Moving your practice to the cloud can offer your accountancy firm numerous benefits.
From having a unified client list to managing and tracking key dates for your clients in one place, and having a single area to access all of your clients and the services you offer them too, it can truly make a difference to the way you work.
But what about the actual process of implementing the technology—the nitty gritty of making it all work in a busy workplace with the minimum of disruption?
Rather than simply focusing on why moving your practice to the cloud will help you with practice management, we’re going to take a look at five key steps you should examine before and while making your practice’s transition to the cloud.
1. Review your tools and processes
Implementing the cloud within your practice has the potential to be transformative in that there are very few of your existing processes that won’t be impacted on and improved.
Everything from daily client contact to tax returns will be handled in a different way because the client data will be instantly accessible across the practice.
Remember, too, that the switch to the cloud is going to offer new functionality with huge potential. You might be able to automate tasks such as bank feed reconciliation, for example.
It’s worth reviewing your processes before you make the move to the cloud. One way to tackle this is to compile a list of existing processes in order to document how these will be affected.
Involving your employees with this process is a good way to do this—simply ask them to spend 30 minutes compiling a list of their typical day-to-day tasks.
And make the dialogue with your employees two-way—compile a list of their processes but also share with them new features in the cloud software you’re going to use and ask how best they can implement them for efficiency savings.
The intention with switching to a cloud solution for your practice is that it will make much of your existing tools and processes redundant.
Rather than managing clients via a spreadsheet, you will switch to practice management software that lets you log all client details and all interactions you have with them.
However, there might still be some tools or key spreadsheets that you need or want to keep using, so you should aim to make a note of these and perhaps list the potentially narrower circumstances in which they might be used.
While a particular spreadsheet might be useful for creating tax calculations in response to client queries, for example, this shouldn’t be used for the actual ledger calculations because this should be handled by the cloud software you’re implementing.
Similarly, for those clients who are using cloud software that you intend to connect with your own cloud solution, you should ensure that your employees are aware of what functions a client is likely to be using so they can ease the process of syncing.
2. Survey your employees
The cloud requires a different way of considering client data and management—now that it’s accessible essentially 24/7 and via mobile devices, for example—you might create a list of employees who can help assist in the process of cloud implementation.
Some employees will intuitively pick up how to use the new technology, while others might require substantial training.
Speak to your staff to introduce the plans and make a list again based on “skill” and “will” in order to find the most effective way to implement the roll-out.
Take the opportunity to listen to your employees and any concerns they have—not just about the cloud implementation but also about their existing work processes.
Now is the perfect time to make improvements to ensure the best outcomes for clients and the staff who work with them.
Aim to adopt a policy of no one person left behind, which is to say, ensure all employees not only know how to use the new cloud software but that they’re also comfortable and—if possible—happy to do so.
3. Review your client list
The bulk of the work in switching to a cloud solution will involve transferring client data to the new system. A gradual process of switching clients across to the new software can be best for many practices, and some clients are going to make better candidates than others.
If your client is already running a cloud solution, this indicates they’ve made the same kind of assessments as you have and may be more technically savvy than a business that still relies mostly on manual receipts and paperwork.
View your client list and create a list defined by “skill” and “will”—those whose experience or interests make them ideal candidates for the first phase of your client roll-out for the new cloud software.
You may need to contact them to discuss implementation of your cloud solution—they will need to give permission for your cloud-based software to hook-up with their data, for example, so to keep this quick, it’s worth preparing a script to walk them and yourself through the process.
If you contact clients, take the opportunity to review your service and perhaps take on board any issues they might have.
Those grievances may well be eliminated by your use of cloud software.
For example, if they complain they have trouble reaching an employee when phoning your practice, reassure them that in future your practice management solution will mean all employees will have quick and easy access to their data so should be able to offer help if their preferred employee is not available.
You can also use the cloud conversion process to identify unprofitable clients and aim to change the situation.
4. Ensure you get training
Once you’ve chosen your cloud accountancy software, you need to know how to use it. This will occur in two phases. First, the person implementing the practice’s cloud upgrade plan should ensure they know all about the software.
Then there should be staff training.
Many accounting software providers will have training packages available, and their customer support teams will be more than happy to answer any concerns you may have.
The power of technology means your cloud provider can take you through the software step-by-step on screen, meaning you can ask as many questions as you need to.
Of course, you could handle the training yourself depending on your confidence level.
Set up time in your team’s schedule weeks before you begin using the software for clients, so you can properly show them how to operate it. This might mean taking employees out of operation within the business for the duration of the training, so factor this into any plans you make.
This can be hard to justify but, as with your initial cloud software upgrade decision, consider this nothing less than an investment in the future of your practice—and its continued success.
5. Set the date to switch to the cloud
A common question that might be asked by many accountants is: “When is the best time to switch to the cloud?”
The answer is always the same: right now, assuming you’ve sourced the right cloud solution for your practice and it’s ready to go.
The point is that procrastination can be the enemy of implementing any improvement plan. In some businesses, even the most vital improvements can be seen as non-essential. While that does make some sense if it’s a busy workplace with no obvious scope for down time, ultimately improvements do need to happen.
Based on your knowledge of the transformational benefits of cloud software, you know this is going to make everything easier, and a little time spent making the move can save a huge amount of time in the future. You also know you’re putting your practice on the very best footing for the future.
So, on the question of moving your practice to the cloud: do it now, rather than putting it off until an indeterminate point in the future.
At the very least, set a firm date for implementation right now.
Final thoughts on moving your practice to the cloud
Your clients are adopting technologies such as mobile and the cloud, meaning your practice has no choice but to keep up.
Keeping up with client expectations when it comes to technology can make the difference between a client signing on with you, or bypassing you for a competitor.
And ultimately this is one of the major underlying themes driving why the moving your practice to the cloud is so vital to any accountancy firm: client demands and being able to better serve them.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in November 2019 and has been updated for relevance.