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Cloud computing, who's doing it?

Accounting is just one of the software programs you can take into the cloud, and a major one for small businesses. Here's how some SMBs are using it.

Over the last couple of years, cloud computing has become a hotly discussed topic. A countless number of applications and software programs that can operate online, on any device, have become available and more are being offered all the time.

Small businesses are certainly primed to benefit from cloud technology. It offers more agility, greater flexibility and improves how information is shared with stakeholders. One of the most vital tools for any SMB is accounting software, and many businesses throughout Australia have benefited enormously from moving their accounting software into the cloud.

Comtek NQ is a regional electronics installation business in North Queensland that services an area than spans 350km. The owner, Jim Lennox, says he could travel up to three-and-a-half hours in a day. Last year, he took an interest in online accounting because he wanted an easier way of working with files when he was in and out of the office.

Easier out on the road

"There has been once or twice in the past when I brought home the company file, worked on it offline and then took the wrong file back to the office. Being 64kms from home, you can probably imagine how frustrating this was," said Lennox, who recently moved over to QuickBooks Hosted accounting software for online access. Now he can simply log into his accounting program via a web browser, so he is always using the same file.

He can now generate invoices out of the office, he can complete a job hours away from the office and still invoice his client on the spot. More importantly for Lennox, he now gives his accountant access to log in to his data so he doesn't need to physically deliver the data file and his data is automatically backed up.

Mobility is an obvious reason why cloud accounting software is attractive to many small business owners, but there are far more benefits than being able to access your finances from anywhere. Norstate Marketing, a diverse business selling both promotional merchandise and automotive parts, took on online accounting to save time processing orders and improve accuracy by having all staff accessing the one data file online. The business has sales representatives on the road who sell products to mechanics at their workshop and process orders at the time of sale.

Logging in simultaneously

"Now we find a lot less errors because everybody is using the same data file, there is no requirement for data to be re-entered in the company main file and most importantly there's no longer a delay in completing orders and invoicing. Reps now have no need to call the office and check if a product is in stock," said Lauren Gross, manager of Norstate Marketing.

Before moving to online accounting, the Norstate Marketing on-the-road sales representatives would keep a copy of the companies data file with them for a week. Whilst this method allowed staff to complete on the spot invoicing, they couldn't be sure that all products were in stock so they would constantly be calling back in to the office staff so they could check the 'live' data file in the office.

A key benefit of using a program in the cloud is being able to have many users log in to the same file simultaneously. Carra Property Group operates from multiple locations in Australia, and owner Tom Carra says moving to online accounting has eliminated confusion caused when multiple files were emailed between him and his colleagues.

"In the past we had difficult moments when updating files. It was very easy to get the wrong file and it would cause a mess," he says. However, moving online for him has meant more than just having simultaneous access to the finances. "Before moving to QuickBooks Hosted we mostly saw accounting software as a way of keeping track of finances for tax purposes. Now we want to be using 'live' data to get a better understanding of cashflow."

Instant business decisions

Having instant access to business reporting via an online accounting system will help ensure business decisions are validated and risks minimised. Cashflow, profit and loss, balance sheet and bank reconciliation reports are extremely important and will help you remain fully aware of how the business is fairing at any point in time. Many successful operators review their critical business reports daily and by utilising an online accounting system you can have access to these reports from anywhere, at anytime.

While lots of businesses are benefitting from going online, those that are fairing the best are doing their homework first. As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of companies offering cloud applications and software for small businesses, so before making a decision on an online accounting program it's worth considering the costs involved, how easy the program will be for you to use and where your data will be held. When using an online accounting program your data is stored remotely, not on your premises or within your IT environment. You should also check which country your data is being held in, in particular it's important your data is stored in Australia according to Australian privacy laws.

While Gross's business has experienced lots of benefits by moving into the cloud, she puts security at the top of her list. "While there have been several benefits to moving online for our business, for me personally I am now a lot more confident about the security of my data than I was before. It is a huge weight off my mind knowing that all of our company information is not just sitting in the office overnight or relying on a back-up process."

Chait, G. (2012). Cloud Computing – who's doing it. Retrieved 25 February 2013, from http://www.dynamicbusiness.com.au/technology/cloud-computing-whos-doing-it-26062012.html

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