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CPA's Pre-Tax Season Cloud Computing Checklist

Published on December 20, 2016 by Cetrom

With 60-to-90-hour work weeks during tax season and pressing deadlines for filing or requesting extensions, there’s no room for technology troubles. But, inevitably, they crop up—VPN access goes down, shared files don’t sync properly or there’s latency accessing your accounting software. And of course, this happens when you’re at home after already putting in more than 15 hours. What if you never had to worry about this again? It’s possible… with cloud computing.

When you sit down this year with the rest of your CPA firm to review the good, bad and ugly of the tax season, pay special attention to your technology. While there are many things that can go wrong, addressing the five items in this cloud computing checklist can drastically alter your technology experience during your next tax season:

Security: Did your CPA firm lose data or suffer a malware attack this year? Sadly, these scenarios are more common than you would think. In fact, there have already been a number of ransomware attacks—lockdowns of individuals’ computers and mobile devices accompanied by demands for a few hundred dollars—on large institutions this year. That’s why it’s important to review your security measures regularly. Data and applications, like your accounting software, should be protected by industry best practices. To enhance this approach, and alleviate the burden on any in-house IT teams, consider cloud computing if you aren’t already hosting your data and applications. Cloud providers employ security plans with multiple layers of redundancy, built-in backup and recovery plans, a strong infrastructure and secure data centers. These precautions significantly reduce, if not eliminate, downtime and the risk of lost or compromised data.

Downtime & Support: AccountingWeb notes that in the last year, approximately 10 percent of accounting firms experienced a network failure that resulted in major downtime. CPA Practice Advisor estimates the hourly cost of downtime is approximately $500 per hour for every 10 employees. With accountants typically working beyond the normal nine-to-five business hours, it’s important to have round-the-clock support to minimize downtime. Further, if you find a vendor that eliminates the tiered support system, you can also reduce the time spent on the phone fixing an issue and focus more time on client work.

Data Capacity: Did your system lag during the last tax season? Increased latency can occur when an organization approaches its data capacity on the servers or bandwidth of its Internet service. To ensure better performance in 2017, take a look at how much data you store in house and the bandwidth of your Internet provider. Obtaining additional servers or bumping up a bracket with the ISP may solve your problems. If necessary, enlist the help of a third-part IT provider to determine exactly how much storage and bandwidth is necessary for your firm. This can prevent system hiccups that negatively impact day-to-day operations during the peak season.

Mobility: According to another AccountingWeb article, 51 percent of accountants do not have the ability to view, edit or update client accounting information remotely. This limits the flexibility of working at home after hours, requiring staff to spend long days at the office. However, hosting accounting software and client information in the cloud allows access to all data and applications from any device, safely and securely, regardless of location.

Maintenance: How much time did you have to focus on maintaining the performance of your on-premise hardware, mobile devices or software during the busy season? Was most of your time focused on putting out fires and getting staff re-connected to the system? With so many boxes to check off for daily and ongoing maintenance, it’s not surprising that you’re stretched thin. Consider enlisting the help of an outside IT provider to ensure your hardware and mobile devices are operating as expected, and that your software and licensing are updated as needed.

Completing this cloud computing checklist should be a priority for pre-tax season. The checklist will enable you to address any IT issues that occurred during tax season and help you improve your firm’s system going forward, which will lead to an increase in your staff’s productivity.