The Virtual Office

One of the advantages in setting up my new business, RFM Associates is that I now have the opportunity to practice what I have been preaching about setting up a virtual office.

Events have proceeded much quicker than I had originally anticipated and I now have Uzma Fatima working with me and running our ever growing outsourcing operation.

One of the challenges has been how we can easily work together and communicate, given that we are at separate locations. Fortunately the answer to this, as with many things, is in the Cloud.

There were a number of different aspects we had to address – email, file sharing, telephone were the main ones and we dealt with them as follows:

1. Email

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A new beginning

When I qualified more years ago than I care to remember and joined the family firm of Bellman Messik as the third generation of Messik accountants, I rather thought that this was a job for life. As we all know, Life is what happens when you are making other plans and little did I realise that Bellman Messik would be followed by Jayson Newman, Numerica and then Vantis.

What did remain constant throughout, however, was my interest in IT, gadgets and eventually Cloud Computing -the latter rather taking on a life of its own. As I became more involved with the concept, which started with Easycounting, it quickly became obvious (to me at least) that this technology was the way of the future and the reasons for adopting the Cloud were so obvious that they would hardly need justifying.

I am still convinced of the former – although I was obviously wrong about the latter. Few in the accounting profession have been convinced although the number is continuing to grow. I believe that business users get the idea and as I have often espoused – it will be the business users that provide the momentum as they demand a better way of dealing with their affairs.

New technology is often called Disruptive technology – disruptive in the sense that it challenges the current paradigm. It attracts criticism out of ignorance and fear of change. It is the early adopters and innovators that push the idea forward.

Well, after those more years than I care to remember, I have now decided that it is time for my next great challenge. I have resigned from Practice (I reckoned that if I couldn’t get it right after all this time, I never would) and have decided to become more of a loud mouth than before on the subject of Cloud Computing.

I have set up my own consultancy –RFM Associates which will assist businesses and the profession to elevate their business processes to the Cloud. Education – Advice – Implementation are the key aspects and I will pushing these in the months and years ahead.

I am excited about this new challenge and I look forward to contacting many of you in my new role in the near future.

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Cloud myths – half truths and propaganda

A headline in the Times business news of Friday 18th June reads:

“Investors thankful for Sage’s wisdom in steering clear of the clouds”

The article itself goes on to explain that Intuit which “..has been quick to embrace the new world of “cloud computing” has had problems in that its servers went down for two days and its “300,000” small business users have been without access as a result. Consequently Sage is hoping to pick up new users.

I must confess to having had to read this article twice before I could fully take in the absolute nonsense it was spouting and the sheer stupidity of its content.

No doubt the failure of Intuit’s servers is a major issue – disruptive in the true sense of the word – and no doubt someone is in hot water for allowing it to happen. But one incident such as this is not a reason to abandon a new technology – even less justification for maintaining the old – especially when it is Sage.

I know of one major UK accountancy firm whose City office was without power for three days earlier this year when there was a major fault at the electricity sub station. As a result none of the staff could work in the office and had to be sent to other locations – I didn’t hear any one saying that as a result on premise servers and applications needed to be abandoned in favour of the Cloud (although had they been using the Cloud staff could work easily from home or anywhere else!). When a train breaks down there is hardly a cry to return to the horse and cart (even though there may be some in favour of such a move).

And surely this incident must be looked at in the same way. Of course, server failures – irrespective of where they are situated – are going to cause disruption but it is not a problem restricted to the Cloud.

If the gainsayers need foundation for their arguments they need to come up with something better than this!

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Living with my IPad – literally!

I have had my IPad for 4 weeks or so and during that time it has hardly left my side – my wife is threatening to sue me for adultery, citing my IPad as co-respondent – I have promised to attend counselling sessions!

But, seriously though (really – I was only joking – sort of) what are my views on this amazing piece of kit after having used it in real life situations over the past few weeks?

Well, first off I am still convinced that it will, eventually, change the small net book computing market. It is comfortable to use and for emailing and web surfing there is no equal. Some web sites have not been fully optimised for the IPad – I am not just talking about the absence of Flash which, admittedly, can be annoying at times – but as time progresses this will improve (this, after all is still version 1).

What does take a bit of getting used to is the lack of any accessible file structure per-se. There are numerous applications which allow you to have a quasi windows – explorer experience but via your laptop which to me somehow misses the point.

However, the application market place is a wonderful resource and there are excellent applications that enable easy working with Microsoft Office files. Best of these is Documents To Go which enables easy synchronisation with DropBox and Google Docs.

Additionally there are some great notetaking applications available – I like using Note Taking HD which enables note taking by writing with your finger on the screen – a bit strange at first but you quickly get used to it. Notes can then be emailed in PDF format. The best application is Evernote which enables synchronisation between all my computers and my Iphone.

I have even made Skype calls using the IPad. Video calls are not possible but the sound quality for voice calls is excellent. I won’t embarrass a well known commentator with whom I was speaking the other day – he didn’t realise that the IPad had a microphone!

Using it in meetings is an interesting experience – it usually ends up with people spending more time talking about and looking at the IPad than the main subject of the meeting.

So my verdict – very definitely 10/10.

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If its broke – fix it!

There has recently been a flurry of comment on the AccountingWeb Cloud – Accounting discussion group. Much of it is the same, somewhat depressing, comments from the gainsayers coming up with the same old negative responses to the whole concept of using the Cloud for everyday business processes.

There was an excellent blog written last year (I am afraid I can’t recall the author) which likened the apparent hostility and fear of disruptive technology to the negative and scaremongering criticisms of the steam trains that were introduced in the 19th Century – and it fascinates me that the whole subject of the Cloud should generate such passionate arguments.

On one level, I suppose it is positive that there is a debate, but I fail to understand the hostility to the concept – it is very much a case of if you are an adopter you are passionately in favour and if you are not – you are either indifferent or passionately against.

I gave an interview the other day to some business school students who were researching into the Cloud Computing market and were asking my views on the current state of play in the UK. I found myself pontificating on the issues that have been raised extensively in this blog and elsewhere and explaining how Sage has such a stranglehold on the UK accounting market. I went on to postulate that online accounting vendors were doing much better in Scandinavia and the Netherlands because Sage was not a barrier to entry there in the same way that it is in the UK and then was asked the money shot question – how did I see the future growth or otherwise of the Cloud Computing market.

Change shouldn’t necessarily happen for changes sake – if it aint broke don’t fix it holds true in this marketplace as much as any other. Change should and must have benefits – speed up processes, run more efficiently, save costs etc. etc. Exactly what Cloud Computing offers.

But of course what many people are turning a blind eye to is that Sage is broke – it doesn’t run more efficiently and it is considerably more expensive. When one of my staff is trying to justify to a Partner that the cost overrun of a job is due to problems installing the client’s version of Sage onto our network before he could work on it, you have to ask yourself – why put up with it.

What the marketplace needs at the moment is for a major player to announce that it is not going to use Sage for its clients but adopt an online system instead and that clients will have to adapt accordingly. It is a brave organisation that adopts that approach but they will become leaders of a group that will – inevitably – grow over time and will reap the benefits accordingly.

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What’s the difference between Sage and an ostrich?

@Duanejackson’s excellent blog today highlights the amazing comments by the CEO of Sage about SAAS. He quotes:

“As Sage put out their results yesterday, their CEO said:

“Well, many of the people who’ve launched SaaS products in the last four/five years and that industry analysts get very excited about, even though most of them have got less than 5,000 customers, is that what those solutions are is actually desktop solutions online…..”

We shouldn’t really be surprised at this head in the sand attitude. A few years ago I had fairly detailed talks with Sage about them buying Easycounting as a way to enter the, then, nascent SAAS market. The talks were somewhat complicated by Sage executives leaving the company as soon as we had met with them but eventually we got to meet the Sage technical director.

He quickly killed the idea as he was unable to see why there should be any demand for online accounting. This forward looking attitude is no doubt healthy for the director of a FT 100 company – but, hey, Sage is an FT 100 company so what do I know.

I will leave the Sage bashing to Duane and @DAHowlett – after all they are much better at it than I. However it is interesting to speculate why Sage have such a blinkered view of the Cloud.

There is one reason, of course. One of the major characteristics of the SAAS model is that prices are based on per entity costs with no ongoing licence, upgrade and support fees – all of which Sage charge at exorbitant rates.

The current SAAS model just doesn’t work for them and until they can find a way of monetizing it and competing in the Cloud market place, they will stay away from it.

Of course, the problem with sticking your head in the sand is that you have an exposed backside….I think there will be a long queue to be the first to kick it!

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