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There is a lot of discussion going on about Cloud Computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) being utilized by organizations, with recent studies showing adoption on the rise. With Thomson Reuters/Creative Solutions long time hosting of their Virtual Office Suite and CCH rolling out their SaaS products on October 30, 2010, the topic is heating up within the accounting profession but there have been no specific studies done on adoption in firms.

The Association for Accounting Administration (AAA) has answered the call with another groundbreaking survey which was sent out to member firms in November, 2009. One hundred and thirteen firms participated in the study with the intent of finding out what firms would have in place for the upcoming 2010 busy season. For purposes of this survey, SaaS was defined to include all online services and applications that are hosted by another Not all questions were answered by all respondents so the responses may not add up to the total participants. AAA will also be hosting a webinar on December 10 to provide an Executive Summary of the findings and how SaaS may impact various parts of our practice into the future.

Below are the core findings of the study:

Online Banking: One of the most prevalent used web-based applications was online banking services, where 81% (90 of 111 respondents) of firms accessed balances and statements as well as initiated transfers. Most individuals utilize online banking at home so it would make sense that firms would utilize it in their offices as well.

Remote Deposits: Another well-used web-based service was using the remote scan capability which allows firms to scan checks in their office, review the image onscreen, and then submit the check for deposit. More than half (60 of 112 respondents) utilized this feature which quickly pays for itself as it eliminates much of the time spent completting deposit slips and going to the bank. Also, as the bank will store the images for the firm, there is much less need to make additional copies to be stored on the firm’s network.

Credit Card Acceptance: More and more firms are accepting credit cards with many targeting the practice towards clients that they feel my be at risk of not being able to pay. The survey found 40 firms were accepting credit card payments with the most prevalent vendor being Net1CreditCards which 7 firms utilized and no other vendor garnering more than one response. 

Online Payroll: Outsourcing payroll was the most dominant SaaS application utlized by 84% (95 of 113 firms) of respondents. 26 firms utilized ADP and 25 utilized Paychex followed by a handful of PayCor and QuickBooks. AAA firms have found that payroll processing fees with the larger providers is highly negotiable as these vendors often see accounting firms as prime referral resources.

Hosted Accounting Applications: Just under 19% (21 of 113) of firms were using web-based accounting applications with the most dominant being QuickBooks Online including those hosted by Right Networks and a few firms that utilized Xcentric hosted solutions.

Online Tax Research: Research was amongst the first applications to go to the web and virtually all firms have at least one, if not more, different tax research products. The survey found that 65 firms utilized RIA/Thomson, 57 utilized CCH/WoltersKluwer, and that 34 firms also used BNA.

Online Tax Processing: The most dominant web-based tax application was CCH’s Global Fx product which had 20 users, followed by 11 respondents utilizing Thomson GoTax RS and five Thomson UltraTax firms.

Outsourced Workflow: A number of web-based workflow tools have entered the accounting marketplace ranging from stand-alone tools such as XpiTax XCM (12 firms), and integrated tools including Thomson GoFileRoom’s Firmflow (10 firms) and CCH’s recently released WorkStream (7 firms).

Online Bookmarking of Tax Source Documents: Only a handful of firms used this technology which included Copanion GruntWorx, SurePrep and Thomson. These firms scanned the source documents within their offices and then sent them to a website to be organized and bookmarked.

Audit Confirmations: Utilizing web services to assist with audit confirmations is becoming more popular amongst firms with 15 firms utilizing Capital Confirmation and 6 firms utilizing AuditConfirmations.com. While a few other services were mentioend, one firm was using their portal to send them to clients.

Document Management: The survey found Thomson Reuters to be the clear leader for web-based document management with 17 respondents using their GoFileRoom product and 15 using the File Cabinet Solution. CCH followed this with 14 respondents stating they were using the online document management tool.

Hosted Portal: The SaaS study found that 35 firms had implemented a portal solution with products selected including CCH, Thomson GoFileRoom and Virutal Office, Xcentric, Doc-It, LeapFile and Sharefile.

Email Archival and Encryption: The survey found that 18 respondents utilized a web-based email archival solution including Postini, Xcentric, MxLogic and LeapFile for storing copies of all emails offsite.

Outsourced Spam/Antivirus: The survey also found that 67 firms utilized a remailer service to filter their email prior to delivering the “good or questionable” emails to the firm’s Exchange server. 29 firms utilized Postini, 8 utilized MxLogic and 7 used AppRiver with the balance being split amongst a number of local and boutique providers.

Web-based Backup: Pushing backups offsite is expected to be one of the fastest growing services as legacy tape systems bog down due to the increase in digital files as firms transition to a ‘less paper” environement. The survey found that 8 respondents used Xcentric Backup, 4 utilized Iron Mountain and 4 used Mozy.

Data Conferencing: More than half of the respondents utilized a data conferencing tool to access information via the web witht he most dominant being WebEx and GoToMyPC with 15 respondents each. This was followed by LogMeIn with 13 responses and GoToMeeting with 9 responses, and a few other providers.

Hosted Infrastructure: One of the bigger surprises in the survey was that one fifth of the respondents had outsourced their entire infrastructure to a third party with Xcentric’s GrayMatter solution being the most dominant with 19 respondents in the survey.

Other SaaS Findings: The survey also asked what other applications firms were using in a hosted environment, which included the following products.

  • Marketing: SalesLogix, SalesForce and BizActions for customer relationship management.
  • Audit Analytics: ProfitCents for industry statistics to help shape audit proposals and planning.
  • Human Resources: Halogen, Success Factors, and HRN Performance Pro for managing staffing reporting and Prostaff for scheduling.
  • CPE Tracking: Reqwired for managing staff CPE hours with multiple reporting requirements.
  • Retirement Administration: Relius, Benergy, and People Edge for benefits and retirement planning.
  • Accounts Payable: Bill and AnyBill for managing accounts payable workflow.
  • Practice Management: OpenAir for tracking time and billing.

SaaS promises to lower the cost and give broader access to applications over the next few years. With that in mind AAA will plan on surveying member firms at least every two years to ensure that member firms have the most timely and accurate information available to drive your firm’s future direction.

Roman Kepczyk
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Roman Kepczyk offers over 25 years of CPA firm experienceRead more...

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