[IMGCAP(1)]Something vitally important is underway within the accounting world these days:  the long-standing communication impasse between accounting software used by businesses and business software used by accountants is finally beginning to dissolve, thanks to the emergence of new cloud-based business intelligence solutions. 

Why is this important?  Because it means that collaborating in the cloud is starting to become a whole lot easier. Let me offer a little background, to help explain.

Within the accounting world, two software stacks have evolved side-by-side:  the firm stack and the client stack. These stacks share a variety of common elements:  email, CRM, sophisticated spreadsheets, advanced productivity applications.  But in spite of this overlap, the stacks have never achieved their full potential for automation, because they have never been able to “talk” to each other as well as they should. 

As a result, in-person collaboration and manual manipulation were required to ensure that numbers tied and data was flowing correctly from the client’s accounting software to the accountant’s audit and tax software.  This was inefficient, time-consuming, and costly, and meant that face-to-face time with clients wasn’t as valuable as firms wanted it to be.

Most of us thought these problems would disappear with the introduction of cloud-based applications that provide anytime, anywhere, real-time access to shared data.  But there was still a missing link: standardizing the data between disparate systems.

Cloud-based business intelligence solutions are now beginning to provide that link, connecting the accounting software that businesses use with the business software that accountants use, so that they can speak fluently with each other no matter the data source or format.  These solutions leverage the cloud to eliminate all the errors, inconsistency, manual work, and lag time that existed before.

This is an essential step for making the cloud part of a truly collaborative environment.  With data sorted, standardized, analyzed and reported in real-time, firms are able to focus their face-to-face time with clients on a different set of more high-value priorities:  explaining the numbers instead of just reporting them; identifying opportunities in addition to ensuring compliance; strategizing for the future rather than just reviewing the past. 

So what does this mean for you and your practice? 

Forward-thinking firms are leveraging the cloud to automate historically manual processes with more sophistication than ever before.  They are collecting more data, more frequently, and thus are able to deliver more value—both about their clients’ individual businesses, and also the markets in which they compete.  As a result, these firms are getting in front of their clients and prospects more frequently, identifying opportunities and sharing insights on macro trends in a way that was impossible just a few years ago. 

In other words, business intelligence solutions are now enabling firms to use the cloud in a whole new way, as part of a strategy for delivering value-added services to differentiate themselves from the competition.  These cloud-based solutions are becoming key to their competitive advantage.

Rob Ganjon is CEO of iLumen, a business intelligence provider whose offerings automate the collection, standardization, and analysis of client financial data. www.ilumen.com