendors’ offerings. “There really are no dogs in this bunch.”
  • The rise of wearable tech. New tools like smartwatches are beginning to appear, but he noted that many are plagued by short battery lives, and can be clunky and heavy to wear.