Like any modern business, I.T. is essential for every accountancy firm. Beyond its uses for administrative duties and marketing efforts, having an efficient I.T. infrastructure in place is especially pertinent to certain areas of accounting.
Traditionally, accounting firms, like many businesses out there, have relied on maintaining their own I.T. infrastructure. This involves running their own servers in a data room at their own premises, where their precious data is stored and accessed. For many years, this was the best and most popular option.
However, as technology has advanced and cloud computing has become commonplace in many industries, maintaining your own physical I.T. infrastructure has become inefficient, uneconomical and outdated. There is also evidence to suggest that it’s more vulnerable to the threat of cyber crime, which is a serious concern in the accounting sector.
Is there an I.T. solution for accounting firms? Yes. Say hello to IaaS. Managed Infrastructure-as-a-Service “lifts” your existing I.T. infrastructure from its physical server into the cloud, where your team can access their work files from any device, whether they’re in the office, at home or even on holiday. This gives your company unrivalled freedom and flexibility while offering robust security to safeguard your sensitive data.
After a slow start to embrace the idea of using a “hosted” model for managing client data and software applications, accounting firms have begun to quickly adopt this model in recent years, citing benefits including improved security, convenience, affordability and productivity.
So, is it time for your accounting firm to switch to IaaS? The answer is Iaa-yes.
What Is IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service)?
Managed Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) is a cloud computing solution that transforms the way that your company data is stored and accessed. With IaaS, your business’ files, documents, folders, applications and user accounts are hosted in the cloud, as opposed to on a private server located at your premises, eliminating the need for a physical I.T. infrastructure.
Because your company data is hosted in the cloud, your team can quickly and easily log-in to their workspace and access their files on any approved device. This gives them the freedom and flexibility to do their job at any time and from any place, whether that’s in the office, at court, at home, on the road or even on holiday.
It also eliminates the need for your employees to manually transfer files or documents between their work and personal devices, which can not only be tedious and inefficient, but increase the risk of a data breach.
With IaaS, your company’s data is stored on a dedicated server at a state-of-the-art data centre in a separate location. Here, your data is safe and secure. An ISO-accredited data centre meets the highest certification standards, equipped with fire detection and suppression systems, iris recognition entry systems, and temperature control to ensure optimal performance. It’s also monitored round the clock by a trained data security professional.
Infrastructure-as-a-Service offers robust failover and disaster recovery systems to ensure zero downtime or data loss. Your company data is backed up daily and duplicated in near-real-time at a separate data centre, so if a technological failure or environmental catastrophe occurs, your data cuts across to its sibling server swiftly and seamlessly, ensuring your firm stays up and running without disruption.
How much are all these amazing benefits going to cost me, you ask? You might be surprised to learn that IaaS is incredibly affordable. Managed IaaS works on a subscription-based model, much like other cloud services you’re probably already familiar with such as Dropbox and Clio. You only pay for the services you need on a per-user basis, making it an incredibly cost-effective option that offers great value for money.
Common I.T. Problems That Accounting Firms Face
Security is paramount for any accounting firm. Accountants handle highly sensitive, personal and valuable financial information. Ensuring the security of this data is essential, not only to protect the interests of their clients, but to safeguard the firm, too.
If an accounting firm doesn’t adequately protect its data, it risks eroding the trust of their clients, tarnishing their reputation and facing punishment. Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) can levy a fine of up to €10 million or 2% of a firm’s global turnover (whichever is higher) for minor offences, and double that figure for more severe offences.
Due to the ever-looming threat of cyber crime, security is an even more pressing issue in the accounting sector. Unfortunately, thanks to the wealth of client funds and financial information that they handle, accounting firms are a prime target for hackers and scammers.
Therefore, it’s critical that every accounting firm shores up the security of its data.
Accounting firms must comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the UK Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA) when dealing with personal data. Under both regulations, accountants must ensure that personal data is processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to the data subject.
If you discover a data breach, you must notify the ICO within 72 hours. Failure to do so can result in a fine of up to €10 million or 2% of your firm’s global turnover, whichever is higher. Even though the UK has just recently left the EU, the UK still needs to comply with the GDPR.
Mergers & Acquisitions
In recent years, many accounting firms have acted on the urge to merge. Mergers and acquisitions allow accounting firms, both large and small, to better adapt to industry changes, support their clients and staff, and manage succession planning.
However, when accounting firms merge, they often find that they are using different software and I.T. systems, resulting in a complex and disparate environment that becomes increasingly difficult to manage. Therefore, merger-friendly accounting firms need to be able to rely on a computing system that can be integrated quickly and easily.
On-Site I.T. Infrastructure
You may feel more comfortable storing your data on a private server that’s located at your own premises. However, the harsh reality is that there are too many vulnerabilities to manage and even the smallest of oversight can have a devastating impact.
Chances are your server room isn’t as secure as the Tier 3+, ISO-accredited data centres used by IaaS providers. Plus, if your data is only stored (and even backed up) at this one location, if catastrophe strikes (such as a fire or a flood), you’re in big trouble.
Like any business, an accounting firm that has its own physical, on-site I.T. infrastructure will be well aware of the costs involved. Not only is there the initial cost of purchasing, installing and configuring your own server(s), but there are numerous running costs involved, such as maintaining the server, purchasing additional hardware and upgrades in order to support more users and meet growing demands, and replacing the server(s) every five years, as recommended.
And then you have the cost of the server room itself, which involves electricity and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) costs. Maintaining your own I.T. infrastructure can make your firm more vulnerable to a data breach while placing a financial burden on your business that doesn’t provide great value for money.
How Can IaaS Help Accounting Firms?
IaaS improves the security of your data. For starters, your data is stored securely on dedicated servers at state-of-the-art, tier 3+ ISO-accredited UK data centres that meet the strictest certification standards. These data centres are installed with fire detection and suppression systems, temperature control and iris recognition entry systems, as well as being monitored around-the-clock by trained data security professionals.
Accessing your data is secure. We use two-factor authentication, robust cloud encryption, and firewall protection. Devices must be verified, and lost or stolen devices can be stripped of data immediately. With IaaS, your firm has control over who can access what data.
Greater Accessibility & Flexibility
Because it’s hosted in the cloud, IaaS allows you to access your data on any device, at any time, from any place. Your staff can simply log-in to their account on a trusted/enabled device and access their files, folders, applications, allowing them to do work at home, on the road or even on holiday.
No Downtime, No Data Loss
Your data is backed up/replicated in real time at a separate data centre in another location, so if catastrophe strikes at one data centre, your data is safe and still accessible. IaaS eliminates downtime or data loss, ensuring seamless business continuity.
With regulatory compliance an essential requirement in the accounting sector, an IaaS provider will ensure you remain on the right side of the law. Your new hosted infrastructure keeps you compliant in line with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018.
IaaS is a cost-effective and more economical model. Because your I.T. infrastructure is hosted in the cloud, it eliminates the need to purchase, install and maintain your own on-site servers. Instead, IaaS operates on a flexible subscription-based model so you only pay for the cloud services you need, meaning you get more value for your money. Plus, the proven disaster recovery system that IaaS offers reduces the hard-to-quantify costs associated with I.T. downtime. We all know how much accountants love to save money!
Improve Productivity & Profitability
The improved accessibility and agility that IaaS offers can boost your firm’s performance. Moving your I.T. infrastructure to the cloud makes it easier for your team to do their job, boosting productivity and, in turn, profitability. The ability to work easily and efficiently is critical for accounting firms, whose main source of revenue is the billable hour. The more hours a firm works, the more they can bill clients, and the more money they can make. In fact, 87% of IaaS users have found they have experienced “business acceleration.”
Accounting firms can then position these security, flexibility and accessibility capabilities as strengths to their clients, enhancing their existing relationships with clients while helping them to win more business.
Cloud infrastructure can be expanded on-demand and scaled back again when no longer needed. This eliminates the planning and wait times needed when expanding a physical I.T. infrastructure. IaaS is much more nimble and efficient. This is especially useful in the accounting sector, as it supports merger and acquisition activity and the subsequent integration in a quick and seamless fashion. Cloud scalability also transcends geography, supporting international mergers or firms opening new offices in different locations.
Additional Benefits of Switching to IaaS
Additional support team
Having a partner that’s working very closely with you on the underlying technology of your managed service provides an extension of your internal practice support and IT teams. They’ll develop the infrastructure, configure how systems communicate, and set up where and how the data transfers, and offer assistance and support whenever needed.
Reasons to Switch to IaaS
- Your I.T. staff are too busy maintaining your existing I.T. infrastructure, constantly putting out fires instead of maximising their talent and skills.
- Your I.T. infrastructure is old, inefficient and unreliable — it needs upgrading.
- Your company is growing or going through an acquisition, and you need an I.T. platform that can be easily installed and integrated across the entire organisation.
- Your staff tend to work remotely (perhaps they’re on the road a lot or they do a lot of work from home) and you want to be able to manage them in a secure and effective way.
- Your current I.T. infrastructure is too expensive and you need to switch to a more cost-effective I.T. solution while reaping the benefits of a modern system.
How Does the Process of Switching to IaaS Work?
Before the process begins, your Managed IaaS provider needs to carry out a pre-migration audit so they can determine the data that needs to be moved from your legacy system to the new hosted platform. This also gives them an understanding of the structure of the data, how best to store it in the cloud and which transfer method they need to use to ensure a swift and seamless migration.
First Cut of Data & Client Test
Your IaaS provider then submits a Data Request Application (DRA) for the customer to sign off. Once this has been done, they’re able to get the ball rolling by migrating a “first cut” of data from your existing system to the hosted infrastructure. At this stage, they give you the opportunity to test out the new platform. Any tweaks to the location or security of the data can be made, if required.
On an agreed date between you and our IaaS engineers, they make final preparations for the live migration of data. It’s likely that they’ll need to restrict your access to the data for a short period of time. IaaS migration technology allows providers to replicate a perfect mirror of your data, ensuring there are no glitches or loss of data.
Accessing the Hosted Desktop
Users log-in and connect remotely to the hosted platform via a terminal services (RDP) session using any compatible computer or mobile device. Each user and device needs to be approved before connecting. Many IaaS providers implement a two-factor authentication that verifies the identity of the user and confirms the health of their device. If a mobile device is lost or stolen, they can strip it of all data and log-in credentials with immediate effect.
Using the Hosted Desktop
For your employees, using the hosted desktop is effectively the same as using a traditional PC desktop; it looks, feels and behaves exactly the same, giving them access to all the files, folders and applications they need to do their job. The only difference is that the data and software is hosted in the cloud and accessed via the internet, as opposed to on the computer’s hard drive itself.
A Managed IaaS platform provides a Windows 10 look and feel for the user, with additional network security. Each user will have their own private Documents area, plus access to a shared Company Data folder. The shared Company Data folder can be set-up to suit the structure of your organisation, with access restricted to specific user groups.
Similarly, any programmes or applications that are hosted in the cloud can be restricted by user or groups of users, if required.
Why Your I.T. Staff Might Not Like the Sound of Switching to IaaS
When exploring the idea of switching from your legacy system to Managed IaaS, you may face resistance from your I.T. Director or department. The simple reason for this is that they see it as a threat to their job.
It removes the need for a physical infrastructure
Managed IaaS your company’s data from a local, on-site server to one of our secure, ISO-accredited data centres, where it’s hosted in the cloud. Therefore, IaaS removes the physical infrastructure that I.T. staff are responsible for maintaining.
We manage your I.T. infrastructure, not your I.T. team
When you switch to Managed IaaS, the provider is responsible for monitoring and maintaining your I.T. infrastructure, not your I.T. department. As cloud computing experts, they’re the ones who carried out the migration of your company data and built your new hosted platform. So if you have any issues, concerns or questions, you go to your IaaS provider without burdening your I.T. staff.
It’s a modern technology they may not understand
Some I.T. staff don’t like Managed IaaS simply because it’s a modern technology that’s different from the way that things have traditionally been done, and they don’t fully understand it. Perhaps your I.T. staff are worried about the security of Managed IaaS, falsely assuming that their company’s precious data is floating around the cyberspace and vulnerable to hackers.
Of course, they’d be gravely mistaken. Managed IaaS solution is entirely safe and secure. Your company data is stored on servers at ISO-accredited data centres, protected from external threats by encryption and firewalls, and supported by robust backup, recovery and replication systems.
Why Your I.T. Staff Should Embrace Managed IaaS
Despite their worries, grievances or objections, your I.T. staff should actually embrace Managed IaaS. Your business migrating from a legacy system to a hosted infrastructure opens up a whole host of opportunities for your I.T. team and gives them plenty of reasons to be excited about the future.
IaaS relieves your I.T. staff of the burden of constantly fixing issues with your I.T. infrastructure, which can be boring, tedious and come with its headaches. It frees them from being firefighters and allows them to be true I.T. professionals.
IaaS allows your I.T. staff to use their time, energy and attention in more beneficial ways, such as properly managing the company’s infrastructure while exploring, improving and innovating your company’s technology.
Switching to Managed IaaS actually increases the demand of your I.T. staff in other ways. The migration process requires a fair bit of housekeeping on your company data, such as deleting unnecessary files, emptying trash bins, and clearing out inbox folders. This is key to ensuring a smooth, seamless and swift migration process while maximising the amount of storage space you’ll have with your new hosted infrastructure.
Managed IaaS is not only a highly beneficial I.T. solution, it’s cost-effective. It eliminates the need to maintain an expensive physical infrastructure while our guaranteed 99.9% uptime reduces the costs associated with glitches and outages. As a result, Managed IaaS can help your business save money and free up capital that can potentially be invested into developing your I.T. team in new ways.
In fact, your business being burdened with an old, inefficient and uneconomical physical I.T. infrastructure should be a bigger cause for concern for your I.T. staff — or any department, for that matter.
Managed IaaS doesn’t necessarily spell doom and gloom for your I.T. department. It isn’t here to steal their jobs. In fact, IaaS can provide a new lease on life for your I.T. staff, relieving them of menial maintenance duties and enabling them to explore new and exciting technological opportunities that will both add value to their job and improve your business as a whole.
What’s the difference between the cloud and the internet?
In short, the internet is a global network of computers. You could think of it as a modern-day postal service, delivering information at sub-second speeds! On the other hand, the cloud is a network of servers. Some of these servers provide a service, while others store information before passing it to the internet for delivery.
What software can I run on a hosted desktop?
Basically, anything your business needs. This includes Microsoft Office, ERP, management software, financial software, case management software, and document management applications.
How quickly can I access my data?
You can access your data almost immediately. On any internet enabled device. What’s more, the right hosted desktop solution will keep your data robust, safe, and secure with automated backup services and best-in-class recovery processes. So, should a severe outage occur you’ll still have access to your data.
What is big data?
Big data describes the information a business has access to; and which has the potential to be used for discovery and analysis. This includes data from digital and traditional sources. So big data doesn’t have to be huge; in our online age, there is simply more of it. Cloud server services provide easy access and interpretation of big data which leads to improved decision making.