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Get offa my cloud

11 June 2010 No Comment

The buzz in accounting software at the moment is about the “cloud”. Actually, it’s not just in accounting software, it’s about all software.

There are many terms being bandied about but the most common seems to be “cloud-based” and “software as a service” or SaaS as it’s known. What it means is that instead of software being resident on your PC or network server, you use software which is stored elsewhere through your internet connection. This has been made possible because of the increase in speed and reliability of internet connections particularly for businesses.

Riley have been enthusiastic adopters of “cloud” computing for a couple of years now and I thought it would be useful to relate our experience of the change and how we see the future developing for our customers.

Our office systems were almost totally reliant on Lotus Notes – a secure groupware system which enabled us to store, catalogue, discuss and record the way we worked and the communications that we had with our customers, referrers of business and suppliers. Notes also handled our e-mail, contacts and diaries. We started using it in 1998 and quickly became dependent on it for all we did. However, over the years we started to see the deficiencies in the system, the difficulties of the technical management issues, the “clunkiness” of it’s user-interface (UI) even after major updates and the access issues compared to the personal e-mail systems we had all started to use at home.

But there is so much inertia related to mission-critical software – we were aware that alternatives existed but were so well tucked up by the fire with our pipe and slippers that we didn’t want to go out in the cold and see what the noise was outside. However, changes in our key team forced us to look properly at other solutions and we settled on migrating our e-mail, calendars and instant messaging to Google. The migration was handled painlessly by Glo-Networks and we moved the majority of our communication IT to web-browser access without a hitch.

That first step was a revelation. Not only was our information now accessible from anywhere in the world, from any computer or device (phone) with an internet connection, the move massively freed up resources of people (and cash) and removed the restrictions on our thinking about IT. We still had (and have) certain legacy databases on Notes but have started to wind these down as more content is now cloud based. For example our old Teamtalk database from Notes which contained office gossip, quick updates on who was where and why and news snippets has been moved to Yammer. This application also contains our “humour” database – a “must read” compendium of up to date jokes, links and general office twaddle. What we also found was that Google Apps allowed us to store all of our templates for letters, spreadsheets and many of our management tools too.

We have also been able to dispense with the office-based back-up solution which was the bane of many of our lives. This has been replaced by on-line back-up for server based systems and a reliance on the cloud for back-up of e-mail, calendars and contacts. And there have also been no problems with software updates – I’m sure that they exist but they happen painlessly when we don’t notice or incrementally as the developers finish a feature. We don’t have to buy an upgrade path or worry about compatibility – it just happens.

Sure, there are some who miss features from the old systems but there are way more new “goods” than old “bads”. And because the software is constantly improving, new features become available all the time.

Would we go back? No way, and in the next blog entry I will talk about some of the specific systems we are using for accounting and talk about a great new opportunity for our customers to have free accounting software for a year. I bet you can’t wait!

Jon Stacey


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