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7 Must Ask Questions to Ask Your Cloud Provider

Filed Under (Private Cloud) by Nick Chandi on 23-06-2016

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So you are already looking forward to the benefits of having a cloud environment – a flexible work environment, operational efficiency, increased user productivity, and the list goes on – but what are some factors that make sure you have a positive experience with your new cloud provider? You have to do your due diligence to manage risk. Here are some common questions to ask your potential cloud provider.

  1. Where are your data centers located?
    This is mostly for preference but is a commonly asked question. This is for consumers that want to ensure that their data is in a specific country or province/state to follow their specific policies and laws. You also want to make sure that the servers are reliable and are in multiple locations. We go a little more in-depth about the multi-location factor later – this is referred as geo redundancy. Essentially, this will determine how secure the actual server hardware is when it comes to natural disasters and physical security. Because your cloud experience is heavily influenced by your internet connection, you will also need to make sure that you have a backup in case it fails. Some businesses use 2 internet providers to cover this risk – if one internet provider goes down, they can still access their virtual servers with the backup internet provider.A standard you should keep an eye on is SSAE 16 – this stands for Standards for Attestation Engagements 16. These companies go through a set of audits to ensure their practices mirror and comply with the international service organization report standards. Those cloud providers that follow this demonstrate that their physical systems are secure and have data redundancy.
  2. What happens if I want to cancel your service?
    This is one factor that sometimes scares consumers – commitment. There is a fear that if you don’t like what you purchase or can’t afford it down the road you will be obligated to pay for it. Most providers actually don’t lock you into any annual contracts and are comfortable with having month-to-month payments. This allows them to have some breathing room and can be just as scalable as cloud solutions themselves.Get to understand what the procedure is to cancelling their service and see if they will assist you with transferring your data to the next location. You definitely won’t want to have a hard time cancelling an unsatisfactory service provider that has control over your valuable data.
  3. What happens if I want to add or remove a user?
    To leverage the scalability of the cloud you will want to ensure that your provider is able to work it for you. You will probably want to know about the process to scale your users up and down and plan for it. Some providers have systems in-place that can take hours to add or remove a user. Ensure that their processing time meets your expectations so you know how to plan user on/off boarding. Depending on the process this will allow you to know if there will be any downtime and how you will be billed.
  4. What is the procedure of your backup routine and what are the standards?
    It is important to know what happens to ensure the longevity of your data when it comes to moving into virtual servers. Every provider has different ways of conducting backups. Some may backup once a day, some may backup three times a day, some will follow your requested preferences. Depending on your goals and risk management expectations, you will want to ask this question to your provider. Also, when will the backups be made? Each business – from accountants to lawyers – follows their own set of standards when it comes to data backup procedures so make sure your potential cloud provider understands that.Not only do they provide backups, they ensure that their backup encrypts your data. Just in case someone is able to hack your data when it goes from the live drive to the backup drive, they will not be able to read your data when encrypted.
  5. What will happen to our data if one of your servers gets destroyed by a natural disaster?
    This relates to point 1 – you will want to know if your potential cloud provider has multiple servers in distant locations for cloud redundancy. This means that the provider can duplicate your data several times at multiple server locations. Maybe one day a cloud provider with only one location gets hit by an earthquake – knock on wood – what will happen to your data? It’s not a very high chance but there will still be a chance.It’s usually better to stress about it now than stress about it later. Your data may be one of your most valuable assets and you will want to ensure that it could be transferred to other data centers to minimize the risk. These are one of the main reasons why many companies ditch their on premise systems and have everything stored in the cloud – so they do not have to worry about fires, floods or anything that can lead to hardware failure.
  6. How are my data and applications monitored and maintained?
    Depending on your situation, you may have applications that occasionally need updating or patching and you obviously want your data to be monitored so it reduces the risk of your data being compromised. Make sure your provider have performance monitoring systems in place that automatically notifies them that your systems in need of maintenance support. These monitoring systems should check a multitude of points in their servers – anti-virus, hardware, software, security patching, and disk space. These audits should be consistent and frequent to ensure the safety of your data.
  7. Do you have options for dual-authentication security?
    Security is always the main concern for users. For some, firewalls, data encryption and anti-viruses are not enough. Some vendors are able to implement a dual-authentication code for you. One example is having your mobile number linked to your cloud login. Once you login, the server will send a text message to the linked mobile number with an access code, the access code is then used at the login screen. This will greatly reduce the risk of your account being hacked by making sure only the owner of the cellphone will be able to receive the login access code. It’s takes a little longer to login but this will give you a peace of mind.

Make sure you know what you’re getting into when you talk to cloud hosting providers.  They range in experience and certifications. A good place to start is understanding what your expectations are but if you are unsure about that you can always ask them. Don’t be afraid to ask for references or testimonials to get a better understanding of how they can help you grow your business.

CCH ProSystem fx Practice Management vs Thompson Reuters Practice CS vs Vohcom Page

Filed Under (Private Cloud) by Nick Chandi on 13-06-2016

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Is your accounting firm operating at its fullest potential? Productivity, efficiency and a positive customer experience is what is most sought for. This research study is put together to review practice management applications that will streamline your office’s processes in-order for you to improve worker productivity and produce an exceptional customer experience. These practice management tools enhance your office workflow which connects everyone involved in the business – accountants, administration, and clients.

We’re not going in-depth on every single point but these are some of the Practice Management systems we have been in contact with. They were kind enough to tell us more about their products and open to share their strengths and limitations. To further our primary research we were able to interview our clients that use these products for insight on their experience with the products.

Overview

It’s no secret; all Practice Management products are or come close to a walled garden. This is to ensure your firm’s workflow is running at an efficient manner and boost your ROI.

Thomson Reuters has created an environment for firms that have already been using the CS suite. This can be one of the barriers of entry for those are just stepping into Thomson Reuters’ products. If you have been a Thomson Reuters users for a while – this would be the right choice. Practice CS’ dashboards are scalable to user preferences and can be configured to their liking. Permissions and security is included with the scalability functions and is highly customizable to ensure the right user seeds the right content.

CCH ProSystems fx Practice Management is part of the CCH ProSystems fx Suite. Similar to Thomson Reuters, they work best with its own products that can be integrated within the suite. The difference is that it is a little more flexible by being able to integrate with other applications. Users are highly satisfied with the product and brought up no issues with it. It would be best used with larger firms. ProSystem fx Practice Management is best suited for mid-sized to large firms.

Vohcom Page is optimized for firm sizes of 1 to 50. They are a complete walled garden which can be a major strength to some firms. There is no need to even purchase other add-ons and is one complete suite.

Ease of Use

Practice CS has automated with the CS environment. The dashboards are very easy to understand but might be too easy. Larger firms that tend to have a more complex ERP may find it to have limited functionality. They also provide users with an opportunity to send invoices electronically.

The intuitive main menu of ProSystem fx Pracitce Management is easy to navigate through and displays an excellent hub that leads you to all of the important features throughout the workflow. There is a menu that segment different functions. The dashboards are setup to ensure the processes from accounts receivable to generating statements are easy to use. There are a lot of built-in timers to assist users to capture billing time. There is an automated feature that allows users to generate invoices directly from the accounts receivable module.

Vohcom Page’s automated time tracking feature ensures quick and easy billing. It really streamlines the process and removes the guess work out of overhead planning. All of the files and information are stored in one convenient place for quick access and removing the need to navigate to different locations.

External Integrations

Practice CS is able to connect with other Thomson Reuters’ products, such as UltraTax CS and Accoutning CS. Although it cannot integrate fully with the Microsoft Office Suite it can integrate with Outlook.

ProSystem fx Practice Management not only integrates with other products from CCH but also other 3rd party applications such as Microsoft Office.  The integration possibilities are one factor that sets ProSystem fx Pracitce Management apart from other products. This can make it a little easier for firms to transition to this Practice Management process.

Vohcom Page currently does not integrate with 3rd party applications but will be explored for future versions. This ensures that nothing else is needed besides Vohcom Page but may be one of Vohcom Page’s weak points for firms that are not ready to let go of their current applications.

Summary

What set these products apart is the integration and the ease of use when comparing to the size and complexity of your firm. There is no one-size fits all but we believe that CCH ProSystems fx Practice Management is the most versatile, followed by Vohcom Page, when getting ready to add this type of software into your systems. Like any other major expense, due diligence is required and it is best to start with your motivations.

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