Why the Cloud Makes Sense for Small Business

. Posted in small business owner's advices


“Your customers demand that you be in the cloud,” says Doug Sleeter, a nationally recognized expert in accounting-software consulting. “The latest innovations in cloud, mobile, and connected solutions are changing everything about how you will work in the future.”

As founder and president of The Sleeter Group, he has built a network of accounting consultants that serves more than 300,000 small businesses across the country. Sleeter has also served as a development consultant for Intuit and other leading software companies. “My passion,” he says, “is to arm accountants and consultants serving the small - to medium-sized business market with the knowledge, skills, and tools that drive success.-

Sleeter plans to share some of his insights this summer during the Small Business Technology Road Show, which Intuit is sponsoring. The show will take him to nine U. S. cities in July and August to highlight new technologies that can help accountants and small businesses be more efficient, productive, collaborative, and competitive.

The Intuit Small Business Blog recently caught up with Sleeter to talk about how cloud-based solutions are transforming small-business accounting.

ISBB: What are cloud-based solutions?

Sleeter: When we say “cloud” or “cloud solutions,” we’re referring to software and services delivered over the internet. Examples include online banking, cloud accounting products like QuickBooks Online, and other “chunks” or parts of the business process, such as e-commerce shopping carts, Concur Travel & Expense (travel and expense management), Bill. com (accounts receivable/payable and cash flow management), SmartVault (online document management), and Zoho CRM (customer relationship management).

The new world we see emerging is one in which we put data into the cloud — on remote servers at a secure location — where, I’ll assert, it is more secure than on the desktop. This allows clients to do more of what they do well, which is running the business, while accountants can actually expand the services they provide to their clients.

What tech challenges do small - and medium-sized businesses face today?

Keeping up with customer demands. Business is moving away from paper, postal delivery, faxes, telephone books, and cassette-tape players toward a world where customers demand high-quality service in new ways.

They also assume they can work with every business via the web. They expect to find your business, learn about what you do, order your products, and even pay without picking up the phone or driving to your location. Small businesses must rethink their processes and focus on how to take advantage of innovative technologies that can deliver new customers and delight their existing customers with new services.

What shifts do you see in small-business accounting?

We’re shifting from desktops, servers, and local area networks toward cloud solutions and mobile applications to save time and make our businesses more efficient. The trend is away from all-in-one accounting systems and single-vendor solutions to cloud-based tools that handle separate chunks of the business process. I call this “chunkification.”

Can you elaborate?

We’re no longer buying one system from one vendor. Instead, we’re going to multiple vendors for specific functions. QuickBooks is an example where you buy add-ons to manage vertical-specific business processes. Payroll and e-commerce shopping carts are chunks. Clients benefit because they can pick the best match for individual parts of their accounting systems, as needed.

Can you give an example of the old way vs. the cloud way?

Let’s take the accounts payable process in a typical small business: An invoice comes in the mail. The bookkeeper enters the transaction in QuickBooks or other software. When it’s time to pay bills, the owner wants to know if the company received the product or service and is it okay to pay. The bill may go around the office and sit in someone’s inbox, or a paper check needs to be signed, but the signatory may be traveling. A lot of time is wasted.

Now let’s feel the vendors’ pain. They’re waiting for their money. They have to record receipt of the check, stamp it, take it to the bank, and wait days for it to post. There is no tool in the old world to help with the full payment cycle.

How is that process streamlined with “new world” technology?

One of my favorite cloud-based tools is Bill. com, where you scan a vendor’s invoice into your system or just ask vendors to bill you via email. The software turns that email into a transaction, automatically recording the vendor, item code, due date, and amount in the cloud. You set up a simple view and approve flow, which can take place anywhere. The approver clicks pay, and a deposit goes directly into the biller’s bank account. The bookkeeper may have done nothing but scan and send an email.

Let’s talk about the “zero entry” trend.

The zero entry concept is about connecting the chunks, so that one data entry goes all the way through the accounting system. This dramatically reduces time spent entering data. It will allow bookkeepers to move from being replaceable administrative workers to indispensable managers of data flows between chunks in the business process. People who used to enter data can become what I call Lego Masters; they can evaluate and identify the best chunks for the business and then connect them in a streamlined system.

You also tout collaborative accounting services.

All of these technologies allow us to work together on the same data anywhere, anytime. Once you get the data centralized, you can provide services in a collaborative way where you split up the work between accountant and client. In addition, the accountant can begin providing higher value services, as opposed to focusing on just compliance services such as tax preparation. What businesses want from their accountant is business advice. In the old world, clients didn’t get that type of service because the data on which this advice is based, was housed at the client’s office and the accountants couldn’t access it easily.

What cloud-based tools do you use in your office?

To play in the cloud you have to be paperless. Everyone in our office has a desktop scanner (Fujitsu ScanSnap). When we get a mailer, the first thing we do is make it digital. Using Bill. com has reduced the amount of time we spend on payables and receivables by 80 percent. We use Concur Travel & Expense, which enables us to submit travel expenses and receipts from mobile devices. Others like SpringAhead, ExpenseCloud, and Expensify do different things in that space. We use ShareFile to transfer large or confidential files.

How should a business choose a cloud-based provider?

Choose a reputable vendor with solid security practices. Each business has different needs, but here are some general questions to ask:

    Is the interface easy to use? Does the program integrate easily into your current work flow? Has the vendor ever experienced any sort of security breach? Is all data transmitted and stored with at least 128-bit encryption? Is the data stored in an SAS 70- or SSAE 16-compliant data center (aka SOC Reports)?Does the provider perform regular third-party audits? Is the interface easy to use? Does the program integrate easily into your current work flow?

What advice do you offer businesses that resist change?

You’re not going to attract people in their 20s and 30s today with systems that are old world. Customers want mobile solutions. Shifting to cloud-based solutions is inevitable. If you’re not building your business, you can stay in the old world, but if you are trying to grow your business for the future, it’s not really a choice.

Kristin Ewald, a former Time Inc. editor based in California, has written frequently for the SMB audience. She is also a small business owner who helps companies write and produce user-friendly websites. View all posts by Kristin Ewald This entry was posted in Intuit Products, Leadership Profiles, Technology, Trends. Bookmark the permalink.
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