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Accounting & Audit

If SaaS Won’t Do It, What About Cloud Hosting?

Software as a Service (SaaS) is making great progress. However, if you can’t solve your business needs with all SaaS tools, and you want to live in the cloud, how do you do that? We’ve discussed in prior columns the advantages of private cloud and ...

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A Top Technology Initiative Article – From the November 2015 Issue.

Software as a Service (SaaS) is making great progress. However, if you can’t solve your business needs with all SaaS tools, and you want to live in the cloud, how do you do that? We’ve discussed in prior columns the advantages of private cloud and public cloud approaches. What about hosting companies that specialize in the accounting profession?

This year we’ve had the pleasure of recommending software programs for accounting, payroll, document management and other critical areas of your practice. Now is the time to consider your remote access needs. There is no one answer that works for the profession. The equation and solution is a multi-variable problem. The technology factors that influence your practice, and the solutions are wide ranging. Consider the following:

  • Private cloud vs. public cloud
  • Top performance vs. acceptable speed
  • Reliability vs. intermittency
  • Simplicity vs. complexity
  • Software vendor provided vs. third party
  • SaaS vs. the requirement of desktop software
  • In-house talent vs. outsourced talent
  • Outsourced talent vs. specialty knowledge of the profession
  • One-time costs vs. recurring costs
  • Ownership vs. lease
  • Flexibility vs. being told by the vendor your options
  • Single site vs. multi-site
  • Software updates provided vs. time used by in-house personnel (possibly a partner)
  • Seamless experience by end users vs. separate steps and tools to do tasks
  • Single vendor solution vs. multiple vendors
  • Entry level security vs. strong, monitored security
  • Shared scanners vs. network scanners
  • Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) vs. remote desktop access (RDS)
  • Convenient multiple monitor support vs. single window access
  • Protection with subpoena vs. unknown access via Freedom Act PRISM order
  • Retention policies vs. unknown copies
  • Local control vs. questions about governance compliance
  • Mitigating risk of single site disaster vs. promise of operating from data centers
  • Choice vs. restricted options

Note that for each of the considerations listed above, and there may additional items from your perspective. Your preferences and situation may dictate your solution. In other cases, there will be no clear winner. You may get frustrated, and simply give up by maintaining the status quo or conceding to use a cloud vendor to solve local installation issues. You may have firm politics, vendor sales pitches or physical considerations as well.

Today’s environment is certainly more complex than the early days of DOS and Novell local area networks. It was fascinating to me in preparing this article, with my level of knowledge, to try to discern and understand how different the solutions are. It is hard to imagine with a knowledge of accounting, and not necessarily of technology, how difficult the decision in this area must be for you and your firm. In trying to simplify and easily portray your choices, it became clear why there is so much confusion in the market. There are dozens of right ways to solve the problem and hundreds of wrong ways that won’t produce the result you want, possibly even when you spend more money and time.

The big options and providers by category for CPA firms look something like this:

  • Private Cloud
    • In house network hardware
    • Remote access with RDS, Citrix, VDI
    • Maintained reactively with in-house personnel and local support or proactively by in-house IT and a managed service provider
    • Examples include: Network Management Group, Inc.
    • Support pricing $100-150/user/month
  • Hosted
    • You purchase and install your equipment in a co-location
    • Installation and maintenance is done with your personnel or a contracted vendor, which may be the co-location personnel themselves
    • Examples: NetStandard
  • Hosted with managed care
    • The vendor provides the servers and storage
    • You may bring the licenses or pay licensing fees
    • Examples include: CETROM, Cloud9 Real Time, Cloudvara, Infinitely Virtual, InSynq, NovelASPect, Xcentric
    • Pricing $34-300/user/month (yes, there is that much variance)
  • Hosted with primary focus on a specific application or family of applications
    • The vendor provides the servers and storage
    • You may bring the licenses or pay licensing fees
    • Examples include: Right Networks, Skyline (UniData), Qutera, other licensed QuickBooks hosting companies at: www.intuithostingprogram.com
    • Pricing $17-60/user/month (yes, there is also that much variance in QuickBooks desktop hosting)
  • Server leasing
    • The vendor provides the servers and storage
    • You are responsible for the setup and generally must bring all the licenses except server operating systems
    • There is minimal control of configuration issues and speed
    • Examples include: Amazon, Microsoft Azure, RackSpace
    • Pricing $49-999/user/month
  • Vendor provided
    • The vendor provides the servers and storage
    • The vendor provides the software, setup and support
    • Examples: CCH Axcess, Thomson Virtual Office CS
    • Pricing $99-1999/user/month
  • SaaS
    • The vendor runs a multi-tenant, multi-user data center
    • Access is through a web browser
    • You select and license apps from multiple vendors to solve the business problem
    • Examples: Intuit QuickBooks Online, Intuit Tax Online, Thomson GoFileRoom, Thomson GoSystem Tax RS

You’ll find that our advice is similar to selecting an appropriate accounting software for your firm and clients. If you are a larger organization, you might get a better, less expensive solution with a Do It Yourself (DIY) approach to private cloud. If you are smaller, you’re more likely to have success with a hosted or managed service provider. As further guidance, consider the CPA Practice Advisor Reader’s choice awards at: www.cpapracticeadvisor.com/12061061 (Listed under ASP/Hosted Solution Providers) or www.cpapracticeadvisor.com/12014681.

Is There A Conclusion?
One thing learned is that one size does not fit all. Another key point was that no one vendor solves every problem. Expertise and being clear about the offerings was obvious on some vendor’s web sites, while others clearly wanted to get you on the phone to either understand your needs or to try to “sell you”. It was also pretty clear that some vendors were not clear about their own offerings and that many were understaffed trying to provide an offering without enough resources, while others were doing a wonderful job of providing an excellent service at a fair price. My best conclusion?

If you want a hosted solution as a CPA firm, your best options are listed in this article. However, hosted is not for every firm, and going to the cloud doesn’t mean you have to give up control by choosing a hosted provider that restricts your choices. However, if your internal IT or local providers restrict your firm, using a cloud provider with expertise is likely to give you a better experience than poor IT support.

 

 

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