Monday, July 28, 2014 - 13:57

Geraldine Cruz, Senior Director, Product Marketing

Moving business applications to the cloud can save you significant time and expenses related to installing, maintaining, and upgrading software.  But if you need to keep their data upgraded with other applications you use without data re-entry, you’ll need a solution that integrates them.

Life would be simpler if business applications integrated the way Apple devices sync music and videos with Apple iCloud. And the good news is … with cloud applications, you may be able to get close. The integration may not be a one-click-sync, but you can find an integration that fits your workflow and isn’t daunting.

But deciphering the technical jargon and determining what makes sense for your business can be a hurdle. This blog post is targeted at beginners who want to know the fundamentals about integrations. The discussions are organized around common questions asked about integrations, syncs, and import/export: 

  • What does it really mean when an application “integrates” with other applications?
  • What’s the difference between import/export and sync?
  • What are the top things I should be aware of as I evaluate integration options?
  • How difficult is it to use import/export?
  • Is sync plug-and-play?

 

1. What does it mean when an application “integrates” with other applications?

When an application is said to “integrate” with other applications, that means that data may be updated across them. As a result, users get to use and work with a consistent set of data across the applications. 

The integration may be accomplished in a number of different ways, which can impact the work that the user must do to keep the data consistent. Two common methods used by cloud-based applications are import/export and sync. These two methods can also integrate cloud-based applications with non-cloud applications. Details of the methods are discussed in more detail below.

The integration may be built as a feature of the application, such as:

  • Ability to create or import comma-separated values (.csv) files
  • Syncs that Bill.com has for QuickBooks® Online, QuickBooks® Windows, Xero®, NetSuite®, and Intacct® 

Alternatively, the integration may be a solution available outside of the apps, such as application connectors from third-party integrators like itDuzzit.

 

2. What’s the difference between sync and import/export?

Import/export is the transfer of data between applications that is accomplished by:

  1. Creating a file (such as a .csv file) with the first application
  2. Exporting the file from the first application
  3. Importing or uploading the file into the second application

For this to work, the first application must be able to create and format a file that the second application can recognize and use.

The term “sync” can have a number of different definitions. At a very broad level, this term is the shortened form of “data synchronization” and refers to the process of keeping data across two or more applications consistent.

In the context of cloud-based applications (and this blog post), syncs are pre-built features that keep data updated simply and easily — usually with the click of one or a few buttons, like the Apple iCloud sync, or using a time-based system that updates data in  specific intervals automatically.  A sync requires no file creation, manipulation, and upload by the user. The sync feature may be available in the app, or through web-based connectors available from a third party.

 

3. What are the top things I should be aware of?

Keep in mind a few things as you assess integration solutions:

  • Don’t assume that when you add, delete, or change the data with one application that the updates will be made available to the other applications automatically. Instead, when and how the updates are triggered will depend on how the integrations were built and/or configured.
  • Data updates may only flow “one-way” — meaning, from one specific application to the other, but not in the reverse direction. Alternatively, the data updates may be “two-way” — meaning that data from one application will flow to the other, and vice versa. Make sure you know the direction of the data flow, and validate that it aligns with your workflow. For example, if you typically work in one application and want the data to be updated to a second application, but the integration is one-way in the opposite direction, then the solution won’t work for you. You’ll need to change your workflow or find another solution.
  • The integration may be built to share some — but not all — data fields used by the applications. Before you implement an integration solution, confirm that the data you need to update across applications is, indeed, passed back-and-forth across them. 
  • Integration does not imply a one-click sync in the style of the Apple iCloud sync. Unless you’re told that an integration happens via sync, you should assume that it happens via import/export.
  • Import/export will require a few more steps than a sync would, though the application developer may have created standard process steps to make it easier for you to do. For some systems, such as Sage® Software, Microsoft Dynamics® and other non-cloud applications, import/export is the standard way to integrate data with them; so their processes have been documented in detail. You may have the option to purchase a connector from a third-party integrator that streamlines the process even further. And if you really need an automated import/export process and there are no available connectors, you can get a developer to write an integration script for you. However, when an update for any of your applications is released, you will need to evaluate whether the script still works.
  • Integrations may result in unexpected behavior, such as:
    • The process stops abruptly when an application does not recognize an unusual character (such as “!” or “?”)
    • The application may not eliminate duplicates (ie, “de-dupe” records) that were synced, though the vendor claims it does
  • When the integration results in unexpected behavior, you’ve encountered an “edge case,” a situation that the application was not designed to address. The best syncs provide robust error-handling capabilities that can help you address those edge cases in a straight-forward, systematic manner. Ask your vendors what the edge cases are, and how the integration will behave in those cases. Try out the solution on a subset of your data (or a sandbox that does not interfere with your actual data) so you can witness the behavior yourself before you implement.

 

4. How difficult is it to use import/export?

Don’t sweat if your only option for integrating two applications is import/export. It may take a few extra steps than sync a would. But if an application can create the file type whose format conforms with the requirements of the second application, then your integration will work.

The first time you do an import/export, you may spend time working out kinks and resolving edge cases. But once you complete the first one, future import/exports should run more smoothly.  In fact, some import/export systems, such as the one available in Bill.com, allows you to save a template for your imports, making subsequent imports much easier and quicker.

 

5. Is sync plug-and-play?

Never assume any integration — including any sync — is plug-and-play. Even Apple devices must be configured or “prepared” for the very first sync. Likewise, in order to sync cloud-based applications, you will typically need to configure your applications to perform the first sync. It may not be difficult, and many companies, such as Bill.com, offer documentation and customer support services to walk you through the sync. After that first sync, all future syncs are usually quick and simple.

 

Key Takeaways

Using cloud applications does not eliminate the need to integrate applications. The good news is that integrations in the cloud may be simple and relatively pain-free. Arm yourself with as much information about integrations as you evaluate potential solutions. Table 1 highlights the key takeaways from the discussion above.

Table 1. Key Takeaways

 

 

 

 

Categories:
Friday, July 18, 2014 - 12:56

Geraldine Cruz, Senior Director, Product Marketing

Replacing your in-house check runs with Bill.com reduces costs and security risks significantly. But if you’re using checks to pay vendors, you’re still vulnerable to mail delays, loss, or theft. As if that weren’t bad enough, you or your staff must endure phone calls from irate vendors demanding payment, and spend time voiding and reissuing checks and adjusting journal entries to correct your books.

Getting vendors to adopt electronic payments (ACH) eliminates these issues. The new Bill.com features releasing the evening of July 18, 2014 are designed to make it easier for you to invite them to accept ACH.

In addition, we are releasing a new capability that allows you as a vendor to connect with your customers, who in turn, can pay you electronically.

This blog post highlights the new Network capabilities of our July Release:

  • Expanded Invitation Capabilities and Easier Process to Accept Invitations: With this release, anyone with a Bill.com account can invite any other business to connect on Bill.com to pay or get paid. In addition, we’ve simplified the process to accept invitations so your invitees can be more easily connect with you.
  • New Network Tab for Managing Connections: Our new Network tab helps you keep track of your connections and pending invitations.
  • Connected Businesses can Optimize Shared Processes with our eBilling/eInvoicing Solution: Making it easier to connect is just the beginning of the rich capabilities Bill.com offers. What’s truly significant is what two connected businesses can do; the shared processes they can optimize; and the manual activities they can eliminate (like rekeying invoice data!).

 At the end of this post, we include additional resources to help you learn more.

 

Expanded Invitation Capabilities and Easier Process to Accept Invitations

The July Release enables anyone with a Bill.com account to invite any other business to connect on our Network. If you subscribe to our Receivables solution, you too can now invite your own customers to connect and pay you on Bill.com. You’ll need your customer’s payment network ID on Bill.com to initiate the connection. But in the future, you’ll be able to search and find them with just the business name. We are excited about the expansion of our invitation process, and we believe this is a great way for you to migrate your customers to ACH, which in turn, accelerates the delivery of payments directly to your bank account. 

So with the July release, all our customers — both Payables and Receivables customers  —  can invite their business partners to our Network and migrate their transactions to ACH.

To boost acceptance of those invitations, we’ve simplified the process to accept the invitations, removing the steps that prevent invitees from completing the process.

 

 

New Network Tab for Managing Connections

Now that you have more and better capabilities for inviting other businesses to connect on our Network, we’ve built a new Network tab to help you manage your connections. You can keep track of all your connections on Bill.com, including invitations you’ve sent that are awaiting a response. You can also quickly see and respond to invitations that you’ve received from your customers and vendors.

 

Your business’ profile on the Bill.com Network will also be accessible under the Network tab. As of the July 2014 release, only you and the businesses you invite will be able to see your profile. In the coming months, you will be able to customize the information in your profile. You will also have the option to publish it as a public profile searchable by other businesses that want to find and connect with you.

 

Connected Businesses can Optimize Shared Processes with Our eBilling/eInvoicing Solution

When two paying subscribers of Bill.com connect on our Network, they can take advantage of our full Network capabilities. Their invoice and payment processes are jointly optimized, and data is exchanged between them without any data loss.

What does this mean in practice? Both the vendor and the customer to a transaction are alerted when invoices are sent and when payments are made. And the invoices and payments are sent in a format that the receiver can use immediately — with no manual data scrubbing or re-entry. To be specific, when a vendor sends an invoice, the customer receives the full invoice data — including any attachments — and does not need to rekey it. In return, when the customer sends the payment, the vendor receives all the remittance information  — and any attachments — and will not need to rekey it into Bill.com.

A Bill.com eInvoice, eBilling, and ePayment process would involve the following four steps:

  • The vendor sends an eInvoice to the customer
  • Bill.com directs the eInvoice to the customer’s inbox, where it becomes an eBill
  • The customer routes the eBill for approval in an automated process; when the eBill is approved, the customer issues an ePayment
  • The ePayment goes to the vendor’s account, and the invoice is automatically closed

At the end of this process, both the vendor and the customer reconcile the payments with their respective accounting systems with a one-click sync or through import/export.

How does the Bill.com Network transform the vendor’s business performance?

  • Accelerated payments improve its liquidity and cash management
  • Fewer staff and time are needed to manage the receivables process
  • Reconciling payments against customer invoices and accounts is faster and more accurate 

How does the Bill.com Network transform the customer’s business performance?

  • The streamlined process eliminates manual tasks that delay payments, increasing the ability to take advantage of early payment discounts
  • Elimination of the manual transcription of invoice data reduces the staff needed to manage the payables and reconciliation processes
  • The use of ePayments as a replacement to checks, credit cards, and other payment methods reduces transaction costs

 

Want to Learn More?

Our new Network enhancements will help you to more easily build your Bill.com Network and enjoy all the benefits of being connected. To learn more:

And stay tuned as we roll out our new Network features in the coming months. We are excited about the new tools that will help extend your ability to find, connect, transact, and collaborate with other businesses on our Network.

 

 

Categories:
Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 09:41

By Ellen Gomes, Manager- Social Media, Bill.com

If you know a little bit about Bill.com and what it does, you may have heard that Bill.com syncs with Quickbooks. It’s totally true. In fact, we sync with Quickbooks Windows even if the program or your company file are stored remotely-- which might have been something you were worried about. But it’s okay, because we’ve got your back. If your Quickbooks is stored somewhere in the cloud or remotely, we’ll get you ready to go in no time.  You can still get going with Bill.com in a few simple steps.

Remote Sync with Quickbooks Desktop

To get started, you'll need to locate where your QuickBooks Windows program lives, as installation instructions will vary depending on its location - is it on your machine, a server in your office, or hosted by a cloud provider? If it's on a server, or in the cloud, you'll need to enlist your IT person, or contact your cloud provider, to get it installed - DIY is not recommended, as the process is pretty technical.

Once the Bill.com Sync Dashboard is installed, you're only a few steps away from your first sync! 

  1. Close out of QuickBooks Windows, and the Sync Dashboard
  2. Open the Sync Dashboard
  3. Open QuickBooks Windows and open the company file you'd like to sync with. 
  4. Click Next in the Sync Dashboard - now that your QuickBooks file is open, the Sync Dashboard will automatically determine the location of the file. 
  5. Visually confirm the location is correct (try not to click Browse - you might unintentionally select the wrong company file, or a backup file)
  6. Click Next - you will see a security certificate. 
  7. Click Yes to finish the sync setup

Now, perform your first sync by selecting the Sync Profile in the Sync Dashboard, and clicking Sync. 

It should only take about 10 minutes to get the sync set up. If you're ready to get started, we're available to help get you up and running

For more information about the sync, including setup instructions, check out our Answer: QuickBooks for Windows Sync Setup - Overview 

Categories:
Monday, May 19, 2014 - 10:24

By Julie Lubetkin, VP of Strategic Partners

Think about the technology your accounting or bookkeeping firm uses. More than likely, your technology ecosphere consists of several components that you’ve selected due to their individual merits. For example, you might have Intuit for your tax or finance software, a different program to hold contact information and notes, and yet another to handle your clients’ e-commerce transactions.

This idea of strategically splitting up sections of an overall business management system into discrete parts is what Doug Sleeter, founder and president of The Sleeter Group, calls “chunkification.” It allows you to benefit from multiple features that suit your operating needs – elements that an “all-in-one” platform may not offer or handle as adeptly. 

A big focus of chunkification in the accounting world is not only to be able to pick and choose the features you feel work best for your needs, but also to attain the highest level of collaboration, transparency, speed, and integration to take you one step closer to that beautiful “zero entry” world. Imagine a world where the connections between your technology chunks are so tightly woven together via the Internet that you no longer have to do individual updates within systems or duplicate data entry. Not only are inefficient practices eliminated, but you as the trusted financial advisor will have greater insight into your clients overall strategy and performance. 

But you have to choose and evaluate your chunks carefully. Not every software offering is a good fit for your practice or for your clients. 

One good opportunity is a “chunk” that suffers from an overkill of manual processes and inefficiency: bill payments. Bill payments can devour large amounts of time on repetitive and administrative activities such as contract review, approvals, follow-up, check runs, adjustments, and mailing. 

Wouldn’t your clients appreciate the adoption of a new and ideal “chunk” of technology that can take this task off of their hands? Wouldn’t you appreciate a new addition to your technology that can not only handle bill pay but automate it so well that your time is always spent productively instead of on administrative tasks? And what if this “chunk” helped to provide a big picture view into operations through collaboration, integration, and transparency? 

Join Doug Sleeter of The Sleeter Group and Jami Blackburn of Bill.com for Chunkification 101: Bill Pay with Bill.com, a webinar that will drill down into how to utilize cloud technology and online bill pay to reach new markets, make more money, and build stronger relationships with your clients. The webinar, scheduled for May 22nd at 11 a.m. PT, will include information on:

  • The bill pay business opportunity
  • Benefits of cloud-based bill pay services with Bill.com including a demonstration
  • How to identify and select target clients
  • How to effectively sell outsourced bookkeeping and bill pay to clients.

The webinar will conclude with a live Q&A with Doug Sleeter so be sure to BYOQ (bring your own questions)! 

Register now for Chunkification 101: Bill Pay with Bill.com. 

 

 

Categories:
Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - 12:58

By Julie Lubetkin, VP of Strategic Partners

This article orginally ran in Accounting Technology on May 12, 2014.

Are your clients struggling with in-house, paper-based bookkeeping? If you do not know or have not asked, you could be missing a great opportunity to expand your practice as well as strengthen your quality of client services.

Oftentimes, small and medium-size businesses may not be aware of just how much time and money go into handling their own bookkeeping. Paper-based bookkeeping is traditionally considered a high-labor and time-intensive activity, and most business owners have not fully tracked its impact on their company’s resources. Outsourcing bookkeeping can yield high-priority benefits for your clients for accounts payable, accounts receivable and cash flow management—especially when you introduce them to cloud-based technology.

However, let’s take one step back. Encouraging your clients to outsource their bookkeeping to your cloud-based environment not only helps them but also offers your accounting firm multiple benefits. Adding a new practice to your firm allows you to bring in more money. It also sets your firm apart with diversified services while allowing you to retain and grow existing client relationships. Finally, it positions your firm as a true technology leader that can introduce new important technologies that help clients gain greater insight into their business performance.

Sell Your Clients on Outsourced Bookkeeping

With the benefits evident for both your firm and your firm’s clients, here are three ways you can help clients migrate to outsourced bookkeeping.

1.    Address the Challenges

When business owners consider the numerous steps involved with in-house bookkeeping, the time constraints and labor requirements are somewhat staggering. Issuing and reconciling bills can mean sorting through files (or documents to be filed) for contracts and relevant information. Paper-based invoicing, which depends on printing and stuffing and adding postage to envelopes, can drag an accounts receivable process into long windows of time. Even check approval involves multiple steps from requesting approval on payment to check runs and beyond. The entire process is absolutely littered with administration-heavy tasks that eat up valuable time that could be focused on higher-yield activities.

Not only is bookkeeping a time stealer, but the costs around it can be oppressive. One study estimates that the average cost to pay a single bill across an organization is $92*. This takes into account everything from labor to postage. How many bills do your clients pay? Based on this number, what is it costing their businesses to keep this process in-house?

There are ROI calculators that can show clients exactly what level of savings they can attain by utilizing business-specific requirements such as wages, the number of checks processed each month, ACH transactions per month, the number of bank accounts, and payment runs per month. After analyzing the information, they can calculate current costs and how much can be saved with outsourcing. A useful tool such as this can be invaluable in pointing out the constraints around bookkeeping and open the door for a conversation about outsourcing.

2.    Assess the Opportunities

Now that you have your clients’ attention about the challenges of in-house bookkeeping, it is time to help them understand the opportunities that exist when bookkeeping is outsourced. And these advantages yield the largest benefits when your clients not only outsource bookkeeping but move from paper-based bookkeeping to cloud-based bookkeeping.

Simply by eliminating or reducing paper, a plethora of opportunities evolve including streamlining processes, promoting collaboration, enabling mobile access, and reducing costs.

For accounts payable, your clients will have the ability to go completely paperless and introduce automation. They can upload bills and paperwork to a centralized, cloud-based repository. By storing contracts and bills in the cloud, they can eliminate the time wasted in digging through filing cabinets. Additional financial information—such as due dates, cash flow projections, and the tracking of approvals and bill payment based on the company’s schedule—will also be stored and accessible online. Automated notices will remind them of when a payment is due. They will also have immediate insight into the approval status of bills.

For accounts receivable, invoices will now be mailed or emailed on a company’s behalf. All of the sudden, the hassles and costs of printing, postage, and mailing are eliminated and replaced with a few approving clicks. Migrating payments online will give clients more options including receiving payments online, via credit card, through PayPal or directly from a bank – meaning no more filing and trips to the bank. Automatic due date reminders are delivered straight to vendors. Most important, these process enhancements will allow clients to collect receivables two to three times faster than with paper-based processes.

Share these real opportunities with your clients and it will help pave the way to onboarding new revenue-yielding services.

3.    Accomplish Results

Congratulations! Your clients have agreed to outsource bookkeeping to your accounting firm. But, as with any “win,” the real value is evident with careful follow-up and measurement. Encourage your clients to evaluate the results of moving to outsourced, cloud-based bookkeeping by the following measures:

  • Time and cost savings: How much time and money have clients saved by outsourcing bookkeeping and going paperless? Has the timesaving allowed them the bandwidth to focus on other activities? Help each one take a long look at the process before the cloud and after. The results will be obvious and impactful.
  • Convenience: After migrating to the cloud, ask your clients what improvements they have seen in terms of convenience. For example, by adopting the cloud, conveniences such as mobile access, collaboration, and automated workflows will certainly be apparent.
  • Important financial insight: Has outsourcing bookkeeping and eliminating paper provided a more comprehensive picture of the company’s cash flow and overall financial health? Cloud-based features such as a collaborative, centralized hub of information can yield important high-level and real-time reporting on such issues as cash flow, business performance month-to-month, strengths and weaknesses.

By educating your clients on the challenges of in-house, paper-based bookkeeping and the opportunities provided by cloud-based technology, you will inevitably help them save not only time but money. And those are two very important components of successful growth. More important, you are positioning yourself as a technology leader and building strong ties with clients. By working with clients to outsource their bookkeeping, you are not only reinforcing the strength of their businesses, but also your own.

 

* Source: 2010 Purchasing Card Benchmark Survey, RPMG Research

Categories:
Friday, May 2, 2014 - 13:28

By Julie Lubetkin, VP of Strategic Partners

This article orginally ran in Accounting Today on April 29, 2014.

I admit it. I am a control fanatic. And if you’re reading this, you probably are, too.

Control is integral to the work of the accounting professional. It helps negate risk, protect important information, and support conduct consistent with the highest level of professional excellence. However, the flip side of control fanaticism is that it can reinforce overly risk-averse behavior that actually inhibits innovation.

Take, for example, paper.

Walk into an accounting firm and most likely you will see a large amount of paper – bills, files, invoices, receipts and documents. Information exchange, overall, is paper-based. While paper reliance has been the standard in the industry, it can lead to expenses you might not expect. For example, the average cost to pay a single bill across an organization is $92*.  

Paper is often the culprit for inordinate costs, fraud and inefficiencies, but less-than-adequate technology is also to blame. For example, software that needs frequent updates and relicensing and allows access only from select PCs or laptops can often compound and not alleviate problems. Inadequate integration in technology also leads to duplication of efforts and data entry – which increases the possibility for errors. And as technology continues to evolve at a breakneck pace, even hardware can pose problems. Some PCs and laptops don’t offer CD-ROM drives. Netbooks and iPads often have minimal or no data ports at all. If your practice depends on CDs or USB drives, you may find that your clients don’t have compatibility with those items or they demand other means of output or collaboration.

Think about how you use technology in your personal life. Perhaps you check emails on your smartphone or tablet or you text a colleague to let her know you are running late. Apps help you quickly gather important information such as the day’s weather, last night’s baseball game score or your bank balance. It’s easy to get the information you need no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Why should your practice not have the same convenience?

Clinging to a paper-based practice or dated technology works at cross-purposes to what you need for your firm and your clients. Even for the greatest of control fanatics, there is no excuse not to keep pace with the lifestyle and requirements of your clients and their businesses. Cloud-based solutions can offer your accounting firm the cutting edge it needs to distinguish itself from competitors, as well as enhance client services.

Welcome to the Cloud

By now, you have heard of the cloud. And by now, you probably have already used it. Popular services such as Amazon, Google and apps exist in the cloud. They are on-demand and always accessible. Cloud-based solutions eliminate the need for on-site hardware in favor of Internet-based “virtual servers” that can scale up or down according to your firm’s storage and operational needs. There is no need to download software or updates to your computers, since that software is hosted in the cloud. All you have to do is log in and you are ready to go. It can also be significantly less expensive than traditional solutions as it eliminates hardware fees, reduces the burden of IT administration, and may have more accessible costs when compared to traditional software licensing.

The bone of contention with cloud-based services for accounting professionals basically comes down to control. Your information – and your clients’ information – is hosted online, not on-site. It is virtual, not paper. This often leads to the perception that there is a lack of control of that information, its security, and your overall business.

However, despite this perception, the cloud actually endows a certified control fanatic with even more control than paper-based or non-cloud technology.

Here’s how:

1.    The cloud allows you to control the security of your files.

While the popular feeling in the accounting world is that you have to sacrifice security when you migrate to a cloud-based solution, nothing could be further from the truth. Most vendors protect your clients’ personal information, tax records and checks to a greater degree than holding onto paper-based files in your office cabinets.

Cloud-based service providers should adhere to the following stringent security standards:

  • Extended Validation (EV) SSL encryption technology  
  • Firewalls that prevent unauthorized electronic access to servers
  • Encryption of sensitive data in transit and rest in the providers’ databases
  • Physical security protocols that include housing production servers in high-security, locked facilities with biometric access controls preventing unauthorized physical access  
  • Annual audits such as the SSAE 16 SOC 1 Type II Audit by a third-party service
  • FDIC-insured payments en route

In addition to these standards, there are a variety of options available to secure your information.

    Restricted Access

It only takes one person accessing a restricted document or information to cause considerable damage. Minimizing “touch points” to highly valuable items such as checks or payment systems that are the backbone of your (and your clients’) finances reduces the risks of fraud or errors.  The cloud allows you to customize the online experience by giving only select individuals permission to access sensitive information. You define who can see what, when they can see it, if they can edit or download it, and how it can be accessed. You can create personalized collaborative sites for each of your clients – sites that only you and they can access. As for the security of the information, cloud services must meet the most stringent levels of compliance for their industry in order to operate, and security is continually reevaluated and reinforced as necessary.

    Business Continuity

Imagine if your office were flooded or suffered from wind damage. What would happen to your paper files? Migrating to the cloud with electronic formats builds an important and fundamental level of control into your business continuity planning. While your paper files may be destroyed in the event of a disaster, your online files – hosted in the cloud – will stay safe, accurate, and accessible.

    Safety from Normal Wear and Tear

With paper, even the safest of storage facilities cannot prevent the degradation of physical files. Over time, ink fades or paper rips, compromising the integrity of your files.

    Non-Reliance on Obsolete Technology

The cloud allows you to access whatever file is hosted, no matter what the format. That is not always the case with on-site electronic storage. For example: How many files do you have in storage that might have important information on floppy discs? Even the widespread acceptance of CD-ROMs is fading as more and more laptops and computers move from CD drives to pure-play online storage.

    Flow of Information and Transparent Reporting

Does your accounting firm have an established services workflow for its clients? Can you easily ascertain where a bill is in the approval process or who has not yet reviewed it? Chances are, if you rely on paper, you do not. Without an established and enforced workflow, information can be inappropriately shared or languish openly on top of someone’s desk. Most cloud-based services allow you to set up automated workflows based on the deliverable and its owner. The service will automatically shepherd the file, bill or invoice to the correct person during each stage of the process. It provides a reminder alert if individuals are not responding within an allotted time. Furthermore, you can easily log in to see exactly where that file is, who else needs to see it, and what steps need to be taken to finalize it.

    Establish Audit and Communication Trails

Cloud-based solutions often offer full audit trails of all transactions. This can allow for easy tax audits, for example, as auditors can be given access to review all transactions firsthand.

    Deter Employee or Outsider Fraud Potential

A typical organization loses 5 percent of its annual revenue to fraud (either internal or external) and 49 percent of these businesses never recover these losses.** Features such as workflows, centralized repositories of information, and the ability to restrict access to certain files reduce the potential for fraud.

2.    The cloud allows you to control where you work.

When you are part of a paper-based organization, you must work where the paper is. However, as the popularity of smartphones, tablets, and home offices grows, more accountants – like their clients – must be able to be flexible about work arrangements. When you move to cloud services, all of your information – files, invoices, notes, and forms – is available online through any mobile device or Internet connection. That means clients will not have to hear, “I can get that to you when I’m back in the office.” Instead, they get the information they need immediately.

3.    The cloud lets you control cost.

Let’s face it: Paper is expensive. It costs a lot to buy it, print it, file it, store it and move it. By eliminating paper, you can save a substantial amount of money that has normally gone toward paper-based expenses.

Moreover, the cloud gives firms of all sizes the opportunity to reduce their capital investment on hardware, software and associated infrastructure. Rather than purchasing technology and product licenses outright, cloud users simply rent them, paying for IT solutions on a subscription basis, benefitting from the provider's economy of scale. That money saved on IT infrastructure and services can be reinvested in other areas of the firm.

4.    The cloud lets you control time.

Maybe you won’t be able to turn back time or time travel, but the cloud can significantly reduce the amount of time you spend working on mundane tasks. As more functions get automated, removing the burden of manual work, you can focus on other value-added tasks, helping to boost overall output. Automated alerts remind you when to process bills and invoices or schedule an electronic payment, which removes the need to create manual reminders or search through paper files to determine due dates.

Moving from a reliance on paper to a reliance on electronic files in a cloud-based environment reduces the “lag” of paper-based operations and adds more efficiency and speed into everyday services. Cloud services such as workflows and online payments can significantly shorten your receivable process and get your money to you more quickly.

The cloud can even convert traditionally low-margin services such as bill pay into feasible and profitable services through the aforementioned workflows, online payments and reminders.

5.    The cloud gives you the ability to control firm growth.

The accounting world is competitive. With new firms launching every day and offering specialized scopes of services, the edge provided by cloud technologies can bring you the needed impetus to accelerate your firm’s growth and revenue. The cloud offers you the opportunity to:

  • Increase collaboration and provide a greater level of responsiveness: This creates more opportunities to cement your relationship with existing clients and incorporate more services into your portfolio to meet their immediate needs and woo prospective clients from other firms. 
  • Identify new areas of growth: With the cloud, you are no longer restrained to conducting business in your local area. Collaborative tools with on-demand access mean your clients can be based on the opposite coast and still receive the high level of client services your firm is known for.
  • Expand your talent pool: By bypassing the reliance on working solely from the office and moving to the cloud, you can acquire additional talent for your firm no matter where those individuals are located. 
  • Advise your client on business performance and trends: The cloud enables you to perform more routine tasks faster, collaboratively work with your clients, and help steer strategic growth.

Paper has served the accounting world well for decades. However, now is the time to innovate and invite new technologies into your practice – such as cloud-based solutions – that can help your firm enhance its level of client service, offer new services, create a strong competitive profile, and increase revenue. Take it from me, a certified control fanatic: You do not have to sacrifice control to innovate.

 

* Source: 2010 Purchasing Card Benchmark Survey, RPMG Research

** Source: Association of Certified Fraud Examiners 2012 ‘Report to the Nations’

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014 - 12:29

By Julie Lubetkin, VP of Strategic Partners

The other day, a friend’s daughter made sure to share her sweets with me – by leaving a handprint on my new shirt. Like her lollipop, it was bright, big, and especially sticky. 

“No worries,” I thought. “I can wash it out.” 

But her parting gift made me think. Sticky is, basically, a cohesion between two objects. You don’t want clothing to be sticky. However, for an accounting firm, sometimes it pays to be sticky. After all, you want to build a strong relationship with your clients – so strong that they are truly reluctant to leave your firm. 

How can you make your accounting firm stickier? Look for financial services your clients truly need – services that are often time-consuming and labor-intensive and that take business owners’ focus off of the big picture of growing their company and enjoying financial success.

That’s right – if you haven’t already, it is time to onboard bill payment services. 

Bill payment services are notorious for taking up large amounts of time on repetitive and administrative activities such as payment and contract review, follow-up, check runs, and adjustments and mailing. In fact, a recent study showed that 90 percent of back office costs for businesses comes from labor associated with bill payments. Imagine the relief your clients would feel if you could take this off of their hands.

At the same time, you might be asking: “Why would I want to take over bill payment services for my clients?” 

True, the traditional process for bill payment offers a lot of challenges. But now with cloud-based technology, the process is much, much, much easier. And there are real opportunities to make money from this service as well as build stronger relationships with your (relieved) clients. 

The Five Benefits of Cloud-Based Bill Payment Services 

Cloud-based bill payment services (like the ones Bill.com offers) streamline and organize finances into a processed-based system that is secure and available anytime, anywhere. All activities normally associated with bill payment are migrated online and accompanied by automated reminders and workflows as well as enhanced document management and collaboration technologies. 

First, cloud-based bill payment services eliminate many manual processes. You no longer need to enter data by hand. For most services, you can input bills or contracts by scanning, faxing or emailing them. The system will then automate the workflow from reviewer to approver, eliminating time-consuming manual follow-up via email or phone. With its ability to store documents online, it also eliminates the need for visits to the filing room to hunt down contracts or past bills. Even better, you can assign a date for payment and the bill will be automatically paid on that date. 

Second, cloud-based bill payment services should sync with all major accounting software and banks, which saves you time and trouble when balancing books. For example, Bill.com syncs with QuickBooks, Xero, Intacct, NetSuite, and more. Copies of all bills, cancelled checks, contracts, and other documents are also filed online for fast access. 

Third, cloud-based bill payment services can reduce risk. Best practices can involve paying each bill through the provider’s account, which means your business is protected against errors or fraud. (Another plus: Bill.com offers Positive Pay protection which ensures a check cannot be cashed if it has been altered.) 

Fourth, the security provided by cloud-based bill payment services is absolutely comprehensive. This includes roles-based access and detailed audit trails that give you tight controls in addition to encryption, firewalls that prevent unauthorized access, physical security protocols for servers that house data, and FDIC-insured payments en route. 

Finally, cloud-based bill payment service providers should give clients on-demand answers to their queries. Your clients can access your branded, collaborative portal in order to inquire about an invoice, approve a bill or examine a cash flow forecast. All this can happen from any device including PCs, laptops, tablets or smartphones.

Learn how you can make your accounting firm “stickier” by:

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Monday, April 21, 2014 - 11:41

By Julie Lubetkin, VP of Strategic Partners

If you had to choose between a rotary phone and a smartphone, which one would you select? 

Sure, the landline phone has a certain nostalgia. But it does take a minute or so to dial out on it. The smartphone not only calls, but offers an array of apps that make your life decidedly easier. 

So which phone wins? I don’t think there’s much of a guessing game here. 

The point of that exercise is this: Technology makes a difference in your decision-making process. And if it makes a difference to you, it definitely makes a difference to your clients. 

In a study conducted by The Sleeter Group, 85 percent of small business owners surveyed said they want their accountant to help them be more proactive in helping them find and use technologies that can help them be more productive. And 76 percent reported that their current accountant was not being proactive enough. This next metric shouldn’t shock you: 70+ percent reported that they had changed their accounting firm in the past at least in part because the firm only provided responsive services.

The message is clear – paper-based operations and outdated technology won’t bring in new business. In fact, they contribute to negatives such as lapses in communications, a prevalence of labor-intensive, low-value activities and the biggest trespass of all – the inability to perform as a trusted financial advisor who can quickly identify big-picture performance and trends and act accordingly for clients.

Perhaps your system works well for you. But I challenge you to ask yourself these questions:

  • Can I access my clients’ information whenever I need it through any device including PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone? 
  • Can I offer my clients important document management capabilities that reduce paper reliance and create a library of important information for both my firm and my clients? 
  • If a natural disaster wiped out my office, would I still be able to continue business as usual the next day?

If your firm is heavily paper-reliant, then answering yes to these points may not be an option. Additionally, you might not be providing your clients with the service and convenience they deserve. This may lead clients to search for other accounting firms. And conversely, it might prevent businesses from actively seeking out or considering your firm for services. 

However, the transition to more modern operations built on cutting-edge yet easy-to-use technology does not have to be a challenging transition. Careful planning and strategic insight can ensure you adopt firm-elevating technology that will impress your clients and significantly increase the efficiency of your operations.

I invite you to join us for a webinar with Doug Sleeter, founder and president of The Sleeter Group, as he presents Playbook Essentials. Scheduled for Wednesday, April 23 at 11 am PT, the webinar will examine how to: 

•Execute strategic imperatives as outlined in the Strategic Imperatives Matrix, a checklist with tips that can guide you through changing times

•Tailor your service offerings to meet broader client needs

•Plan for uncertainty with nimble strategies

•Prioritize market opportunities and choose clients with sustainable demand

•Understand and identify technology trends and need

Register now. After all, you don’t want to be the rotary phone in a land of smartphones. 

 

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Friday, March 14, 2014 - 14:11

By Julie Carman, Sr. Director, Strategic Partners, Bill.com

A significant component that impacts the accounting profession is the resiliency (or lack of resiliency) to change. One very important variable toward change is the adoption of cloud technology. 

How can cloud technology influence people so that they find comfort and security to change? If you own a smartphone to text, shop online, and/or coordinate your travel plans you have already changed and adopted cloud technology. Now you can transfer this process of change and adoption to your accounting profession that will then ensure transactional benefits as it has for your personal life. Choosing cloud technology will help you respond to the ongoing challenges and drivers for the accounting profession including automated processes, optimized customer experience, attract and acquire new clients, expand into new markets, staying one step ahead of the competition, and many more attributes that will equal economic success.

Some of the key drivers that are expected to have the greatest impact on the accounting profession include the market demand for transparency, integrated reporting, stable yet flexible business models, succession plans, and a high quality talent pool. Adopting cloud technology will help you address these and other drivers that will impact the accountant industry for the next decade. 

Your technology choices will be vital to the success of your organization and will deeply separate the successful firms from the rest. The technology you choose should allow your firm to:

  • Serve and acquire more clients without increasing costs and staff
  • Scale your business and offer more financial and non-financial services
  • Expand into new markets
  • Automate workflow
  • Enhance efficiencies
  • Access data on-demand
  • Increase daily productivity
  • Establish and maintain an agile business model
  • Reduce the risk of fraud and regulations breach
  • Increase security, transparency, and trust

The world today is highly competitive, collaborative, and integrated. In order to gain a sustainable advantage, you must stay abreast and aligned with what impacts and drives the accounting industry. Cloud technology adoption will allow you to achieve this while providing you with real-time and relevant data that will give you visibility into economic scenarios and instantly view business information and trends so that you can build a high-performing, healthy, and growing firm.

Download and read the "Selecting the Right Technology" white paper to learn:

  • Steps to progress the firm's modernization efforts
  • Benefits of SaaS or cloud-based solutions for accounting professionals
  • Mistakes made when selecting new technology
  • Consideration points for evaluating technology and vendors

Access our on-demand webinar series featuring Bill.com and Doug Sleeter of The Sleeter Group titled “Get in the Game” to learn essential steps to position you for more profitability and productivity.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 11:06

By Julie Lubetkin, VP of Strategic Partners

The accounting world is shrinking. 

What normally constrained an accounting firm’s growth – location – has now been rendered obsolete with the advent of cloud technology that promotes collaboration and real-time information sharing no matter where you are or what you are doing. 

It is no secret that technology can provide your firm and your clients with a competitive edge. And yet, research shows that accounting professionals are often slow to adopt new technologies. 

In The Sleeter Group 2013 survey of small businesses that use an external accounting firm for bookkeeping, payroll or other financial services, a majority of respondents indicated that they prefer that their CPA help plan and implement technology changes for their business. And yet, almost half of the respondents said that their CPA was behind the curve on technology usage or they were not sure about the state of their accounting firm’s technology adoption. 

Another point of interest: The 2014 Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Survey eBook from Network Management Group and Insight Research found that 80 percent of respondents do not have a technology budget and 41 percent are not using a software as a service (SaaS) application which could be classified as cloud computing. Furthermore, only 32 percent indicated that they are either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to implement a SaaS tax or accounting application in the next two years.

There are many factors that impact how quickly (or slowly) accountants adopt new technology. Accountants, by trade, can be risk-averse and protective, by necessity, of their clients’ information. Hopefully, in future surveys we will see these numbers start to turn more in favor of the accounting professional truly leading on the technology front.

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