Moving to the cloud: Digital transformation for small businesses
This article was originally published on the Calgary Chamber of Commerce blog on October 3, 2019.
For many small business owners, moving their accounting software from an on-premise solution to one based in the cloud is an attractive proposition. Among the many benefits, the ability to access the software anytime, anywhere, via mobile device provides owners and employees freedom from being tied to a physical location. Efficiency and cost savings also result when servers are outsourced; small business owners often save thousands on server maintenance, staffing, and the IT infrastructure required to store and manage data at their location. Improved cash flow can be also expected, since accounting software allows for nearly instantaneous recovery of receivables, as opposed to the weeks involved with manual billing and snail mail.
Before undertaking this important step towards growing their businesses profitably, however, small business owners need to be aware of a few steps that will assist them in transitioning accounting operations to the cloud smoothly and rapidly. Karen Brault, accounting services director in RSM Canada’s Red Deer office and the 2019 winner of Sage’s Accountant Partner of the Year award offers the following key points for small business owners to consider:
Have a plan in place
The first step in moving to the cloud for any small business is to have a plan in place. This cannot be overstated. Business leaders need clear direction on what aspects of their accounting they intend to migrate first. For example, consider the age and relevance of your existing on-premise data; can it all get migrated to the cloud as is, or does much of it need to be archived? Involve IT early on in this decision process.
Do your research
Security systems and processes vary between accounting software solutions. Small business owners need to do their own research into the security protocols that each solution offers. These will include but are not limited to the following:
- backup procedures
- redundancy protocols
- user account access
- encryption and verification procedures
- antivirus and firewall systems
Also, while third-party cloud accounting software companies tend to have much better security in place than the average small business, these companies share their infrastructure with many other clients, any of whom can be hacked at any time, potentially exposing your firm to a breach. A certain degree of comfort with risk is required.
Tailor technology to the needs of your business
When considering moving to the cloud, it’s important to recognize that many solutions are not a one-stop shop, per se. Some will have payroll, for example, while others will have inventory. The best way forward is to find the main accounting solution first and then tailor any add-ons to the needs of your individual business. Most of the accounting software solutions currently on the market offer an à-la-carte approach to necessary integrations, so you can pick and choose.
Recognize when the cloud may not be the best option
As important as it is to recognize the benefits of a cloud-based accounting system, it is equally important to recognize when such a system may not work for your particular situation. For example, let’s say your business is located in a rural area with spotty or intermittent Internet service. One thing that cloud-based accounting software requires is a robust and dependable connection. Downtime can be especially frustrating for rural small businesses and will interfere with backup processes as well as user access.
Seek an independent perspective
Once you have a plan in place, consider reaching out to an independent adviser to vet it thoroughly and identify any gaps. While cloud-based accounting software representatives tend to be extremely knowledgeable and helpful, at the end of the day, it is in their best interest to sell you their solution over a competitor’s, which may or may not meet your actual needs. An adviser can remain technologically agnostic and serve as expert support to ensure a smooth transition.