Filed Under (Technology Trends) by Jag Barpagga on 13-02-2014
Canadian accounting firms have the unenviable responsibility of advising their clients about not just their financial practices, but also about subject matter such as compliance to legal, information management, human capital management and technology matters as well. Often firms can be so focused on helping their clients to address their information management needs that they do not have the time or attention to address their internal requirements. Working with a strategic IT adviser with both managed and professional services offerings can help address your technology needs so you can serve your clients’ needs all year round.
Here are five technology trends that you will want to address to make sure you are able to operate at peak efficiency internally, as well as advise your clients on externally.
1) Cloud and/or Software as a Service Solutions and Virtualization
Just like accounting firms, Software as a Service applications usually have financial applications at their core, and extend to other functions such as customer relationship management, file/data storage, human capital management, marketing and other operational applications. Since this information is critical to the operation of business, you want to ensure this information is available, secure and a trusted repository of information.
On premise versions of software such as Sage, QuickBooks and other accounting software are still common in mid-size accounting firms; however hosted or online versions of these applications can save your firm on technology overhead, power, and make the information available to your staff without having to invest in Virtual Private Networks. If you have distributed staff that work from home or client sites, remote technology monitoring/management solutions such as Intune from Microsoft or Cloud based e-mail and storage apps like Office 365 can help you keep your office and remote employees productive and connected where ever they are working.
In cases where you want to consolidate your data centre as opposed to transitioning completely to the public cloud, virtualization solutions such as VMWare, Hyper-V and Citrix can help you streamline the amount of hardware that you need to maintain, while keeping a high level of security and availability for your systems. Private cloud infrastructure also provides the perfect balance of internet availability of information and control over data that public, multi-tenancy solutions can’t always provide. Working with a strategic IT adviser to help you select the best strategy and deployment model can save your firm a great deal of time, wasted investment and mitigate risk. Having your sensitive client and internal data hosted by a Canadian provider is advisable in light of recent events around the world.
2) Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
The flexibility that the Cloud offers in terms of availability on browsers and mobile applications has influenced executives and professionals in many industries to want to be able to use the mobile, desktop or laptop of their choice. Canadian accounting firms are not immune to this trend. You want to ensure that any PC/Mac/iOS or Android device that accesses corporate or employee data is trusted and free of malware and viruses. Consideration also has to be made for whether your IT department will have to support the various systems.
The Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants offers a great paper on the risks and benefits of BYOD strategies. Users may be happy to be able to use a laptop or tablet of their choosing.
3) Big Data
Big Data today is what the Cloud was a few years ago. Accounting firms have a vast amount of data to manage, analyze, and produce valuable insight from. Ensuring that this data is secure, available and backed up is a big responsibility. In 2013, a survey of North American accounting professionals, it was determined that retaining and protecting data is the top concern, and the third priority is the ability to get insight from that data through analytics. Just over half of respondents said they were confident that they were doing well in these areas, so evidently there are opportunities to improve in these areas.
Implementing strategies to recover from disaster and securing systems from attack from external or even internal leaks or fraud is top of mind within Canadian accounting firms this year and has been for several years. Big data is everywhere, from social media sites to ERP systems and the ability to predict trends from these resources is critical.
Over the past few years, privacy has become top priority across all industries, in part due to events in the United States with the NSA, WikiLeaks and the disclosures of Edward Snowden. Compliance mandates have increased in importance, and accounting firms that select Canadian cloud providers and contract with managed service providers can safeguard client and corporate data to reduce risk. Canadian providers comply with Canadian standards such as the Personal Information Protection Electronic Documents Act, and provide the peace of mind to your firm that your data will not be exposed to potential seizure by foreign security organizations.
5) Vendor management
Managing service level agreements with multiple technology vendors can be daunting, even for accounting firms that are used to complex contracts. Having multiple points of contact, maintenance renewals and support channels with different vendors can cause frustration. Working with a single service provider that has partner certifications from vendors that you already are likely using such as Microsoft, CCH, Intuit, VMWare and Citrix can help you keep your focus on your client business and off of day to day administration of technology. Vendor lock in was another concern that was expressed in the Top Technology Initiatives survey.
If these technology trends are top of mind for your accounting firm, you are not alone. These trends are priorities for many of your peers across Canada. Working with an experienced, skilled Canadian IT service provider can reduce risk, increase client confidence and create efficiencies across your firm.