To the Cloud or Not to the Cloud, That Was the Question

Column: My Perspective

From the Sept. 2011 Issue.

I recently returned from the Sage conference in Washington, D.C., where I spent a great deal of time with thought leaders Ron Baker and Ed Kless. Each of us led sessions focused on improving firm operations. Collectively, Ron, Ed and I helped firms think through the many aspects of running a successful business. For example, Ron discussed the need to abandon traditional hourly billing and move to a value pricing model (visit Ron’s website at verasage.com). Ed led an afternoon discussion on the value of Cloud technologies, while I guided attendees through my Next Generation Accounting Firm workshop. It was a lot of great information, and at the core of each speaker’s session was a need to explore the Cloud.

Nearly every conference I’ve attended over the past year or two, and more articles than I can count, have focused on the topic of the Cloud — pushing the profession toward advanced, web-based technologies. During my Next Generation Accounting Firm session, one attendee, who had been quiet the entire day, stood up and asked me a question that really made me think. He asked, “Why is it that every conference I go to and so many articles tell me that I must move my firm to the Cloud? Can you help me understand this?”

To answer his question, I took off my Executive Editor and consultant hats and put myself in his shoes. As the managing partner of my own accounting firm, I’ve asked myself this same question several times. As I thought more about how to answer the question, I recalled the years I spent as a student and follower of Stephen Covey’s, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” I recalled Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind, which advocates looking ahead and envisioning what you want to accomplish. For me that meant determining what I wanted my firm to become. So I answered the attendee’s question with another question: “What is it you want to accomplish as a firm that you are not accomplishing now?”

This core question then led to several others: Do you want your staff to be able to access data and documents 24/7 from anywhere? Do you want your clients to have anytime-anywhere access to their information via secure, convenient portals? Do you want to heighten data security by eliminating document exchange via email (and moving to portals)? Would you like to support your clients’ accounting needs in real-time as opposed to working with backed up files?

I explained that in order to accomplish all these items, the Cloud was necessary — yet it doesn’t have to be an “all in” situation. The Cloud may be only part of the answer. It’s important to truly look at all aspects of firm operations, identify where improvements are needed and decide, ultimately, where you want to take your firm. Once a proper analysis is done, the answer may be a change in staff, updating processes and procedures, and/or implementing cloud-based technologies.

The point here is to acknowledge that the Cloud isn’t necessarily the be-all and end-all for firms. I firmly believe the Cloud is a critical component of a firm’s larger system, but they must first put the time into evaluating their current infrastructure and then identify all areas in need of improvement.

“To the Cloud or not to the Cloud?” does not have a simple Yes or No answer. What it comes down to is staying informed and current on what is taking place in your own firm, as well as staying apprised of new technology developments. Keeping up with both will better position firm leaders to implement the right technologies as needed … whether that’s the Cloud or not the Cloud.

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