Posted by Robert Half Management Resources on Wednesday, April 23, 2014 - 00:00 | Follow me
Finance and accounting professionals are well-positioned to reap the benefits of cloud computing. This is especially true at organizations with a broad geographic reach or plans to expand operations overseas in the near future, according to the Benchmarking the Finance Function report from Robert Half and Financial Executives Research Foundation. For example, investing in software-as-a-service (SaaS) finance tools allows companies greater flexibility in terms of where and when they can complete basic accounting functions, since these programs are accessed remotely in the cloud as opposed to in-house networks or hard drives.
But maximizing the benefits of cloud computing involves more than just the technology adoption process. Understanding the difference between cloud computing and SaaS is a good place to start. In general, cloud computing refers to a completely customizable online environment that companies can develop with features that are relevant to their own needs. SaaS is a ready-made software program that simply uses the cloud as a way to expand storage space and improve server capacity.
The following tips can help your finance and accounting teams leverage cloud computing and SaaS to full effect:
Perform an IT audit before choosing a cloud computing solution
A recent Robert Half Management Resources blog post suggested that conducting a preliminary IT audit of the business will make it easier to figure out how cloud computing will best fit into the existing framework of the finance and accounting functions. The goal of these assessments is to examine your firm’s existing IT systems, infrastructure, operations and management to create a detailed report of current strengths and weaknesses.
For finance and accounting departments, an IT audit may reveal crucial information such as the kind of security technology and hardware you need to invest in before introducing a cloud-based accounting solution. Instead of embracing new technology with little preparation and planning, which can ultimately lead to an uneasy transition or unexpected costs, managers can use the audit process as an opportunity to strategize ways to maximize the benefits of cloud computing.
Utilize hybrid cloud solutions
Making the most of SaaS financial systems doesn’t necessarily mean adopting every single piece of technology connected with them. In fact, firms that rely heavily on other forms of accounting software may want to initially consider a hybrid cloud solution.
These blended services allow businesses to access a combination of both cloud and in-house programs to scale SaaS technology to their own needs more effectively. This approach eases the transition and allows firms to isolate the most relevant benefits of cloud computing.
For example, some financial firms have successfully used hybrid solutions as a way to create and edit budget spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel and then upload locked, review-only versions of those files in the SaaS system for review purposes. This strategy avoids the confusion and potential compliance issues that may arise when too many people have access to the same financial documents.
Train users well
Accounting and finance managers must also understand the “people element” to maximizing the benefits of cloud computing. The advantages of SaaS financial systems, such as the ability to access data remotely and from different geographic locations, can lead to enhanced efficiency and greater workforce productivity.
But this is only possible if the accountants who use these tools are fully comfortable integrating them with existing processes and know where to find and how to use all the relevant features and functionality in the system effectively. Be sure to devote enough time to training so your accounting team enjoys a smooth transition and starts realizing the benefits of cloud computing faster.