Whether it’s helping QuickBooks desktop clients stay more Web-connected or moving the firm toward being more cloud-ready, hosting services are helping firms and their clients achieve a level of comfort with the cloud without necessarily requiring them to go fully virtual.
Cloud hosting services have particularly become more popular with smaller firms that do not have dedicated IT departments or no longer want to shoulder the costs of maintaining applications and servers. As such, a variety of services have emerged over the past several years that can enable applications or entire IT systems to be in the cloud without the firm having to maintain them.
Below, four firms discuss their moves to the cloud via hosting services, and share how they were able to save time or money, or simply reflect modernity in their operations.
The second time
Firm: Krowne & Perazzo / Porter Ranch, Calif.
Size: 5 staff
Product: Cloud9 Real Time
Commencement date: June 2014
On record: Partner Jorge Perazzo
Challenge/objective: The cost of running old systems and software was climbing, plus the firm needed a cloud service better than the one it tried using.
Amount spent: $8,000 per year.
Process: “I’m the IT guy at the firm, but to be clear I am not an IT guy,” claimed Perazzo. “I’m trying to work with clients and I didn’t want to spend any more time hand-holding everyone in the office every time something went wrong.”
He also noted that the cost of regularly updating systems like Microsoft Office and related applications became prohibitive, and admitted that the firm was not keeping up with the latest versions fast enough.
He explained that about three years ago the firm had decided to move all of its systems and applications to a California-based cloud hosting provider, based on a colleague’s recommendation, but there were problems. Perazzo noted that if there was a connection delay or staff had difficulties logging in from wherever they were, the provider would either fail to explain what the problem was or only answer questions after multiple requests were sent.
He also recalled a time when the firm’s e-mail went down — and the provider only ever responded to requests or issues via e-mail. “That was the last straw,” said Perazzo.
When the firm initially searched out cloud providers, they had come in contact with Cloud9 Real Time, but at the time the other provider had offered more discounts and extras — some of which it never delivered upon. Last year, Perazzo called Cloud9 back to discuss moving everything to their service.
He claims the old service was “gracious” in moving everything over to Cloud9, which Perazzo admits “was not seamless, but we were only down for about a day over a weekend.”
Perazzo said that their Cloud9 server was up and running a week before the transition so the firm could run tests before making move. The firm has a remote desktop, all of its tax and accounting software, paperless files, and practice management running on Cloud 9. “I can go home and it looks like what I work on at the office, even on my iPad,” he added.
Results: Amortized over five years, the cost would have been $200 more a month to go in house with new servers and software, versus staying with Cloud9. Perazzo also noted that while the firm is spending approximately the same as the old hosting service, “It is noticeably faster, particularly for uploads” and “The customer service is far superior. Regardless of the issue, they follow up with a tech in minutes.”
Next steps: Perazzo hopes to be able to scan paper files directly to the cloud.
Firm: Myriad CPA Group / Owensboro, Ky.
Size: 50 staff
Commencement date: Fall 2012
On record: IT director Greg Martin
Challenge/objective: Wanted a company with experience hosting QuickBooks for its clients who are unwilling to move from the desktop version, but were accepting of the cloud. Also the firm did not want to host the files itself.
Amount spent: $45-$50 per user, with the costs passed on to client.
Process: Martin himself had some experience in hosting and was aware of the concept well before it became more popular. But since the firm itself did not want to do the hosting and they had enough QuickBooks clients now, and potential for more, they sought out an authorized hosting service.
Martin claims that he had previous clients that used InsynQ before, with the best feedback being their level of support. Also, out a list of top providers, the pricing was approximately the same, but what did stand out on InsynQ’s pricing was that the firm could pass it on to the customer at a “reasonable” level.
The firm signed on its first client to InsynQ within a week of registering with the service. The firm’s accountants then started signing on their QuickBooks clients. “We signed up our first client in a week and our accountants would see a need with their own clients as needed. The firm was able to log on within a minute and open QuickBooks file data shortly after a client would call,” he said. Staff accountants also did not find any problems in using InsynQ for QuickBooks files, according to Martin.
Results: The firm currently has 20 QuickBooks clients on InsynQ, with another three in the process of signing on, with positive feedback “regularly coming in,” according to Martin.
“We had found clients saved money and time in us not having to go get or receive their data files, as well as time in us loading the file or restoring it and making sure it’s up to date,” he said. “There’s no lag time waiting for a data file to arrive. No calls back and forth. And for clients, there is no confusion in working with an accountant’s copy, exporting it correctly, wondering if they need to overwrite a file or get a backup. We don’t force our clients to switch if they are on some other hosting service they like — we still work with them. The value far outweighs any direct profits for us.”
Next steps: Utilizing the add-on services that are available to QuickBooks, like Bill.com and other vendor relationships. The firm also wants to “get clients to be more efficient in the cloud and running their business in general.”
Firm: Pohlman & Talmage / Dayton, Ohio
Size: 20 staff
Commencement date: May 2012
On record: Firm administrator Sarah Galley
Challenge/objective: Firm had to replace its servers and upgrade its operating system with no internal tech department or individual. Also, it wanted to be more technologically flexible.
Amount spent: $4,600 for the initial conversion, approximately $4,700 a month now.
Process: Once deciding to research moving to a cloud hosting service, the firm spoke to a local vendor first and also priced out the repurchase of software and servers, as well as the cost of local virtualization. They did not like the idea of virtualization because, “It was still us buying the server and even though they housed it, it’s not really cloud,” said Galley.
As a member of the Association of Accounting Administrators, Galley was introduced to Xcentric. “What really caught our eye was that they had the ability to host a number of applications for us, rather than having to go through a variety of cloud vendors or one that just did their suite,” she said. “We also liked that they were having a full-time IT consultant, rather than it falling on me to take care of. They did the day-to-day updates and trouble tickets.”
Galley also noted that Xcentric had “extensive experience” working almost exclusively with accounting firms, which her firm could also network with and ask questions of.
Within three and a half months, the firm was able to move their Microsoft Office, tax and accounting software, practice management, 1099 software and document management to Xcentric. Galley claimed there were “only a few bumps, but Xcentric stayed in touch with us throughout the process.”
She also liked that Xcentric was able to provide disaster recovery, should the firm ever need it. The only software the firm does not yet have on Xcentric is its retirement administration software, which she claims is “not yet entirely cloud-ready.”
Results: While she recognizes there are financial benefits to moving to Xcentric, Galley said that the firm has not yet done a dollar-for-dollar return on investment comparison. She did note that using the service has reduced time, as well as other convenient factors.
“They have provided us with a strategic IT partner, which we didn’t have and that allows us to be future-ready,” said Galley. “The cloud environment has been invaluable to work from anywhere efficiently. If someone has to be home or away, they can be as connected as they are at their desk. We have a much cleaner connection.”
Next steps: While she claims that there is nothing Xcentric can do right now to improve the firm’s situation, she would at some point like to see the retirement administration program moved to the cloud so the firm is “fully cloud-enabled.”
Clearly a time-saver
Firm: Dennis & Associates Group Inc. /
Size: 16 staff
Product: Right Networks
Commencement date: January 2014
On record: Managing partner Rebecca Schmidt
Challenge/objective: The firm hated bringing portable copies of QuickBooks files back and forth, and even through e-mail or portals there were always problems.
Amount spent: $2,400 per month.
Process: Schmidt attended a RootWorks seminar in August 2013 and found out about Right Networks. She noted that knowing that RootWorks used it helped, though the pricing “was right” and it “looked simple and made sense” to use.
After attending a quick seminar, the rest of the staff began to learn how to use Right Networks for QuickBooks in the cloud, leaving the partners stating, “This is clearly a time-saver, it’s a no-brainer for us,” she said.
The firm then signed on a few “guinea pig” clients that October, which coincided with the launch of the firm’s new Web site. These were already QuickBooks clients, one of which had a bookkeeper in another state that would
FedEx materials in order to pay bills, rather than just being able to scan them and have them in the cloud via Right Networks.
After a successful trial run, the firm began moving all of its QuickBooks clients to Right Networks’ hosted cloud service last January. This was not without a few difficulties. “Some clients gave us pain over them still using QuickBooks 2008, and we said they had to upgrade or send us the check register,” said Schmidt. “I am a Pro Advisor and was able to get them discounts on the upgrade. Other than that, there was no pushback. One partner presented it like, No more e-mailing files, access any time through our Web site, we password protect so even Right Networks can’t access their QuickBooks files.’ Everyone appreciated not transferring files.”
Most of the firm’s clients are in their region, but they do have some across the country.
Results: The firm has 150 monthly clients that go to QuickBooks Online or are set up in Right Networks. “We saved an enormous amount of time — we haven’t quantified it just yet, but we can see a reduction in the number of problems transferring files,” said Schmidt. “Our time of being the middle man is almost non-existent. Staff just e-mails the client to prompt them and it’s done.”
Next steps: Schmidt said that they are “dabbling” with the idea of becoming a back-office support for their clients, particularly with bill pay, and she believes they can do so easily via Right Networks.
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