Modern technology affords accounting companies the opportunity to expand their business far beyond what was possible a few years ago. One of these technological advances is cloud technology. Utilizing cloud technology can help to put accounting firms ahead of the competition, gather more clients and become more efficient and profitable.
In this article we shall summarize a webinar sponsored Xero – Beautiful Accounting Software and hosted by Accounting Today titled “Tips for Using the Cloud During Tax Season”. This particular webinar was delivered on December 15th 2015 by Jay Kimelman, CPA, CIPT. Mr. Kimelman is the founder and “Chief Techno Geek at the Digital CPA, a certified Xero Advisor and an advanced certified Quickbooks Advisor.
In his presentation, he speaks about:
- The evolution of cloud technology over time;
- Examples of online solutions in practice;
- New and emerging solutions for a modern practice.
Evolution of Cloud Technology
Most tax software today is still being used on the desktop which unfortunately has certain limitations. Modern technology now makes it possible to perform tasks that would otherwise only be possible via desktop applications not so long ago.
Cloud technology began as early as local dial-up internet and 56k modems and during the times of online communities such as Prodigy and AOL. Even though many people may not realize it, we have been using cloud technology for decades. Online services such as AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail can be considered cloud technology. How many times have we emailed files to ourselves to keep them stored in our inbox so we can access them anywhere anytime? This is akin to cloud storage applications being used today.
We then moved on to hosted desktop applications such as Citrix and other SaaS applications. However even this is becoming obsolete as applications are moving closer towards the browser.
Online Solutions in Practice
Here Mr. Kimelman gives us an idea of how he utilizes cloud technology during tax season. For client engagement letters, leads are captured from a website at the click of a button. These engagement letters are prepared and then sent to the client online. Even the invoicing and payments can be completed safely and securely online.
Other tasks that can be completed using the cloud include modifying engagement forms, signing and approving engagement letters, and customizing workflows. With workflows, forms and documents can be automatically routed to the appropriate persons for action. For example when an engagement is accepted, a job is created. At that point, a notification can be automatically sent to staff members to alert them of the new job. Cloud apps that can be used to define your workflow include Asana, Active Callable, Smartsheet, Excel, and Evernote. Finding the right system that fits your business processes and your firm will dictate which cloud application you choose to go with.
Cloud technology is also used for document management purposes, mainly for storage and secure file transfers. Mr. Kimelman mentioned that his company uses Box.com for this purpose.
Mr. Kimelman also offers advice on various useful apps that the tax professional will find useful to help them make the transition to the cloud environment:
Ledger and Cashbook—These can be used for bookkeeping and are useful applications that can help tax professionals improve efficiency and productivity.
Docusign or RightSigniture—These are used for obtaining electronic signatures for approval purposes, digital transaction management services for facilitating electronic exchanges of contracts, and signed documents.
DropBox, Drive, Sharefile, Smartvault—These are cloud storage apps that can be used for document management. In addition to being useful for document storage, they also provide functionality that allows files to be shared securely with clients and business partners. Also, files stored on these applications can be accessed anywhere with an internet connection.
Tax Software—This is can be done as desktop or hosted desktop application, both are equally effective. Selection of one or the other is a matter of personal preference.
Other new and emerging cloud applications and software for modern practice that deserve special mention are:
Stripe—Built for developers, Stripe’s extensive API and documentation will allow users to build payment gateways directly into their website or app.
Harvest—Simple invoicing for consulting services. Harvest automatically copies all sent invoices to Xero.
Expensify—Expensify is a software company that develops a travel and expense web and mobile application for personal and business use.
Bill.com—This handy web application can help clients go completely paperless by eliminating physical checks. Bill payments can be done with multiple approvals; checks are never paid without authorization again.
Utilizing cloud applications can prove to be extremely beneficial for tax professionals. In addition to having the potential to increase efficiency and productivity, clients are generally more trusting of companies that leverage the power of modern technology to bolster their services.