[IMGCAP(1)]“To the Cloud!” proclaims a Microsoft Windows 7 television commercial that began running last fall.

The ads mix professional growth concerns that small businesses have in the marketplace, along with personal productivity and family-oriented scenes at home.

While we’re sure Microsoft conducted more than adequate audience research to determine whether the ads resonated with audiences, we’re not completely convinced they showed the commercials to accountants.

Without scientific research to back up our theories, we think it’s safe to say that accountants and CPAs certainly understand what the cloud is all about, thanks to many articles in Accounting Today, as well as numerous Web and live presentations on the topic. However, we do not think the audience is completely reassured that Software as a Service (SaaS), or cloud computing, is a viable solution to collect, review and speed the workflow of documents.

We’re here to prove them wrong.

KISS: Keep it Simple (and) Seamless
Depending on the situation, just about anyone could argue that “To the Cloud” may have many different meanings. However, accounting is not the kind of industry that automatically follows what every other industry is doing.

[IMGCAP(2)]The situation compares to the early days of paperless processes within firms, when only a handful of CPAs reported success. They were using systems that now would seem as onerous as a UNIVAC computer. Today, based on our conversations with firms, there are far fewer who have not adopted paperless than those who have. Security is no longer an issue, and workflow software makes the entire process extremely seamless.

 

By nature, accountants are a bit stubborn in their rate of change. While it may take years for complete paperless adoption within the accounting profession, accountants also realize they cannot sit as idle observers in Howdy Doody’s Peanut Gallery waiting for the change to happen without also participating in the process. As technology continues to improve and we begin to speak about “zettabytes” instead of “terabytes,” the speed and ease with which almost any accounting software provider’s system incorporates document management will also improve.

Going the other way—back to physical file cabinets—won’t be an option. However, managing documents on the desktop, in the office, won’t be a viable option either, thanks to the SaaS environment where documents can be managed using software solutions that are Web-based, always-on and always updated.

The key to universal accounting profession adoption is to convince this group that document management in the cloud should adopt the KISS method: Keep It Simple (and) Seamless. When you strip away all the techno-speak in cloud computing, what are you left with?

Quite simply, someone else does the heavy lifting for you. You should have no concerns that you are using the latest version of the document management software or that it even integrates with your ERP accounting system. You also shouldn’t worry that the security and privacy of the data is at risk, for this, too, is taken care of by the software providers.

Instead, all you really need to care about is how you’re going to manage the process within your firm or organization, how you’ll educate and train the support staff to understand and fully adopt SaaS, and how you’ll educate, and communicate with, your clients about how their data is being managed. Sounds simple, right? After all, this is the KISS method.

SaaS Offers More than Just Technology
There’s little doubt that other processes besides document management will be handled in the cloud. We’ve even heard that the term “telecommuting” is now passé; instead, anyone who works from anywhere other than physically in the office “cloud commutes,” which seems to us a much better description of what a telecommuter actually does. All work can be done remotely through web-enabled processes, and even if a person uses a Virtual Private Network to log in to the office, the VPN, too, is Web-enabled.

Jody Padar, CPA, MST, owns her own firm, New Vision CPA Group. She recently transitioned her family-owned firm from a completely brick and mortar-based company to an almost 100 percent virtual model that is just now getting off the ground. Jody understands document management in the cloud because she sees it as a must-have in order to structure her firm the way she has.

“SaaS is absolutely necessary for a remote workforce; I can work anywhere anytime and I don’t need a file,” she said. “In fact, it’s a bigger issue that I want a second monitor wherever I am.  It is amazing to me that people who use workflow tools still pass paper files around, when, in fact, there should be no need for anyone to go into the office—unless they want to.”

Jody shared with us the “Intuit 2020 Report,” a new set of research with 20 trends that will shape the next decade. She just participated in a session in Plano, Texas, in which accounting journalists, bloggers and thought leaders offered their observations on the findings in the report.

The 17th trend, “Working in the Cloud,” offered this: “Emerging Internet cloud and mobile technologies are shifting work lives away from the corporate office altogether and toward an in-my-own-place, on-my-own-time regimen. Where and how people work and do business will change. A growing array of Web-based technologies will enable, and in many cases require, anytime, anyplace distributed work.”

“This statement really embraces document management in the cloud because of the way we will not only collect our clients’ data, but also the way we will use the data to help our clients make more-informed decisions,” said Jody. “Let’s face it—what clients really want is to know that their businesses are sound and profitable, but they don’t have the time or expertise to figure this out for themselves. As their CPA, it’s up to me to provide the kind of solutions that mix best-of-breed technologies with old-fashioned, one-on-one advice.”

“Without question, SaaS supports this scenario because it offers the technology to support paperless document management, but I am not relying on the cloud to provide the kind of advice and counsel I can directly give my clients,” she continued. “The CPA or accountant who thinks cloud computing and advanced technologies will eliminate the conversation is not thinking in terms of fulfilling the very important trusted advisor role.”

Workflow and Other Benefits
Still, the proof is in the pudding, or as accountants would say, “Show me the workflow!”
"Innovative, online document management software often allows you to work the digital paper right into the workflow,” said Jason M. Blumer, CPA, CFE, owner of Blumer and Associates, CPAs, PC. “For example, you can attach the digital paper right to the workflow step that is routed around the office to various staff. Pretty freakin’ sweet.”

Handling some of the more burdensome client matters is also supersized: “The constant availability of your documents in the SaaS environment means you can address client issues when you are sipping lattes in the local coffee shop,” said Jason. “You don't have to remember 'one more thing to do' when you get back to the office. With an online DMS, you can give great customer service anywhere, anytime. And you can be efficient when you do it!"

CPAs and accountants also want to know the cost-savings or return on investment benefits associated with cloud-based document management. Here is a list that offers specifics on document management:

Increased Collaboration and Sharing. One of the best selling points of SaaS is the ability to share documents, or more importantly to the accounting profession, share information. As a result, clients communicate and collaborate more often and more closely with their own business partners because all work is done online.

IT Infrastructure Goes Away. Servers located in a closet within a firm or organization will become as much of a relic as the fax machine. A cloud-based document management system reduces energy costs, avoids technology obsolescence and reduces the support burden on the IT staff. More importantly, for firms that are too small to have IT experts on staff, all technology and related issues are handled elsewhere.

Accessibility of Documents. This is the crux of the always-on, always-available model. It can be the middle of the night in the northernmost region of Canada, and you could still access any document as long as you have an Internet connection. Just think of the benefits for staff who work in the field or cloud commute.

Scan, Capture and Populate. Although many firms have used scanners for quite a long time, SaaS takes the scanning process to an all new level. Scanners still capture the data, but now are used in what’s become commonly known as a “scan-and-populate” process. Information loads into fields within accounting and tax systems to enable smoother workflow processes. This eliminates redundancy of data capture and offers a much more productive work environment.

Improved Compliance. Another one of the key benefits in a DMS is improved compliance. SaaS means fewer people will handle specific information because it lives in the cloud, not on a desktop. Information is more readily available, for example, to accounting regulators and the IRS because it can be shared online.

Happier Clients. Because fewer errors will be made in managing the data, the risk to clients decreases while the quality of work increases. In turn, this leads to more satisfied clients and situations that CPAs and accountants can use when they talk to their clients about what they are doing in the “trusted advisor” role. Happier clients lead to greater client retention.

Reduced Paper. This is almost a given, but it’s always good to remind the pessimists that “green” is good. An online document management system reduces the need for paper.

KISS: Keep it Simple (and) Simple
Still not convinced? We feel CPAs and accountants may not “get” document management in the cloud until they experience it for themselves. Trade shows are a great way to see real-time processes, but making the leap from the desktop to the cloud also will require a commitment to want to change.

Managing documents in the SaaS environment offers security and privacy, but it also offers a subscription-based model versus traditional licensing. Accounting firms no longer have to maintain licenses for software because the software isn’t resident on their desktops or servers. Instead, the model shifts to pay-as-you-go, with a fee based on an entire year of usage or other agreed-upon timeframe.

This is good for the accounting profession because it eliminates the burden of someone at a firm having to maintain licenses to remain compliant—and also supports the compliance model cited above as one of the inherent benefits of document management in the cloud.

While KISS can take on more than one meaning, we want accounting firms and software providers to adopt one, central mantra: Keep it Simple! It’s time for firms to wrap their arms around cloud-based document management. Consider this one of your key resolutions for 2011.

Kimberly Hogan is business development manager for ScanSnap sales at Fujitsu. Follow her on Twitter @ScanSnapKim or see her in person at any one of a number of accounting trade shows. Contact Kim at 949-551-5601 or khogan@us.fujitsu.com. As vice president of channels at Intacct Corporation, Taylor Macdonald directs the company’s relationships with business partners. Contact him at 404-434-2872 or tmacdonald@intacct.com.

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