Technology can help firms to expand geographically, recruit and retain staff, gain a competitive advantage, and exceed client expectations. But it’s only truly transformative if you understand how to use it. Many firms struggle to separate the hype from reality, especially with regard to newer cloud-enabled technologies. To help firms understand how the cloud has changed over the years, Shari Dodgen, Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting’s director of strategic relationships and product marketing, sat down with Nancy Ekrem, CPA, Principal at Dewar Meeks + Ekrem, PC, and Damon Russel, Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting’s Product Line Manager. The resulting webinar, “The Evolution of the Cloud,” is the third in The Evolving Accountant Series hosted by CPA Practice Advisor.
“It was kind of a no-brainer financial decision going from server-based to cloud-based, as it was time to upgrade our server infrastructure. The price tag differential was about $50,000,” said Nancy Ekrem about her firm’s initial move to the cloud. But the firm has also experienced longer-term benefits as well. “I’m constantly looking for ways to innovate,” she says. “Where’s technology going? Some things that were really hard to do 10 years ago are really easy to do today. That is constantly evolving.”
Instead of the all-or-nothing approach to the cloud, many firms are adopting a hybrid approach. They use a combination of both on-premise and cloud software because:
- Technology vendors are adopting the cloud at different rates.
- It’s not practical to try to change everything to the cloud at the same time.
- Some firms prefer to keep some files on-premise because of file size, differing preferences by location, or internet access speed.
CCH Axcess™ Document offers a new hybrid storage option that allows firm-hosted storage options. You can choose whether to save files in the cloud or hosted locally on a central server at the firm, on individual servers in each office, or on storage available through a third-party hosting provider.
“The firm gets to choose where to store their documents. So you can choose either in the cloud or on the firm-hosted servers, or any combination of the two. It’s really exciting because the software is smart enough to know where to go get the file, be it from CCH servers or from the firm’s own hosted servers,” Says Damon Russel. “And unlike other hosted solutions, the hybrid storage feature was specifically built for the cloud to provide this type of a hybrid solution.
How the Cloud Serves Customers
The evolution of the cloud has also affected the role of the accountant. To provide good client service, accountants today no longer have to meet face to face during office hours to have the client sign their return and exchange paper documents. Now, thanks to the cloud, many firms have 24/7 self-service for clients — including e-signing documents — through a digital portal with everything stored in a digital document management system. With these new tools for collecting, integrating, and connecting client data, firms will provide clients with a single hub they can use to collaborate — from engagement letter through to final payment.
“It’s easier to respond to a client inquiry wherever I am in the world,” says Ekrem. “If a client needs a copy of their tax return… it’s a matter of a couple clicks and they have it.”
A key development in the evolution of the cloud is the open platform. Centralizing the data helps firms create integrated systems that work seamlessly within CCH Axcess. But it also allow firms to add on and integrate with other technologies. That means firms can configure their systems with third-party services, like a CRM, that meet their unique needs.
Keeping your data in the cloud makes it available for other systems to analyze and leverage for customized reporting, data visualization, and predictive intelligence. You can use that information to move from reactive to proactive and predictive client service by identifying trends and predicting which clients might be affected by legislative changes to tax laws.
Could Your Firm Benefit from the Cloud?
The Evolving Accountant Series webinar “The Evolution of the Cloud” is available online. Watch now.