Cloud 101: What Accountants Need to Know

What Accountants Need to Know

Cloud computing is a revolutionary concept that has forced every executive and IT manager to rethink how their networks are organized. But is it something that you, as a staff accountant, need to worry about?

In a word: yes. Let’s take a look at the cloud for accountants and why you need to be in the know. 

The Cloud and Software as a Service

The cloud is a broad term describing a range of Internet-based services. In a business context, it usually refers to Software as a Service (SaaS), which is a way of accessing software via a browser, rather than installing it locally.

It used to be that in order to use specific software, you had to purchase it on a CD or download the app and an activation key and install it on your computer. This is what we call “on-premise” software. These days, you have another option: You can pay for a subscription and use it from any browser without having to install anything on your desktop, tablet or phone. This is SaaS. 

Most of the big names in financial software have released SaaS versions of their products, and a lot of new players have entered the market. Many finance and accounting teams are switching to SaaS, while others prefer to stay with on-premise software.

Key Features of the Cloud for Accountants

Most of the differences between SaaS and on-premise software are invisible to the end user. There are some points, however, that may impact your daily routine as an accountant. It’s good to be aware of these so you can join in conversations about how SaaS may impact your role:

  • Regular updates
    Updating on-premise software is costly and time-consuming, which is why many companies try to delay updates for as long as possible. SaaS is updated by the service provider, so you’ll always have the latest software when you log in each morning. This may be a relief if your organization is struggling with outdated systems.
  • Tech support
    On-premise software is normally supported by your IT team. SaaS is supported by the service provider. This can be much cheaper for your company, but there are still concerns. Will you still be getting the kind of support you need? If you run complex reports, will the SaaS provider be able to help? Will the SaaS tech support team be able to customize functions to fit your specific needs? The answers to these questions can vary depending on the software and provider you’re using, so it’s important to ask them before subscribing.
  • Accessibility
    The cloud allows data to be accessed from anywhere. This can be a real advantage to you as an accountant, especially if you need to share data with colleagues in other locations, have team members that work remotely, or need to pass information to third parties such as auditors.
  • Security
    The biggest concern regarding the cloud, especially for accountants, is data security. SaaS providers argue that their solutions are actually safer, but 49 percent of CFOs responding to a recent Robert Half survey said they don’t plan to use cloud-based systems, citing security concerns as the biggest issue. What reassurances would you require to feel safe using the cloud, and how does SaaS impact your compliance obligations? Again, these are important questions to discuss with your managers and teammates.

Even if you’re a complete technophobe, it’s vital to be aware of what’s happening in this field. Why? Finance and accounting team members need to be in on conversations about cloud-based solutions to ensure they’re getting the tools they need to work effectively. And if you’re currently between jobs, being able to tell potential employers you have an understanding of the cloud for accountants could go a long way in making you more marketable.

For some humor in the clouds, check out this cartoon