Firms that transition to cloud hosting can alter the structure of their practice. It can help a firm go paperless, which saves time and money, and it can enable a firm to operate with more agility, expanding service offerings. Here, three firms share their cloud-hosting experiences.


A PERFECT PAIR

Product: Right Networks

Firm: AFSG Consulting

On record: Owner Lauryn Charles

Start date: 2014

Users: Six (using four user profiles)

Price: $65 per user per month

Objective: Having started her career in small-business banking, Lauryn Charles learned early on that, “If your accounting systems are in place correctly, your whole business will run smoothly.” When she subsequently started her own accounting firm, she knew there had to be a better way for her clients to interact with her services.

As a firm that provides personalized QuickBooks consulting — Charles is a self-taught QuickBooks guru — AFSG selected Right Networks to create a cloud-hosted environment for its clients, because the company has a strong focus on bringing QuickBooks Desktop into the cloud. “Having the ability to have QuickBooks Desktop version in the cloud has made my, and my clients’, life so much easier,” Charles said.

Implementation: Charles said that Right Networks has been responsive and “wonderful to work with.” Right Networks provides AFSG with a standard, one-page form for onboarding clients. Charles sends the completed form to the cloud-hosting company, and the client is set up within 24 hours. If Charles is not available, Right Networks walks her client through the process in her absence.

“I’ve never spoken to an employee [at Right Networks] that wasn’t a joy to speak with and wasn’t totally helpful,” Charles said.

Advantages: “One of the advantages of Right Networks is it gives me another option to offer my clients,” Charles said. “What accounting solutions exist? I now have an option [QuickBooks Desktop in the cloud], that’s so much more efficient and cost-effective. I can say, ‘Here’s something that might fit your specific needs that QuickBooks Online or a remote-access program won’t do.’”

She also added that Right Networks saves her firm time and money.

Challenges: According to Charles, the challenges of working with Right Networks include some minor functionality issues, such as the inability to right-click in some windows in a remote environment, and that it doesn’t host certain apps yet. However, she said, Right Networks is working closely with Microsoft and Intuit (maker of QuickBooks) to bring more functionality to users.

“I don’t want to act like it’s perfect for everyone,” Charles added. “There’s a cost boundary. In other words, a firm with an excessive number of users — and I don’t know what that would be — could find it very expensive.” But AFSG has found a solution for per-user costs. While it has six users that need to get on the system, the firm only pays for four user profiles, with some sharing. This ability to overlap helps keep costs down.

Next steps: “We live in such a mobile environment and more businesses have remote employees, or work from home programs, or multiple locations,” Charles said. “I think I’ll be able to migrate more of my clients to the cloud that are still in QuickBooks Desktop.”

“As accountants, QuickBooks Desktop is our biggest ally,” she continued. “It’s so much better for reporting, financial statements, bank reconciliations and tax planning. It has a lot more features than QBO. Over time, hosting QBD on the cloud will enable me to share data more quickly with my clients. And I do it now. I have a shared folder with a client. I can log in and save their financial data on the cloud and it’s on their home computer. That’s a better alternative to Dropbox — it’s somewhere where it’s secure and backed up.”


1 MILLION SHEETS LATER ...

Product: Cloud9 Real Time

Firm: Crippen & Co.

On record: Partner Mike Torres

Start date: December 2010

Users: 100 total users — 40 staff, 60 clients

Price: $50,000 per year

Objective: Crippen & Co. was founded in 1981. When Mike Torres made partner in 2010, he wanted to shake things up. The firm still operated almost entirely on paper. “I wanted to change our processes, procedures, the way we do things, and outsource our technology,” Torres said. The managing partners supported his efforts, and within a year, the firm was up and running in a cloud-hosted environment with Cloud9 Real Time.

Implementation: Crippen & Co. implemented Cloud9 during tax season, which was “probably not a smart thing, but it worked,” Torres said. Instead of waiting any longer, he encouraged his firm to jump right in.

Implementation involved “basically taking an image of our server and moving the entire thing to the outsourced platform.” The migration occurred over the space of a week just before Christmas, and it took the firm about 60 days to be comfortable with the new environment; but by mid-February, Torres said, staff were “utilizing the program as [they] should.”

The move to the cloud also meant a move to a paperless environment, and Crippen & Co. was very paper-dependent. So after implementation, the printers were eliminated, and each staff member got three sophisticated monitors so they could review documents on screens instead.

Advantages: Prior to moving to the cloud, Crippen & Co. had 15 printers on location, each of which cost about $1,000 a month. The firm would go through 1 million sheets of paper a year. Print-related costs were in the range of $80,000 to $100,000 annually. Outsourcing its technology also meant eliminating the IT department. At $50,000 a year, Cloud9 represents a significant savings for the firm, along with the benefit of existing in the cloud and the mobility that comes with that.

Challenges: Learning how to be paperless represented a major learning curve at Crippen & Co. Staff had to re-learn basic tasks like “how to print” from the remote server, while at the same time getting used to the idea that they shouldn’t be printing even a fraction as much as they used to.

The only other challenge Torres noted is that the speed of the server could be faster.

Next steps: “When you take clients and move them to a cloud server, it gives you full access to live data,” Torres said.

This has allowed the firm to prepare taxes much faster, enabling it to expand service offerings. “This is the more progressive side of our firm — the outsourced accounting concept. Cloud9 allows us to do tax planning and become consultants. Now we’re more of a true accountant than just a tax preparer.”

Before moving to Cloud9, Crippen & Co.’s business was roughly 90 percent tax, 5 percent audit, and 5 percent accounting. Today, 65 percent of its revenue comes from tax, 25 percent from outsourced accounting, and 10 percent from audit.

A SEISMIC SHIFT

Product: Cetrom

Firm: DP&C

On record: Administrator Karen Teles

Start date: November 2015

Users: 28

Price: Contact vendor

Objective: DP&C staff were having difficulty accessing their audit and tax platform, CCH ProSystem fx Engagement, while working remotely on client engagements. Employees couldn’t check in and out easily, which meant that other users couldn’t connect in real-time to collaborate or share documents. The firm needed a secure solution to address ease of working in the field.

Implementation: “I was really impressed,” said Karen Teles, the administrator at the firm. “We’re accountants, not tech wizards. We had a weekly meeting with one of Cetrom’s senior engineers, and she was exceptional. She answered every question we had, such as how the design of the system was going to work.”

Consultations with the engineer occurred six to eight weeks before the migration to Cetrom, and then the migration took place over one weekend. Afterward, Cetrom representatives stayed at DP&C for two days to help with any issues.

Advantages: Teles said that the firm is very impressed with the security of Cetrom’s servers, both virtual and physical. Physical security is very important to DP&C — more so than for most firms — because it is located in Tacoma, Wash., on a geological fault line prone to earthquake and volcano activity. In the event of a natural disaster, the firm feels safe in the knowledge that all its information — and sensitive client data — is safe off-site on servers in Virginia and Colorado.

“We also now have laptops that employees take into the field that have no information stored locally,” Teles added. “All the information is on the cloud. If a laptop is stolen, there’s no information on it, so we feel a lot better about that.”

Teles also noted that whenever the firm investigates new software and applications, they now turn to Cetrom as a resource “because they work with so many CPA firms like ours.”

“Cetrom is able to provide their insight on the technology as well as put us in contact with their clients that have already implemented the solution, so that we can learn firsthand about their experiences — whether good or bad,” she added. “Cetrom’s recommendations have been really helpful when deciding to purchase new solutions, and we have avoided wasting time and money from implemented solutions that wouldn’t work.”

Challenges: “We have some [staff members] with a lot of years of experience, and others with less,” Teles said. “The staff with less experience are a lot more open to change and technology. We get a lot more questions from experienced staff members like ‘Why?’ and ‘How will this help?’ But as a whole, with our switch to Cetrom, we tried to take into consideration how that would feel to the end user. It feels similar to how we were operating before.”

The only other challenge Teles mentioned was an occasional hiccup with how the software programs hosted in Cetrom talk to each other.

Next steps: “I think what we’ve been most impressed by is how much Cetrom has improved our effectiveness,” Teles said. “It’s been a very positive experience for us. From the beginning, we felt like we made the right decision.”

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