Cloud technology is rapidly gaining momentum and revolutionizing the accounting and finance industry. The IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) recently hosted a webinar, sponsored by Sage Intacct. The webinar included a panel discussion regarding strategic accounting in the cloud featuring three Sage Intacct customers and finance leaders; Ashmi Shah, CFO at Talix, Elliot Goldman, finance director at Rapid Ratings (and Baker Tilly client), and Melissa DuVall, finance team lead at Epitec.
Cloud technology has emerged as the solution to many business challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic. For many businesses, the pandemic accelerated their move to the cloud. The panelists had already moved to the cloud and were ready to reap the rewards. As the pandemic progressed, they full appreciated the accessibility of financial data from any location at any time and the importance of real-time reporting.
A shining light in the pandemic
During the webinar, panelists shared how their respective organizations navigated through uncertainty and continued to thrive with their modern accounting solutions. All three panelists agreed that being able to access information from any location proved extremely valuable as the pandemic normalized work from home. “Just having all of the data at our fingertips made our work process seamless,” Ashmi Shah at Talix commented.
Melissa DuVall at Epitec added, “being in the cloud was really vital when the pandemic hit.” Her team became even more productive after going remote. “I think we’ll always be in the cloud and now be remote. My team will probably only go back to the office two days per week. Before, that was unheard of. There are definitely going to be lasting changes.”
Elliot Goldman at Rapid Ratings explained a similar experience to the other panelists. “We were already paperless because we were on the cloud, so we didn’t miss a beat,” he said. “It was business as usual.”
Companies who have not upgraded to the cloud report limitations in the day-to-day as they out grow their on-premise solutions. These solutions hinder work productivity and make it more difficult to meet changing compliance requirements because they are often an older version of software that is time consuming and difficult to upgrade. Manually generated invoices often lead to rising Day Sales Outstanding (DSO), and manual processes may delay AP and AR approvals. Without automation, companies could miss out on data exploration, the ability to integrate with partner ecosystems, and reporting and actionable analytics.
The panelists also covered the key points to consider when choosing a Software as a Service (SaaS) vendor. While the priority is selecting a best-of-breed application that covers capability/functionality needs and is native to the cloud, partner ecosystem and ease of integration also need to be considered. Some of the discussed considerations when looking at Total Economic Impact (TEI) and cloud ROI include:
- Agility and risk reduction
- Productivity improvements
- License vs subscription cost
- Recruiting attractiveness and availability of remote work
- Initial implementation and upgrade/maintenance of software and infrastructure, time to market
- Staffing reductions (finance and IT)
- Security including the cost of breaches and the service levels required for business continuity
- Ubiquitous data, actionable analytics that will result in better decision making
- Data center real estate expenses, power, cooling, infrastructure and opportunity cost
There were some interesting examples of efficiencies the panelists and their teams noticed after implementing a cloud solution. “We used to spend an entire month closing the books for the prior month, so there was very little value-added time spent analyzing and being forward looking,” Goldman stated. “Being able to utilize cloud-based applications, we were able to bring our close down to four days. So now we spend most of our time analyzing results and looking forward rather than backward, and that’s been great for us to make strategic decisions.”
Better security, more privacy, and high reliability
Later in the discussion, the panel transitioned into security and privacy preparedness. Attendees learned the cloud can be more secure than most on-premise installations, especially when the element of human error is removed. Businesses should seek out cloud service providers that offer continuous internal threat monitoring and third-party testing, and conduct background checks for employees. Production networks should be separated with restricted physical and logical access, and ensure encryption of data at-rest and in motion are in place, along with other precautions. Cloud partners are expected to be good stewards of all data, and security and privacy measures are an important part of that.
Reliability is just as important as cyber security and must be considered when evaluating cloud service providers. Improving up-time and reliability of applications is one of the reasons companies move to the cloud. An up-time commitment of at least 99 percent is what businesses should look for. Additionally, businesses should determine if the vendor can handle day-to-day activities in a steady capacity, and extra capacity for when internal usage is higher. Cloud services providers should offer redundancy to ensure continuity, with procedures in place to restore apps and data in the event of a malevolent attack, and have data and applications replicated to multiple sites.
Industry focus and partner ecosystem matters
Another critical cloud consideration featured during the webinar was choosing the best-in-class partner ecosystem. Partners can help customize the capabilities to the business and can be leveraged to extend functionality. This can also accomplish industry specific needs.
It is very helpful to consider industry focus when selecting a cloud vender in this age of specialization and verticalization. Buyers should look for service providers that have the functionality and experience specific to their industry, especially if they have unique accounting rules such as healthcare or nonprofit.
The cloud has value
The panelists discussed several examples of how Sage Intacct customers saved time and money after implementing a cloud-based accounting solution. “Moving from excel to automation removes the possibility for manual errors, so you have checks and balances,” said Ashmi. “Being a financial leader and having confidence in your numbers goes a long way with your investors, with your board members and even internally with your team. Having the right system in place is truly empowering.”
To wrap up the webinar, Melissa added what’s next for her accounting department. “We have a lot of projects planned for the remainder of the year, and the common thread for all of our projects is to make our reporting even more robust,” she stated. “We’ll make sure that data we generate is data you can take action on.”
Strategic Management Accounting ROI is in the Last Mile
The modern CFO needs to look for a “whole product” solution - curated, stress-tested, and optimized by a solution provider with deep industry experience that can close the gap in the critical last-mile functionality and get you the insights that CFOs need to transform finance and accounting into a strategic business asset that uses data to challenge the status quo. This whole product solution should be available as-a-service, whether that be software subscriptions, outsourced finance operations, or even technology implementations, consulting, and development.
If you'd like to go more in depth, our ebook, “How Can You Transform Finance & Accounting into a Strategic Business Asset?” is available for instant download. I see it as the culmination of everything we’ve learned from supporting our incredible customers for more than a decade (most of whom are still with us) and a guide for finance and accounting leaders at all organizations to establish what they should expect in the future.
Marcus is the founder and CEO of AcctTwo, a services and technology company delivering the Future of Finance and Accounting to nearly 1,000 organizations throughout the country. Marcus and his team have firsthand experience implementing the processes, controls, and technology needed to optimize financial resources, no...
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