If you’re a small CPA firm (think 10-50 employees), your IT scenario is probably as follows: You have a local IT consultant or MSP that you rely on and trust to help you make the right IT decisions for your firm. Perhaps you have someone in-house to help with desktop support (either a dedicated person or the employee who is stuck being the go-to for support in addition to his or her regular job), and every so often, when faced with an IT problem (outage, security breach or employee complaint) or large expense (repair, replacement, or upgrade), you find yourself wondering if there’s a better way.
Over the past 5 years, cloud has been growing more and more popular with small CPA firms. The main drivers behind this are reliable, affordable, and fast broadband and ever improving cloud technology, which mean that when done right, cloud can “feel” as good as or better than traditional on premise systems, but with all the benefits that only cloud brings (reliability, efficiency, and cost savings). Without comparing or recommending specific offerings, here is a guide to the basic options a small CPA firm has for the cloud.
Hosted services includes things such as cloud email (Microsoft Office 365 or Google), emails security (aka spam filtering), and file sharing and transfer (Egnyte or Citrix Sharefile). These service typically replace functions that would otherwise reside on a server in your office (Microsoft Exchange for email, Barracuda for spam filtering, and Windows Server for file sharing), yet still interact with applications on your desktop computers (Outlook and Excel). Services like these were some of the first things available in the cloud.
Software as a Service
Software as a Service (SaaS), such as Quickbooks Online, Freshbooks, and Google Docs/Sheets provide web-based alternatives to traditional on-premise or client-server applications (Quickbooks desktop or Enterprise, Microsoft Dynamics, Sage, Excel, CCH, and Lacerte). Some new applications are being introduced only as SaaS options, while many long standing proven applications are still client-server, meaning they are installed on a desktop computer and sometimes rely on a central server database. There has been almost no movement of client server applications successfully converting to the SaaS model.
Hosted applications is a method of taking a traditional client-server application (such as Quickbooks Enterprise or Excel) and delivering it via the cloud to a desktop computer, often in the form of a published application through RDP (remote desktop protocol) or Citrix. Some firms may have their own systems like this to allow users to work remotely, and there are several providers that allow customers to stream many popular applications to their desktops, while the provider maintains the security, backups, and infrastructure. This setup allows users to enjoy the functionality and benefits of both the cloud and traditional client-server applications without being forced to adapt to a sometimes inferior SaaS platform. In this method, end users often have certain applications hosted, and others residing locally on their computers.
Desktop as a Service
Desktop as a Service (DaaS) is a similar concept to hosted applications, but goes a step further and streams an entire desktop operating system to the end users, along with all applications, files, and services. The major difference is that in this model, the entire desktop is provided from the cloud, down to the start menu, minor applications and utilities, and user preferences. Certain DaaS platforms allow much wider application compatibility and user flexibility than hosted applications, as well as the benefit of better integration between applications due to the fact that everything a user accesses is in the same cloud environment.
As you can see, there are several options for CPA firms to consider in regards to their IT infrastructure and user scenarios. There is no one right answer for every firm, so it is vital for any firm considering cloud to select the right IT partner to navigate these decisions.