How to permanently be on cloud 9

Time to Consider a Cloud Based Accounting Application?

Despite significant improvements and advances in technology over the past few years, many charities have not changed their accounting system.

There are a number of possible reasons for this; it could be due to the current uncertain economic climate or possibly the naturally risk averse nature of finance professionals working in the sector.

In order to make the most out of your accounting system 9 key areas need to be addressed;

  1. Compliance
  2. Upgrades
  3. Security
  4. Integration
  5. IT Infrastructure
  6. Training
  7. Vendor Reliability
  8. Support
  9. Compatibility

1. COMPLIANCE

Although your accounting software meets all the regulatory needs today, will it tomorrow, and if not at what cost?

A vital part of any charitable organisation is its core accounting software. Whilst in the main such systems are designed to adapt to enable a charity to be compliant with the new regulatory framework, it is important to consider the ease and at what cost such changes can be introduced. Any disruption normally equates to either a reduction in services or additional expense or both, all of which runs contra to the very essence of what most charitable and not for profit organisations set out to achieve.

With a cloud based solution, updates to new reporting and regulatory requirements are made available to all users in a timely and effective manner that results in little or no down time. Users can always be assured that they are running the very latest version of the software and the reports that run with it.

2. UPGRADES

New versions and support but at what cost? Is your vendor interested in you or simply motivated by annual maintenance revenue they collect on behalf of their shareholders?

Undoubtedly, your traditional accounting software supplier will have provided you with their best and most up to date product some years ago. The software, the implementation, all those days of consultancy and then all the training on top, came at a not insignificant cost. Add to this some form of annual ‘maintenance’ or licence fee in some cases as much as 25% of the current list price of a new system. In effect — every four years you could be paying for the software twice over.

How long have you had it? Putting the service to one side for a moment (we will discuss support later on) you will probably have been told that such annual maintenance fees entitle you to updates (which are quite di!erent to upgrades) whereby you may be asked to download, install and test a ‘patch’ to correct a bug.

Not being used to doing this regularly results in having to follow a set of complex and convoluted instructions. Unless of course you are paying for the overhead of having your in house helpdesk sta!, ’updating’ takes up your time plus that of your staff as the system is inaccessible whilst the update is applied. Once completed it results that the problem resolved in a sterile test environment is not having the same impact in the real world. Yes in as users, you are doing field testing on behalf of your software supplier. That cannot be right can it? Upgrades on the other hand are when outside circumstances force you to ‘purchase’ a new version of your current software. This may be due to a requirement to have access to new functionality or to remain compatible with other software, most commonly Microsoft Windows.

It maybe because your old version is just getting too unreliable for the modern world and your supplier has in effect (whilst still taking your money) withdrawn support and ceased to do any new development or provide updates and bug fixes; maybe it is just Microsoft not letting you run the same software on the same computer with Windows version n+1. As discussed earlier such upgrades invariably require a complete review of your IT infrastructure. New software, a new implementation, all those days of consultancy and then all the training on top, probably again at some not insignificant cost.

With cloud or web based accounting solutions, users pay a simple subscription fee for just the right number of users they need on a month-by-month basis. Updates and upgrades should be automatic and frequent in terms of adding new capability at little or no disruption to the users and at certainly no extra cost. The service you get is the service you should expect, namely second to none. Your only commitment is to a rolling monthly contract. That way you get the software you need and the support you demand.

3. SECURITY

“That’s OK though. My data is stored securely on the server in the corner of the office, right there under my desk… hang on… who left that window open?”

We are all under attack on a daily basis from many directions and it’s probably not too much of an overstatement to say that charities and not for profit organisations are often seen as being particularly vulnerable given that the average charity may be handling large amounts of banking and personal data (especially of its donors), all of which has value to a less than salubrious criminal element of society. Care should be taken when accessing any data from a third party on the internet. Having physical control of your data on your premises is no guarantee for its security. You should ensure your IT personnel are appropriately trustworthy, reliable and authorised to access the systems and data as necessary.

Beware of allowing 3rd party support organisations direct access to the machines and data you rely upon. Never disclose passwords or trusted identification information to any unauthorised person. If the data is stored on premise it is up to you to back it up; back up the back up; back up the back up of the back up; and finally take an o!-site back up of the above on a regular basis. You also need to think about what would happen should the building be broken into, burn down, flood or circumstances arise that you are denied access over any significant amount of time. Better still, put your systems and data in an enterprise class data centre.

Using a cloud based application your data is likely to be stored in more than one location that is probably better protected from phishing, malicious internet and virus software. The back up and disaster recovery procedures are handled for you and automatically. The physical protection is probably way beyond anything most organisations could aspire to in terms of physical protection from fire, theft, malicious and environmental damage as well as co-locational redundancy. Whilst it is natural that some people may feel somewhat apprehensive storing financial, project and sta! information in the Cloud, in this day and age they should mostly set their minds at rest. In terms of the security of the underlying information or data, most applications are accessed using secure, encrypted connections between you and the data centre that additionally require in the main some form of two-part identity verification. This is a proven, reliable and secure approach used by the biggest businesses, governments and agencies in the world. If it’s good enough for your bank, HMRC and the Charity Commission, it probably means it is good enough for you.

Data security is likely to be higher in a reputable cloud environment than that possible within your own organisation, especially if the cloud provider, like Aqilla is accredited with key industry standards.

4. INTEGRATION

Charity finance is not an island. Software needs to link seamlessly with other critical business tools including membership, fund raising, donation, treasury, bank and cash management.

It’s a given that charity and not for profit organisations use more than one single piece of software. In addition to accounting, very often donation management, fund raising and membership relation databases along with common tools like Microsoft Excel are heavily utilised. It is therefore essential that any finance solution is able to exchange information easily and integrate efficiently with pre-existent software. It is very unlikely that any not-for-profit organisation would be willing to spend thousands developing bespoke interfaces that do little to further the aims of the key stakeholders.

Unfortunately many older solutions have been written in such a way that they may well be left behind. Without expensive upgrades to the software, the entire IT infrastructure links between applications are likely to be lost when upgrading to versions which meet the latest regulatory demands. Most modern cloud based accounting solutions use the latest thing in Web Services and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) which means that users can be sure e”cient and e!ective links are maintained and information swapped between your other applications, even very old legacy solutions at any time.

Make sure your systems can make use of modern web services technology to exchange often used business information in the form of processes, messages, or documents.

5. IT Infrastructure

What is driving change? Your requirements or the technology suppliers? Is change creating value or waste?

It is reasonable to say that by far most organisations will be running systems powered by Microsoft Windows — whether that be on the servers or on each and every desktop or laptop. This leads to problems when Microsoft release a new version. Not only do new licences cost money, it also costs your software supplier money making sure that their products are compatible with any such new versions as they are being released.

This unwelcome overhead invariably gets passed on to you in some shape or form. In some situations it results in a vendor reducing the amount of development and support of older versions which may still be in use in some parts of your organisation. It often certainly results in a requirement to purchase new servers, additional storage and extra memory as well as new desktop and laptop computers despite the fact that the ones currently in use appear on the surface to have years of useful life left in them. They haven’t gone wrong or been broken, so why change them? Good question. In the worst instance the customer could be forced to replace everything, causing a nightmare scenario for help desk and IT support staff diverting their attention from their core activity of helping reduce operating costs and thus assisting in the generation of increased funds for better causes.

A true cloud based accounting application will run on any device capable of running a web browser with an internet connection, even a mobile device — even fairly old ones! Users can access vital accounting software from anywhere in the world, from the corporate offices in the big cities, to the urban streets or rural countryside, in the UK or across the globe, on a PC, Mac or other smart mobile device running almost any version of Windows, Mac OS X, Linux or Android. With a cloud based application, you decide what hardware you run with your choice of operating system, and you choose if and when you need to change it.

6. TRAINING

How hard is it to use capable, modern business software? How do new members of staff get on with using your existing systems? Is all that training really necessary? Most accounting software used by finance stays in finance.

The sheer complexity of so many accounting solutions precludes the use of key functions by people outside this closed sphere of influence. Yet in the outside world things are a little di!erent.

Every day millions of people use sophisticated transactional, cloud based, commercial, financial and mercantile software solutions which despite most of them never having any formal training, transact millions of pounds in real value. Really? Yes, just take a look at eBay, Amazon, PayPal and most internet banking solutions.

How much benefit could be derived by providing a selection of self-service functionality for the wider organisation to make use of? What if your sta! could enter their own timesheets to collect project costs at source? What if managers could be automatically presented with those purchase invoices requiring authorisation just at the right time and do so at the touch of a button? How helpful would it be if there was a scanned picture of the original order or requisition available immediately on screen to make sure the data in the system is correct? How much time, e!ort and money could that save?

Modern software should be easy to use. It should just work. Whilst offering extensive flexibility, a contemporary cloud or web based accounting solution should make use of an intuitive user interface and everyday terms to enable staff of all ranges of skill and ability to easily enter and enquire on key data.

7. Vendor Reliability

Much on premise accounting software in use from long established software suppliers has origins back in the 1990s. Following years of updates, bug fixes and patches and having had new technology and new legislative changes in effect bolted on, end users are often faced with having to use unattractive, complex and fundamentally unreliable software.

The emphasis on providing new value whilst maintaining existing functionality also changes resulting in the fact that users get less functionality, less often. Every release is more complex than the last, requiring long test cycles to ensure compatibility with a raft of ancient and in some cases redundant code that would prove too complex to remove even if anyone could remember how it worked in the first place! Things have changed.

Software is now developed in new ways using a range of flexible and agile processes that capture customer needs in terms of functionality and convert that into robust, easy to use and attractive functionality in a fraction of the time compared to legacy, on premise o!erings. It is however not just about the delivery of a great product. Aqilla like many of the new breed of software vendors prides itself on focusing 100% on the needs of its clients’ end-users and the experience they get from using the software.

Being a constituted private organisation, Aqilla’s highly experienced and well respected sta! are, along with its key stakeholders not answerable to the whims of a stock market or a range of disassociated shareholders or investors looking to maximise profit at any cost to the customer. Furthermore with the specific absence of the highly emotive, and often exorbitantly priced, annual maintenance fees combined with poor investment in research and development cloud solutions are often seen as a refreshing change in the marketplace. By providing an accounting solution on a monthly subscription basis, Aqilla has to be in a position to react quickly to the needs and organisational changes experienced by individual customers. Its existing client base is testimony to the fact that service and support are second to none.

The provision of its web based accounting software is proven and reliable — over the last four years of operation Aqilla has been available for 99.98% of the time in any 24-hour period, in any seven-day week.

Aqilla is revolutionising the finance industry with cloud based accounting solutions that provide real value, on demand and from anywhere. Easy to use, affordable, and with no exorbitant annual maintenance fees, Aqilla is a product that customers want to acquire and make good economic sense of.

8. SUPPORT

Software is only as good as the support or service the user receives. The most up-to-date, modern, easy to use software is of no value if it isn’t working or doesn’t do what you want it to do.

Typically when problems arise, the first port of call is the internal help desk (if you are lucky enough to have one), and after logging everyone out, restarting the software whilst keeping your fingers crossed, you log back in again only to find the problem still exists. So you take a deep breath and call the software vendors help desk…. If you are lucky, your software provider will have a local (UK) help desk with a person on the end of the phone to answer your call. This person will know what they are talking about. They won’t “just” be answering the phone and writing down the problem for someone else. If you are not so lucky you may have to navigate a network of impersonal recorded phone messages, until — hopefully at some stage you get put through to the right person who is once again in a position to actually help you. How many times have you rung through a customer service call where you go through a list of steps (most of which you have already done because you know all these tips from every time you call) just to get the point of asking the right person the right question?! Many larger software companies have a highly impersonal and mechanised approach to support. Maybe they believe that as you have already bought and paid for your software you can have little determinant impact on how much money they spend in providing the service and support back to you. If you need support, it should be there, ondemand and immediate. There should be no additional charges for providing such a level of service. Beyond engaging on a personable and knowledgeable first class basis with customers, your supplier if web based can o!er the additional benefit of allowing (subject to your granting permission) the ability for the support engineer to easily access your system and see directly the problem as you do, resulting in faster and more e”cient problem resolution. Before you know it you’re up and running!

With cloud based accounting software providers, you pay for the software on a monthly subscription; this puts you as user of the software in full control. You don’t get the support you want, you can switch to a different supplier with relative ease taking all of your data with you.

9. COMPATIBILITY

Your PC, Mac, Tablet, Smartphone or even your TV is just a gateway to the Cloud Aqilla is designed for the Cloud and as such is not restricted by any specific server or client operating system.

Aqilla like many other cloud based accounting solutions can be run on any device with an active internet web browser. This includes all Windows based computers, desktops and laptops (including those running older versions of the operating system such as Windows XP to the latest running Windows 8); on all Apple Macs running Mac OS X as well as tablets running iOS, Android and even Windows RT. Aqilla is tested and runs equally well in all major browsers available including Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox and Opera. Aqilla supports the modern distributed enterprise — multiple locations and employees working on a flexible basis from remote locations or at home are exceptionally well provided for. There is no need to add additional complexity or incur more expense by installing Citrix, Terminal Services or Remote Desktop software. All you need is a browser (even a games console for those who like to relax whilst claiming expenses).

Cloud 9 — Anytime, any place, any where — all you need is a browser. That’s it. Simple.


ABOUT AQILLA

Aqilla set out 12 years ago to develop, in a modern Web 2.0 environment, a new breed of web based (SaaS) accounting software targeted very much at mid market (and international) organisations.

There are no other up front licence fees and no other annual maintenance costs / support fees although a typical client takes a few days of implementation consultancy to support the configuration and deployment. The system can scale from single to many users. It can be implemented based on a standard template approach or configured more rigorously to suit an individual organisation’s requirements.

Lots more information obviously can be found at www.aqilla.com.