June 25, 2015

Adding it up – the CPA Checklist for Considering Cloud Services

Checklist-e1435362693217.jpgChanging your IT strategy is a major decision, but it can be the right decision. You have already thoroughly considered how your CPA firm may function better with cloud services—now is the time to move. Knowing what you need from the cloud, and what a cloud services provider will need from you, ensures a successful migration.

Use this checklist to fully prepare your firm.

Do your research; get multiple bids – There should be more than one cloud service provider involved in determining what you ultimately need for successful cloud operation. Ask probing questions like “Can you handle our firm?” or “How will you secure our data?” But also be prepared to answer questions from the provider, such as “What applications or services do you need delivered from the cloud?”  A cloud service provider’s experience with CPA firms is another major factor when considering options. Do they have CPA clients? How many and how long have they been working with CPA firms? These are all helpful questions when determining if the provider can handle the (often complex) applications CPA firms need hosted.

Take inventory and complete an internal audit – The hardware and accounting software applications your firm relies upon to serve your clients should be reviewed. Cloud service providers vary greatly in terms of capability to handle software for accounting firms. You’ll need to know if they possess the technical “horsepower” necessary to run application suites that can easily eat up bandwidth. Can they integrate the new cloud solution with firewall measures already in place, and will VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phones, if already installed, operate within the cloud solution? Also, let them know what your firm’s specialties are and what they mean to you and your clients. Knowing what you need to operate helps the (eventually) chosen cloud provider wrap a solution around your business.

Know what to expect when migrating – Find out when (evening, weekend) they plan to handle the bulk of the migration as well as the total work hours necessary overall. Much of the time quoted by the cloud service provider will involve testing and planning. Or it should. If one of the contenders you are considering is not heavily committing in these aspects, cut them loose now and move forward with the other options. Their ability to plan helps both parties find the small, overlooked details that may not have initially been considered but are vitally important to the successful implementation of the solution. The cloud provider does cloud migrations all of the time; rely on that experience to determine what you need. If your company’s IT point of contact is able to test the applications before your new solution goes live it will give you a sneak preview of how your firm’s applications will perform on the cloud. It will also be used to train your staff on how to use the application and what to expect.

Define your post-migration expectations – Do not choose a cloud service provider that will abandon you once your firm is on the cloud. You are investing in a solution and that investment comes with its own cost of doing business. You need to know that the cloud solution provider will be there when you need assistance. If an issue does happen, you need to have the ability to reach the provider in order to quickly diagnose and resolve it. Find a provider that has highly trained, well-informed representatives available on the help desk 24x7x365. This will ensure that any downtime is negligible while your uptime is nearly constant.

This checklist is a good start, though it is not all-encompassing. Be sure to continue doing your homework and ask any questions you feel are important to the process. The answers can open new ways of thinking about your software and hardware. Perhaps you thought a hybrid solution with some applications remaining on a local server was best, but now see that a full cloud solution is better—or vice versa. Rely on the cloud provider’s expertise, just as they would rely on yours. Doing so is the basis of a relationship that enables your business to thrive well into the future.

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