Business functionality is moving online, and so should you.
According to a survey from LogicMonitor, “87% of global IT decision-makers agree the pandemic will cause organizations to accelerate their migration to the cloud, anticipating a decline in on-premises workloads by 2025.”
“Doing business” used to mean meeting face to face and putting pen to paper, but as the world evolves and moves to a more digital interface, the business world moves with it. This trend towards online and remote functionality has only been accelerated by COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdowns, forcing businesses to adopt remote work and decentralised collaboration.
Accounting services has been one of the sectors that have smoothly made the transition towards remote and online functionality. If you want your accounting to be fast, smart and up to date with the latest trends, then moving to cloud accounting is a no-brainer. In this post, we will teach you everything you need to know about cloud accounting. We will dive into basics like what it is, to more nuanced topics like how to select the best cloud accounting service provider in order to make the move online as seamless and pain-free as possible.
What exactly is ‘the cloud’ and how does it work?
The term ‘the cloud’ has a quirky and interesting history. It started off as visual shorthand between designers and programmers, then was adopted widely as online computing started becoming part of everyday life. In the early days of the internet, technical diagrams and illustrations often represented servers, computers and the networking hardware that make up the internet as we know it, as a literal ‘cloud’. As more functionality progressed to this ‘remote servers’ part of the internet, people began to talk about moving to ‘the cloud’ as a shorthand way of explaining where the computing processes were taking place. Today, ‘the cloud’ is a well-known term for computing services and functionality hosted digitally and accessed through the internet.
The physical cloud servers themselves are located in data centres all over the world. By using cloud computing, you don’t have to manage physical servers yourself or run software programs on your own machines. Some examples of cloud services include well-known names like Google Drive, Apple iCloud, Netflix, Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive. In fact, you are probably sitting in a coffee shop right now and reading this on your laptop from a server that uses cloud technology.
What is cloud accounting vs normal accounting?
Traditionally, accounting used to mean recording every single invoice received or issued by a business physically and keeping a rigorous paper trail of every transaction. As business evolved, actual paper was replaced by digital records and soon we were punching numbers into Excel spreadsheets. These invoices and the related information were then digitally stored in a dedicated folder or hard drive.
After computers replaced pen and paper, traditional accounting software, such as Sage or Quickbooks was developed specifically for businesses. These software packages were then installed on a specific desktop computer, and used to store and calculate financial and accounting data. A specific user could access the data, its storage, and services on that particular computer. No other device or network could be used to gain access to this data, and it is in effect a data silo within the business.
Traditional accounting using these software packages meant that you were basically chained to your desk in order to complete your work. If there was a deadline, you’d better be ready to order dinner at the office and work well into the night. There was also the chance of losing valuable data, as it was all kept on one computer, barring a few floppy disc backups. Some of us remember the disaster of a crashed computer or a compromised floppy disc – if we remembered to back up at all! There is no question that storing crucial financial data on just one machine leaves much room for error and comes with built-in system vulnerabilities for which there are few solutions.
So, cloud accounting, what is it exactly? Cloud accounting simply refers to accounting software that sends, processes and stores data off-premise (in the cloud, as discussed above), rather than the traditional accounting software which is located on one physical computer. We can therefore think of the cloud and what we call the internet, as virtually one and the same. There are many benefits to cloud accounting, but one of the main ones is the ease of access. An employee can log in and access data from anywhere, at any time, provided that they have access to the internet and the relevant passwords. Just as office computers replaced ledger books and handwritten entries, so cloud accounting is replacing computer-bound software packages. No more long hours at the office – now you can work from literally anywhere.
How does cloud-based accounting work?
Cloud accounting has exactly the same functionality (plus a few extra upgrades) as traditional accounting, the only difference is in the way that it is accessed and stored. Data is stored in the cloud instead of on a local server or computer, and users can access it at any time, from anywhere, using secure passwords. Also, cloud accounting requires far less maintenance than its traditional counterpart. The cloud provider completes the backups, software updates occur automatically and nothing needs to be downloaded or installed on a company computer.
Other than the ease of use and accessibility, cloud accounting functionality remains essentially the same as that of normal accounting. Cloud accounting does, however, allow for more automation, as will be discussed.
What are the benefits of cloud accounting compared to traditional accounting?
Where to begin? Traditional accounting practices using accounting software and an in-house computer system come with a host of problems relating to cost, security and more.
Problems with traditional accounting software:
- The data in the system isn’t up to date and neither is the software
- Updating software to the latest version needs to happen on an annual basis and costs time and money
- The software only works on one computer and data bounces from place to place. For example, on a USB drive or via email. This is not secure or reliable and leaves room for error
- Only one person has user access at any given time. Key people can’t access crucial financial data and reports simultaneously and with ease
- It’s costly and complicated to keep backups (if done at all)
- It’s expensive, difficult and time-consuming to train new users to use your particular software programs effectively
- There is the possibility of losing data, either through human error, data corruption or machine crashes.
The immediate benefits of cloud accounting:
There are several key distinctions between cloud accounting and traditional, on-site accounting, with the benefits of cloud-based accounting becoming very clear.
Let’s have a closer look at seven benefits of using cloud accounting:
1. Remote Access
As internet access continues to expand worldwide, remote access is becoming an especially important benefit of cloud accounting software. The cloud allows you and your accountant or CFO to simultaneously access data, via the internet, from basically anywhere. This is a huge advantage for businesses that have employees that work in multiple locations or are often travelling. As previously mentioned – no more being chained to your desk in order to get the work done.
2. Automated Processes reduce human error
Automation is a huge benefit and opportunity for accountants because it allows them to focus on more important business tasks rather than manual and time-consuming processes such as inputting data by hand. Technology has disrupted manual processes and made the profession more efficient and strategic – a win for everyone involved. As a result of automation, data is collected faster, which ultimately allows employees and managers to have more insights into important financial processes in order to speed up decision-making. Employees that are willing to embrace technology will, consequently, be able to take on more strategic and revenue-generating roles in the future and benefit from automation.
Data about your sales or income and purchases can flow straight from your bank to your books so you don’t spend hours updating complicated spreadsheets. When everything is done manually, there’s always scope for human error. Even the most experienced bookkeeper or administrator can make a mistake when dealing with complex financial data. Online accounting software uses cutting-edge technology to automate repetitive tasks, directly importing data where feasible to minimise the risk of errors throughout your accounts.
Plus, with real-time data at your fingertips, you can track your business’ financial performance on a daily basis and spot errors as they happen – meaning you can address them quickly. This increases efficiency and productivity across the organisation.
This is one of the most exciting growth areas of cloud accounting software. It is able to recognise recurring transactions in order to auto-allocate them. Learning from millions of accounts being processed all over the world, the software is able to allocate transactions into the correct accounts. After just a few months of using it, your actual manual allocations should be less than 20% of all transactions. As this function increases in strength, bookkeeping work will diminish and entrepreneurs will be able to focus on doing business, not recording it. Advisory functions and value-adds are able to take centre stage and become more of a focus in an accountant’s day-to-day activities rather than merely capturing transactions.
Many cloud accounting packages can link with bank payment apps allowing you to pay and be paid automatically. This helps to speed up payment times to assist with cash flow and reduces the level of administrative work that you or your staff are required to complete.
4. Low barrier to entry and lower input costs
Its cloud-based nature means the software is online so there’s nothing to install or update, and all your data is backed up automatically. You don’t have to buy new computers or download software – the programs are already updating and running so all you have to do is access the system via your phone or laptop.
Since you only pay for the services you use, most providers offer a subscription model with monthly payment instalments. As a result, you are able to enjoy the latest software functionality for minimal cost, with the added advantage of scalability when the business starts to gain momentum. With cloud software, you don’t have to worry about maintenance and update costs because those are managed by the provider. The cloud has essentially empowered customers by giving them a more affordable way to access the latest software, and to have a plug-and-play option ready at a moment’s notice.
This makes cloud accounting perfect for startups, entrepreneurs and small businesses. There’s no big initial outlay for software, hardware or a dedicated on-site employee that still needs to be brought up to speed. All that is required is some setup to personalise your accounts, upload your financial data and learn how to use the software. All of which is readily available online.
Multi-user access makes it easy to collaborate online with your team and advisors, thereby avoiding information silos within your business.
Remote access tools help administrators respond to issues as quickly as possible. Rather than having to be on-site to resolve issues, many situations can be handled with remote tools which can be administered from laptops, tablets, or even mobile phones. Collaborative work has traditionally been difficult to do at a distance – something that can easily lead to overspending on project budgets as managers lose track of who is doing what. When you have the right cloud finance system in place, you can easily integrate your enterprise management software in order to keep everyone abreast with project parameters and monitor overall spending. Traditionally, when employees have been working from home, it has been difficult to maintain quality control. In busy finance departments, this meant that simple errors could go unnoticed and multiply – leading to serious issues developing down the line. By working on shared documents through the cloud, it is much easier to avoid that as data can be immediately reviewed and there is no risk of wires getting crossed as everyone can see the updates as and when they happen. It’s also easier to ensure that individual employees submit data in standardised templates and formats, reducing the risk of errors occurring. Cloud accounting technology allows approval processes and robust audit trails, ensuring business compliance regardless of location and that your “house is kept in good order.”
6. Real-time data reporting
As a business owner, you can access reports detailing your current financial position at any time. With cloud accounting you are able to set up a dashboard showing important financial information such as debtors and creditors along with the state of your cash flow. Just a few clicks and you have the information available at your fingertips. The efficiency of online accounting software allows you to exercise considerably more control over your core financial processes. The whole invoice procedure is streamlined – providing you with a clearer picture of projected income, an overview of outstanding bills, and a clear breakdown of what each customer owes your business.
As data is automatically updated in real-time, you can be assured that the information that you are using in your strategic decision-making process is up to date, thereby allowing for better decision-making and more effective oversight and management.
This, in turn, helps with your cash flow management and forecasting. With real-time information at your fingertips, you can make informed decisions about how to allocate your resources, when to chase up debts, and where to invest in the future.
7. Flexibility & Scalability
Cloud accounting allows you flexibility of use, as functionality can easily be scaled up or down, e.g. in response to changes in the number of users, so that your business can meet demand peaks without having to invest in infrastructure and permanent staff that would otherwise remain underutilised.
Whether you’re a small business just starting out, or a huge firm with hundreds of employees, the cloud grows (or shrinks) with your business.
Is Cloud accounting secure?
Cloud-based accounting also addresses traditional safety concerns around sensitive financial data with higher, uniform security standards, automatic redundancies for data and scheduled, seamless security upgrades at no additional cost to you and the business. In truth, cloud accounting software packages offer better protection than small businesses would normally employ to protect their information. Cloud accounting, for instance, leaves no trace of financial data on company computers, and access to that data in the cloud is encrypted and password protected which can be tracked and monitored. It really is the overall safer choice.
For example, if your laptop is stolen and you’re using cloud software, no one can access your data unless they have a login to the online account. With cloud software, your data lives online on secure servers – as opposed to on your hard drive. Cloud providers also usually have backup servers in two or more locations. Should one server network go down, you still have access to your data. Information kept just on-premises could be destroyed or damaged in a fire or natural disaster, and may never be recovered. Being in the cloud also means business productivity doesn’t need to be affected because there’s no downtime. All of your information is safely and securely stored off-site and is always available. As long as you have access to any computer or mobile device connected to the internet, you’re good to go.
Sharing data is also less problematic and error-prone. With cloud accounting, two people simply need access rights to the same system with their unique passwords in order to work together. Traditional methods often require flash drives to transport data, which could be lost or stolen. Furthermore, if you invite users to view your data, you can control the level of access. This is much more secure than the old-fashioned way of emailing your files.
If you need to share financial information or reports with anyone such as an accountant or potential investor, you can easily grant access to your accounts with cloud-based accounting software. This means that there’s no need to share data with physical USB sticks or send sensitive information via email. This then cuts down on the chances of a data leak or breach. Trusted advisors can enjoy safe and secure access to all of your financial data in real-time. This is a smarter, quicker and safer way to share sensitive data.
Cloud-based software companies ensure that the security and privacy of data about you and your organisation is always airtight. If you use online banking, then you’re already halfway to using cloud accounting, as the functionality shares many similarities. What are you waiting for?
What are the Main Functions of Cloud Accounting Software?
From basic invoicing and billing, to tax calculations and project management, accounting software is an essential tool for your business’ financial data. It also helps manage clients, reconcile bank accounts, and generate insightful financial reports that help your business grow with less friction and more flexibility.
Cloud accounting software can perform many different functions, depending on the needs of your business and what type of software provider you choose. These functions are the same as those of normal accounting, as discussed, but differ in the automation and means of access. Most commonly though, accounting software can perform the following functions:
Moreover, cloud accounting software providers can also offer a mix of the following more advanced functions, which can often be automated, for further ease of use to enable growth:
The benefit of using cloud-based accounting software is that all this functionality is built-in and already there and available for use. As a business owner, you can pick and choose what works for you and your requirments.
Does your business need cloud accounting?
It really doesn’t matter in what field you specialise, whether it’s retail or tourism, big or small. You can achieve more of what interests you in managing your business and take financial functions to new levels with cloud accounting. Although it may seem like a secondary concern in the startup phase, as your organisation grows, optimum management of resources and accurate accounting functions will command great importance and allow your business to thrive.
While you may have been hesitant to make the move to cloud accounting previously, the COVID-19 outbreak has made implementing a cloud accounting solution a necessity. With more people working from home, your business cannot function as usual without the ability to access software and tools outside of the office. Moving to cloud accounting not only keeps your business running, but it also helps you retain staff who might have relocated. Let’s have a look at six immediate ways in which a move to cloud accounting will benefit your business.
- You have a clear overview of your current financial position in real-time.
- Collaboration is high and it’s simple to transfer tasks. Even if it is shared with a large number of individuals, it is free. Good news for startups.
- Automatic updates mean you can spend more time doing what you really enjoy in your business.
- Everything is run online, so there’s nothing to install and everything is backed up automatically. No more lost data, no more in-office late hours and late night commutes.
- Upfront business costs are reduced – version upgrades, maintenance, system administration costs and server failures are no longer issues. Instead, they are managed by the cloud service provider.
- With a cloud computing system, you save money on IT support. As there is tough competition amongst cloud service providers, they provide on-demand availability, flexibility, and scalability 24/7.
- You can expand functionality immediately as you need it. The cloud provides a wide range of services, and you can select only those that you require as and when they become relevant.
A few things to keep in mind before moving to a cloud accounting service
Putting your business online is no longer about having a website or posting coupons on Facebook. Today it’s about automation, access and remote availability. Great online tools are automating every aspect of business, from HR to operations. There is so much out there, in fact, knowing where to start can often be the biggest problem, but don’t let it hold you back.
Migrating your accounting firm to the cloud can have significant benefits. From consolidating your client list to keeping track of deadlines and accessing all of your clients’ data in one place, the cloud will not only save you time, but will also make it easier to collaborate and scale.
But how do you migrate your entire company to a new system without disrupting your day-to-day productivity? Preparing ahead of time will ensure that employees are equipped for the transition and that the switch causes minimal disruption and no loss of data or systems downtime.
1. Plan and inform your company – set a deadline
This is the date on which you will start using the new system and discontinue using the previous accounting system. Although you are free to choose any date, it often makes sense to make the switch at the end of a month, or the end of a VAT quarter.
Changing the way your business operates can raise in-house concerns and no business can afford the downtime that comes with implementing a new system. But as soon as your software is ready to go live and your employees are fully trained, it’s better to bite the bullet and begin the migration. The most important thing you can do is create a sense of urgency by setting a deadline for implementation. Arrange all your timelines around this deadline. When the time comes, don’t delay the inevitable. Begin the migration immediately and get your team on board. It might not seem like a business priority, but cloud-based solutions will improve your firm’s efficiency and save your business time and money in the long run. Just make sure to communicate the benefits to staff around how it will make their lives easier moving forward.
However, if your business is already at that stage and you are looking for accounting experts to game up in finance and accounts management, look for providers offering specialized accounting services for small businesses. Be sure to opt for reliable and reputable experts who have a demonstrated track record and can help you utilize your cloud accounting software to its full potential.
2. Tidy up your data and get your systems and processes ready
It is important to ensure that your current data is as tidy and neat as possible. This is a good time to clean up unwanted data and rectify any transactions that you have been meaning to correct so that you don’t carry them forward into the new system. Make sure customer and supplier payments are matched to invoices and reconcile your bank accounts.
Accounting systems are multifaceted and can handle more than just paying bills, so be prepared to go all-in. You can quickly move your time-keeping, payroll, merchant services, and banking into one cohesive package. The more data you convert into an online accounting package, the more useful it will be and the less time you’ll spend doing duplicate data entry. Cloud accounting software is built to be one piece in a larger ecosystem of applications. The best software will integrate with HR systems, payroll, inventory control systems, merchant services, banking, CRM, and workflow applications. Pick accounting software that has broad “hooks” that connect to other online applications.
Moving finance to the cloud also means you can get rid of the servers and desktop software, allowing access to your accounting from any PC, tablet, or smartphone. Making data mobile empowers employees to enter timesheets, sales transactions, purchase orders, inventory adjustments, and other data right from the field or storefront. This creates an organized, paperless system, and greatly reduces mistakes by pushing the data-entry tasks down to the people who actually generate the data.
3. Know the REAL cost in long-term savings
Online software is generally sold as a subscription, which might seem a lot in the beginning, but don’t let the price tag scare you. In the long run, online software is ALWAYS less expensive than desktop software.
Small companies save thousands by moving their software off local servers and into the cloud. Larger firms save even more by reducing IT support staff – even while increasing functionality and reliability. Desktop software is notoriously expensive but web-based software involves no physical hardware and is, therefore, cheaper, as well as giving you the opportunity to pay as you go and adapt usage to suit your needs and pocket. Adobe’s Creative Cloud is an excellent example of expensive software such as Photoshop which has been made more affordable by providing it in a web-based format.
4. Get staff on board
Without staff buy-in, no matter how good your idea or innovation, you will experience a failure to launch. Engage with your employees and explain the features and benefits of cloud software, as well as the specific issues that you hope to resolve by moving your accounting functions to the cloud. You might brainstorm and ask them to list their daily tasks and to consider which of their daily time-consuming tasks can be automated. By evaluating your internal systems and tasks, you’ll gain a better understanding of which tasks to prioritise and automate when you begin the migration.
While moving your processes to the cloud will make some or most of your existing tools redundant. There may be a few systems that you would like to keep in place, like a spreadsheet for creating tax calculations. Make note of these, but try to use your cloud software for as many essential processes as possible. Once again, remember to include your valued staff members in this process, so that they don’t feel as if they are being made redundant. The aim is to simplify and automate certain tasks, thereby freeing up time so that staff can spend more time on higher-order functionality and less time punching numbers. Be sure to communicate this.
Business operations might have to take a backseat during installation and training, and while you’ll want your team to be available to your clients, you’ll also want them to be skilled enough to use the cloud software. It’s important to strike a balance between productivity and training, while keeping two-way communication open at all times.
How to choose the best cloud accounting software
Now that you have considered the pros and cons, and hopefully landed firmly on the side of cloud accounting, it’s time to choose the perfect cloud accounting software package for you, your business and your needs.
While there are many cloud-based accounting solutions out there, it’s crucial to find the right fit for your specific business requirements. Look for the following features when you are shopping:
- Available features for processing invoices and quotes, managing inventory, sending purchase orders, and any other processes you might want to include
- Additional integrations to manage things like payroll, invoicing, CRM, or time tracking
- Customer support reviews and availability
- Ability to scale with your business
- Cost, both upfront and long-term
If the thought of managing the transition to cloud seems cumbersome or intimidating, why not consider outsourcing your cloud accounting functionality to a company that specialises in such services, like OCFO? Using leading cloud accounting software, our expert cloud accountants help business owners like you to automate bookkeeping and take the pain out of reporting.
Here you must also do your homework, as you need a good company fit. Try to tick the following boxes.
- Certification. While bookkeeping and tax regulation don’t always require professional accountants, tasks like securing loans and auditing require certified or chartered accountants.
- Relevant experience. Your outsourced firm should have the expertise to help your brand, which includes understanding how to work with a business of your size, with your revenue and in your market sector.
- Old-fashioned word-of-mouth is as valuable a reference today as it ever was. Talk to friends or business associates to find out what accounting firm they use and if they would recommend it to others.
- Proactive about saving money. Choose a company that wants to help you save money, not just manage it. This requires an understanding of cash flow and being proactive in achieving a cash surplus for your business.
- Leverage your personal network. Every small business owner understands the importance of networking. Use your business contacts to your advantage when searching for accountants, and reach out to friends, family and even acquaintances for recommendations.
- Don’t rush the hiring process. Don’t just choose the first “good fit” you meet. Take the time to interview multiple candidates so you can make a more practical decision, and negotiate a trial if possible.
- Flexible fees. You should have a budget already in place for your accounting services. If your potential accountant is requesting more, negotiate the fees to a reasonable, agreeable amount for both parties. Some accountants offer to help clients set goals and monitor financial progress, which can be very helpful if you’re just starting out in business or looking to take things to next level.
- Audit Support. When the Internal Revenue Service comes knocking, it’s reassuring to know that your accountant will be right by your side. IRS audits are a way of life for some small business owners and individual taxpayers, but facing an audit is a stressful situation. Make sure that your accounting services provider has the experience ad manpower to see you through this situation.
What OCFO brings to the table
In the accounting industry, new technology and the era of digitisation has afforded us the opportunity of utilising technology to leverage time that would have gone into processing and data capturing. The team at Outsourced CFO is here to assist as you transition your accounting services to the cloud, offering support and guidance and taking the nitty gritty accounting functions off your hands using the best technology that is out there.
At Outsourced CFO, we have partnered with Xero as our leading cloud accounting weapon of choice. Xero is a New Zealand based accounting software technology company that is taking over the world. Plugged into entrepreneurial ecosystems the world over, they are currently the leading solution for SMEs in the marketplace. Their offering embodies all of the above advantages of cloud accounting and more. We’d recommend them to any entrepreneurs who wish to streamline their company’s accounting function.
As new and younger companies cannot afford to appoint an appropriately qualified professional to navigate this facet of their business, but also cannot afford to be without the technical financial skills that one could offer, Outsourced CFO offers the solution – the business services of a passionate OCFO for an amount of hours per month tailored to your specific needs.
Our Cloud accounting packages
Three different cloud accounting packages give founders and management teams the clarity and peace of mind they need for their growth journey. We’ve got bookkeeping and reporting covered, and we will facilitate the move online to the cloud so that you can focus on what you do best – running and growing your business. Let’s look at three options, one of which should be a perfect fit.
Perfect for newly funded startups that are gaining their first traction in the market and who want to start taking reporting seriously. Our accounting team will help you to get the wheels turning by taking the hassle of monthly reporting off of the bottom of your to do list.
Our most loved cloud accounting package, Accounting Intermediate is the answer to outsourcing your bookkeeping and reporting function with all of its complexities to the professionals. Get access to a team of professional accountants to handle bookkeeping and management reporting so that you can focus on growing your company.
The fully fledged Cloud Accounting Advanced package adds additional resources to your Intermediate package for growing companies who have to juggle stakeholder reporting, compliance complexities, budgeting, higher volume transactions, weekly recons and more. A dedicated cloud accounting manager will be your wingman or woman, in taking your business to the next level and beyond.
Transitioning your business onto the cloud can automate many manual processes and functions, increasing efficiencies and also allowing anywhere, any time, any device access to real-time data, improving the strategic decision making processes within your business.
The beauty of online accounting software is the flexibility it gives you to run your business from work, home, or on the go. You can be confident that you have an up-to-date picture of how your business is doing, no matter where you are.
Software updates can be developed and delivered faster and more easily in the cloud. This means you don’t need to worry about installing the latest version and you’ll get access to new features instantly. With cloud accounting software, you have the option to run your business remotely, from anywhere in the world. And when data is fluid and accessible, the possibilities are endless.
None of us knows for certain what the future will hold, but we all have a responsibility to be thinking about what’s likely to happen, and to prepare for it. In the finance function, that means working now to get the right people and technology in place to take advantage of the inevitable disruption ahead. That’s not likely to happen without a clear vision and strategy for finance in a digital world. Now is the time to step back and make sure your roadmap to that future is clear and that you and your company are ready for whatever the future brings.
AI will shape many parts of our lives in years to come. Entrepreneurs can either fear these changes or embrace them. Remember that even with the best tech, it is still all about the people behind it that enable efficiency and optimisation. You need great people to assess, implement and advise in order to unlock the power of cloud accounting software.
Get in touch with our team of professionals today to learn more about how you can rethink, automate and scale your company using Xero and other top financial technologies.