Leaping into the Cloud

Real world move to cloud accountsManaging BSA’s accounts is important to me. I have always believed that if you are on top of your accounts and your cash flow, you have fundamental, day-to-day control of your business. It is a philosophy that has served me well for over 30 years.

For virtually all of those 30 years, I have been a Sage Accounts man. I know the software and it has proved reliable. I have tamed the Sage Reporting system and quietly thanked them for the option to restore backed up data when disaster struck (or more specifically, I made a stupid mistake!)

Yes, it is over complex for our straightforward needs, and the support can be quite expensive but it was what we (and our accountant) knew and fundamentally, it worked.

Yet in the rapidly changing world of business technology, Sage started to become a victim of its own success. The software didn’t really evolve. Sure there were regular new versions – though the only time we tended to upgrade was when our existing copy stopped working because it wouldn’t run on an upgraded PC. New versions did bring new features but nothing groundbreaking. All the time, the new kid on the block – high-speed internet – was growing.

About 4 years ago I started reading about cloud accounts, web-based accounting where, for a modest monthly fee, you got access to a fully regulation-compliant accounting system that was supported and evolved as part of the package.

My first thoughts were that it was too big a step. Sage worked for us while the idea of such a radical shift was to big a leap into the unknown. We also had a huge investment in Sage with many years of financial data stored and archived. The process of transferring this to a new system didn’t bear thinking about!

The winds of change

Life evolves, and so does business. While Sage Accounts had been our stalwart for so long, BSA as a company has consistently metamorphosed over the years. In early 2014, our accountant started talking more earnestly about retirement and ‘shouldn’t we perhaps be looking for someone to replace him?’

To be fair we had heard this idea for a while and never really taken him seriously but this time, something was different. Coincidentally, around the same time, I found myself talking to a young accountant, relatively new into practice, who was promoting an online accounting package – KashFlow. Previously, many practitioners I had spoken to saw these new services as a threat to their business where my guy (Mark) saw it as an opportunity to do things differently. Tentatively we decided to investigate further, particularly encouraged by 2 factors:

  1. Mark offered to support us through the transition at no cost
  2. KashFlow included a facility to directly import data from Sage

My plan was to get KashFlow up and running then use it in parallel with our existing Sage system for a couple of months. I might be taking that leap into the unknown but I like to keep my options open!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to prove straightforward.

One Step Forward, 2 steps back

We had taken the step towards the brave new world of online accounting. The plan was to implement the KashFlow import/conversion facility and work with Mark to tidy up any loose ends.

We had a lot of data to import so the process ran overnight. The following morning I logged on to KashFlow in great anticipation…

According to our new accounting system, we owed just over £2 million in VAT! Something wasn’t quite right.

The second backwards step reflected a common problem with IT (and many other) services. We all only know what we know. It turned out that Mark’s experience with KashFlow was quite limited and – perhaps coupled with the fact that he had offered to support our transition at no cost – trying to figure out what had gone awry with the transfer and fix it proved too much.

We were back to good old Sage and our dalliance with online accounting was over – or so I thought.

Business is a process, not an event

Another day, another networking session, another forward thinking accountant. To be fair, the scenario was remarkably similar save 2 things:

  1. The accountant in question was more experienced
  2. The software in question was Xero, not KashFlow

By now, our existing account had retired so the pressure was on. I know that business is a process, not an event, so we decided to give internet accounting a second chance.

This time we did things a bit different. rather than try to import all our historic data we only went back 2 years. The older data was still available in Sage should we need to access it. We also recognised that trying to run Sage in parallel with the new system was going to be impractical. Assuming we could get the balances to balance and the reports from the 2 systems to match, we would take the plunge.

the general view is that you make this sort of change at the end/start of your fiscal year or at least at the end/start of a VAT quarter. We are gluttons for punishment and did neither – but it worked!

The combination of Xero knowledge and accountancy from our shiny new accountants was invaluable. We wouldn’t have done it without them. The hiatus lasted for the first few months, through the first VAT return on the new system but by the time we got to March and the end of the financial year things had settled and we have never looked back. 2 full years down the line and Sage is all but forgotten.

A Learning Process

Moving our business accounts into the cloud is definitely one of the more significant changes that have happened at BSA – and certainly one of the most beneficial. Here are some key wins:

  • Significantly reduced book-keeping and accounts admin time
  • Reduced accountancy costs
  • Easy access to our accounts from anywhere I have internet
  • Online storage of invoices and other paperwork
  • Streamlined reporting
  • Integrated submission of VAT
  • Flexibility to integrate with the rest of our business

…and what did we learn? Things that would have been good to know when we started

  • The transfer required some work – but it was worth it
  • Working with a professional accountant who knows your chosen system is essential
  • Xero support has been great
  • Not having traditional backups was a concern but there are add-on backup services we now use

The future

One of the exciting features of the growing world of cloud-based software is the opportunity for data integration. There are more and more ‘Apps’ (both good and bad!) being developed that extend the functionality of Xero and other cloud-based software allowing business to be done more quickly, more easily and more cost-effectively – interesting times ahead.

If you are contemplating moving your accounts into the cloud and would like to chat, do get in touch

Filed under: Business, Business planning, General Musings, News, Not really marketing, Review

About David Wright

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Every business has a brand. Building yours can be the best way of adding sustained value to your business. A strong brand also builds market confidence and creates a great platform from which to develop sustainable business opportunities.

I combine professional marketing qualifications and experience with a solid understanding of real business to discuss and advise on building your business brand using effective marketing communication in a down-to-earth, no jargon way.

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