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Show the benefits of bringing your clients to the cloud

SPONSORED FEATURE: Research suggests the market for cloud services is set to grow by 18% in 2017 to reach a staggering £184bn. By 2020 it will be worth £295bn. In other words, says Sean Evers, now is the time to move.

Some of the world’s biggest firms make a significant proportion of their revenues from cloud services. Microsoft will generate 30% of its revenue from its cloud-based services by 2018. Amazon posted revenues of $12.2bn from its Web Services in 2017 – of which $3.1bn was profit.

It’s no longer a matter of whether businesses move to the cloud, it’s about when and with whom.
Through cloud computing, accountants have faster access to business intelligence. They can also tailor software to their needs, bringing together customer relationship management, payroll and more.

According to a recent report, more than half of C-level executives and professionals in finance and accountancy expect automated accounting systems to have the greatest impact over the next three
to 10 years. And with good reason.

We can categorise the benefits under four headings. These are important in making the case for the cloud to your clients.

First, cloud accounting is more efficient. Clients with masses of spreadsheets and boxes of receipts will notice the largest benefits. But cloud systems are generally designed to be one-touch experiences. You snap a receipt, for example, and it populates an expenses claim immediately.

Second, your clients’ data can be updated and accessed from anywhere. That frees them, and your people, to work more flexibly.

Third, it transforms your clients’ decision-making ability. Cloud financials can be real time, all the time. That means they can see how their business is doing at the touch of a button. And fourth, it streamlines your systems. Less paperwork, clutter and worry about backups or system resilience.

Cloud computing, then, gives accountants freedom to concentrate on their clients. So let’s discuss the practicalities. Of most pressing concern is bookkeeping and basic accountancy. You’ll need to think about which apps and web services you’re going to be able to offer and how you’ll streamline your back-end to make efficiency gains.

Compliance is the next consideration. What systems can you put in place to import data reliably and securely from clients using the cloud? And practice management is a third aspect of a cloud-based system that can help with streamlining your own operation. Ideally, you will have these areas aligned with cloud principles and be well on the way to automating common processes.

There’s another great reason to increase automation: open APIs. From next year, banks must offer access to account-holders’ data to trusted third parties and enable them to conduct transactions. Having cloud-ready, secure and automated processes opens the door to a slew of useful client services potentially using these APIs.

Some clients will be reluctant to consider cloud accounting. There could be a variety of reasons – from technophobia, to erratic internet connection, or fears over security.

We’d recommend a process-mapping exercise with the firm’s fee-earners. Look at how your processes fit together. Then look at client journeys, from reconciling the books to keying in data. Look at each stage and ask: what’s the smarter way of doing this? How would cloud computing help? What’s the sell?

The aim is to create an experience for clients showing the benefit of adopting the cloud. Addressing pain points is a clear starting point. But as they adopt more cloud services, it’s important to enhance your offering. That’s a win for both of you.

SAGE: To help move your clients to the cloud, or for advice and support visit us at sage.co.uk/accountants

Originally published in Economia, November 2017.