The mobile office – here, there – Cafe Rouge

I had a meeting the other day with a new client to discuss setting her up on E-conomic.As it happened the office boardrooms were fully booked, so armed with my trusty Acer netbook, we de-camped to the local Cafe Rouge and had our meeting there.

Meeting in the surroundings of the local hostelry made a nice change – the refreshments were certainly better than I would have got in the office – but what we all seem to take for granted is, that with the benefit of the local wi-fi service I had full access to what I would have shown the client had we remained in the office.

The ability to work anytime anywhere is a feature of 21st century living and one which we very quickly accept as being the norm. The technology behind it never ceases to fascinate me and the ability with which we can interact with the cloud is one of the wonders of modern life.

Maybe I am easily pleased – but I hope we never get too blasé about what is available.

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Reasons to use the Cloud – Volcanic eruptions!

The Twittersphere is awash with comments concerning the unprecedented disruption caused by the Icelandic Volcanic eruption (not content with bringing us to our knees with their banking collapse etc etc).

One comment which caught my attention was from @GaryTurner who wrote:

“Waiting for the 1st Ash Cloud Computing story to emerge about people doing their accounts from a foreign airport….”

Of course this is what Cloud Computing is all about – the ability to access your business critical information from anywhere any time. If the Norwegian prime minister can run his country from an Ipad in an airport lounge then Cloud users can run their businesses in the same manner.

There is a growing list of reasons why the Cloud makes so much sense – I just don’t suppose that anyone expected a Volcanic eruption to be one of them!

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Cloud Computing implementation – a case study

Project Summary

A new client wanted us to act for them in connection with the monthly processing of management accounts and preparation of annual statutory accounts. As a large (and growing) group of companies, the brief required us to not only dealwith the current situation but look down the road and plan for projected future expansion and development.

Pitch

When making the original pitch we’d suggested using E-conomic our online accounting system and on demonstration, the clients felt all their requirements would be well-met.

As this particular project ably demonstrates – one of the principal advantages of an online system is that teams working together ie the client and us – have mutual and instant access to real-time live data. Even the initial factor of the data not having to be re-keyed, cuts down on the human error factor as well as on staff time and costs. The mutual access enables straightforward communication with both parties seeing the same thing at the same time and able to discuss issues and agree changes, again, eliminating the bugbear of misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

Process

1. As well as processing current material, the client wanted 3 years worth of historical data brought in, giving a full transactional record on the one accounting system.

2. The client had been using Sage and the chart of accounts was approx 600 lines – where they had been using individual nominal accounts for each P&L analysis detail. A priority therefore, we felt, was to come up with a COA of more manageable proportions. Our team met with the client finance personnel and over a number of planning sessions, a new and improved COA was developed cutting the number of individual codes down to about 120 lines.

3. Any further required analysis was to be provided by tag descriptions to act as a suffix to the text field in an entry. A nominal ledger drill-down and extract could then be further analysed by use of the tag descriptor.
The setup teams also looked at the other features E-conomic offered, including departmental analysis and fixed asset register, and collaborated as to the planning and implementation of these features.

Historical Data Transfer

1. The import of the historical data involved the transfer of some 20,000 transactions from Sage into E-conomic. However E-conomic’s efficient and relatively simple to use import facility (a main consideration when making them our online system of choice) enables files of data in csv format to be mapped and imported.
To optimise efficiency, the Sage data was sorted by transaction type and the Sage codes were mapped to the new E-conomic ones by use of vlookup functionality.

2. At each stage the original Sage TB’s were compared with the E-conomic TB’s and any variances resolved.The data import process was completed in approx 4 hours. So what potentially could have been a bit of a nightmare in fact ran like a dream.

3. Once the data was imported, the two systems were run in parallel to iron out any further variances or differences that might have occurred.

Summary

The key to the success of the whole process was the preliminary planning and close liaison between the client setup teams and ourselves – facilitated by the ability to review data simultaneously.

The new system is now setup and ready to go live. Most importantly, we have a client whose expectations have been met and exceeded.

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We tried to talk it over – but the emails got in the way!

I have taken a week off over the Easter break – haven’t gone away but decided to stay at home and catch up with some writing and a multitude of little jobs that have been waiting for a convenient moment to complete (and will probably still be waiting when I go back to the office next week!).

Whilst the break from the normal routine is welcomed, unfortunately there is still the need to constantly check emails and in fact the first two days of my “holiday” were taken up entirely with dealing with urgent matters. ….And that, of course, is the problem with 24/7 contactability. You have to be extremely disciplined to cut yourself off completely …and I am afraid I am not that strong willed.

In many respects, email is a failed technology. We have all experienced the return to the office after a short absence to be faced with hundred of emails which take days to sort out. A large majority of these are trivia and unnecessary. The email from the colleague sitting at the desk next to yours is a sad reflection on our art of communication.

And now we are faced with so many different forms of communication – email, text and now Google Wave, IM and a myriad of others. Used efficiently, email is a marvellous work aid – used inefficiently, its a curse.

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Will UK accountants ever “get” the Cloud

There have been a number of interesting announcements from various Cloud providers over the last few days –E-conomic announced the other day that they had passed the 24,000 users ceiling and Xero presented their latest quarter global results which showed an increase in turnover and profits.

What strikes me about both these is that, positive though the announcements are, they deal with the global situation, whereas growth within the UK is generally still slow.

The announcement that has got the blogospheres going, however, is that of Iris’s investment in Free Agent. This is a major step forward in the UK accounting world as it shows that – at long last – a major on premise supplier has taken notice of the obvious benefits of Cloud Computing and is jumping on the bandwagon – albeit in a small way.

Actually, what is perhaps surprising about this news is not so much that Iris have taken a bold and sensible step but that it has taken them so long to do it. What needs to happen now is for other UK providers to take similar steps – whether they will or not remains to be seen.

Another aspect that seems to prevail is that many of the Cloud providers that report growth in their markets tend to concentrate on the smaller end of the SME spectrum. E-conomic and a few other similar players will do well in the Medium arena – the competition is wide open there and the first player that seizes the high ground will prevail.

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