Accounting in the Cloud: A Customer's Perspective
Cloud technology is revolutionizing the accounting and finance industry, and it is gaining momentum. I recently had the opportunity to moderate a webinar and panel discussion sponsored by Sage Intacct and hosted by IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants). The webinar included a panel discussion headlined by three Sage Intacct customers and finance leaders, including Elliot Goldman, finance director at Rapid Ratings, Melissa DuVall, finance team lead at Epitec and Ashmi Shah, CFO at Talix.
For the Sage Intacct customers on our panel, cloud technology has emerged as the solution to numerous business challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic is first among them; while for many businesses the pandemic served as a catalyst to accelerate their move to the cloud, the accounting leaders on our panel had already accomplished the move and were ready to reap the benefits. As the pandemic proceeded, they fully appreciated the importance of real-time reporting and accessibility of financial data from any location at any time.
Cloud: The bright light in the pandemic
As the conversation proceeded, the panelists shed light on how their respective organizations navigated through recent choppy waters and continued to thrive with a modern accounting solution. All three panelists, who had previously invested in cloud-accounting software, agreed that the ability to access information from any location proved especially valuable as the pandemic normalized work from home for most employees. According to Ashmi Shah at Talix,“just having all of the data at our fingertips made our working processes seamless.”
“Being in the cloud was really vital when the pandemic hit,” Melissa DuVall at Epitec, noted. She believes her team was even more productive than before everyone went remote. “I think we’ll always be in the cloud and now be remote. My team will probably only go back to the office two days per week. Before, that was unheard of. There are definitely going to be lasting changes.”
Elliot stated that his experience was similar to the other panelists. “We were already paperless because we were on the cloud, so we didn’t miss a beat,” he said. “It was business as usual.”
Outgrowing an on-premise solution
Companies who have not yet moved accounting systems to the cloud report limitations on a day-to-day basis as they outgrow their on-premise solution. These companies are often stuck on an older version of software that is difficult and time consuming to upgrade to access the latest functionality, which may hinder worker productivity or affect the ability to meet changing compliance requirements. In addition, remote access is likely challenging, slow and unreliable. Manual processes may delay AR and AP approvals, and manually generated invoices often lead to rising Days Sales Outstanding (DSO). Without automation, organizations may miss out on data exploration, reporting and actionable analytics as well as the ability to integrate with partner ecosystems.
When a company is ready to move to more modern technology, the key points to consider when choosing a Software as a Service (SAAS) cloud accounting vendor were covered in the webinar. Selecting a best-of-breed application that meets key functionality/capability needs and is cloud native should be a priority, but the partner ecosystem and ease of integration also need to be assessed. Some considerations when looking at cloud ROI and Total Economic Impact (TEI), that were discussed include:
- License vs subscription cost
- Initial implementation and upgrade/maintenance of software and infrastructure, time to market
- Staffing reductions (finance and IT)
- Productivity improvements
- Security including the cost of breaches and the service levels required for business continuity
- Data center real estate expenses, power, cooling, infrastructure and opportunity cost
- Recruiting attractiveness and availability of remote work
- Agility and risk reduction
- Ubiquitous data, actionable analytics that will result better decision making
The panel provided some interesting examples of efficiencies their teams realized after implementing a cloud solution. “We used to spend an entire month closing the books for the prior month, so there was very little value-added time spent analyzing and being forward looking, Elliot Goldman of Rapid Ratings, shared. “Being able to utilize cloud-based applications, we were able to bring our close down to four days. So now we spend most of our time analyzing results and looking forward rather than backward, and that’s been great for us to make strategic decisions.”
Security, privacy and reliability
As the discussion transitioned into security and privacy preparedness, attendees learned that the cloud can actually be more secure than on-premise installations, especially as the element of human error is removed. Businesses need to look for cloud service providers that conduct background checks for employees, and that offer continuous internal threat monitoring and third-party testing. Providers should segregate production networks with restricted physical and logical access and ensure encryption of data at-rest and in motion are in place, among other precautions. Security and privacy measures are table stakes today as cloud partners are expected to be good stewards of all data.
Reliability is as important as cyber security and an important consideration when evaluating cloud service providers. After all, one of the reasons companies move to the cloud is to improve up-time and reliability of applications. Businesses should look for an uptime commitment of at least 99%. In addition, determine if the vendor can handle the steady capacity required for day-to-day activities as well as extra capacity when internal usage is higher. Lastly, cloud services providers should offer redundancy to ensure business continuity, with data and applications replicated to multiple sites, and procedures in place to restore apps and data in the event of a ransomware or other malevolent attack.
Partner ecosystem and industry focus matters
Choosing a best-in-class partner ecosystem was another critical cloud consideration featured during the webinar. Partners can be leveraged to extend functionality and customize the capabilities to the business. Industry specific needs can also be accomplished this way.
In this age of specialization and verticalization, it’s helpful to consider industry focus when selecting a cloud vendor. Buyers should seek out service providers that have the expertise and functionality specific to their industry, particularly if they have unique accounting rules such as nonprofit or healthcare.
Demonstrating value from the cloud
Several examples of how Sage Intacct customers saved time and money after implementing a cloud-based accounting solution were discussed with the panelists. “Moving from excel to automation removes the possibility for manual errors, and so you have checks and balances,” said Ashmi. She continued, “being a financial leader and having confidence in your numbers goes a long way with your investors, with your board members and even internally with your team. Having the right system in place is truly empowering.”
Wrapping up the webinar, Melissa noted ‘what’s next for her accounting department. “We have a lot of projects planned for the remainder of the year, and the common thread for all of our projects is to make our reporting even more robust,” she said. “We’ll make sure that data we generate is data you can take action on.”
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