May 15, 2020

Post Tax Season Cloud Computing Checklist for CPA Firms

With 60-to-90-hour work weeks during tax season and pressing deadlines for filing or requesting extensions, there’s no room for technology troubles. But, inevitably, they crop up—access to your files and folders goes down, shared files don’t sync properly or there’s latency accessing your accounting software. And of course, this happens when you’re at home after already putting in more than 15 hours and trying to balance the current remote work environment during COVID-19.

When you sit down this year with the rest of your CPA firm to review the good, bad and ugly of the past tax season, pay special attention to your technology. What if you never had to worry about these issues again? Well it's possible... with a strong cloud hosting solution. While there are many things that can go wrong, addressing the five items in this cloud computing checklist can drastically alter your technology experience during tax season:

Security: Did your CPA firm lose data or suffer a malware attack this year? Sadly, these scenarios are more common than you would think. It's no longer a matter of if but when. In fact, Google reported a 350% increase in phishing websites between January-March 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even small CPA Firms are a target as hackers assume they do not have the security infrastructure in place to combat these threats. That’s why it’s important to review your security measures and policies regularly and work with an IT provider that has an experienced team of security experts who know what to look for and how to combat these threats.

Your data and applications should be protected by industry best practices. To enhance this approach, and alleviate the burden on any in-house IT teams, consider cloud computing if you aren’t already hosting your data and applications. Cloud providers should employ security plans with multiple layers of redundancy, built-in data backups and recovery plans, AI-based security technologies, two-factor authentication deployed on all access systems and a strong infrastructure and secure data centers. These precautions significantly reduce the chance of downtime and the risk of lost or compromised data.

Downtime & Support: Journal of Accountancy shared an IBM report that data breaches can cost a company an average of approximately $150 per record. Given that the average size of a data breach is 25, 575 records (according to that same report), that quickly adds up. Additionally, CPA Practice Advisor estimates the hourly cost of downtime is approximately $500+ per hour for every 10 employees. With accountants typically working beyond the normal nine-to-five business hours, it’s important to have round-the-clock support to minimize downtime. Further, if you find a vendor that eliminates the tiered support system, you can also reduce the time spent on the phone fixing an issue and focus more time on client work.

Data Capacity: Did your system lag during tax season? Increased latency can occur when an organization approaches its data capacity on the servers or bandwidth of its Internet service. To ensure better performance, take a look at how much data you store in house and the bandwidth of your Internet provider. Obtaining additional servers or bumping up a bracket with the ISP may solve your problems. If necessary, enlist the help of a third-part IT provider to determine exactly how much storage and bandwidth is necessary for your firm. This can prevent system hiccups that negatively impact day-to-day operations during the peak season.

Mobility: A large majority of CPA Firms moved their staff to their home office environments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether new to a telecommuting model or not, this en masse shift to a remote work environment presented some IT challenges, access issues, collaboration and document share limitations and more for some firms. However, hosting accounting software and client information in the cloud allows access to all data and applications from any device, safely and securely, regardless of location.

Maintenance: How much time did you have to focus on maintaining the performance of your on-premise hardware, mobile devices or software during the busy season? Was most of your time focused on putting out fires, getting staff re-connected to the system or set up in their remote environment? With so many boxes to check off for daily and ongoing maintenance, it’s not surprising that you’re stretched thin. Consider enlisting the help of an outside IT provider to ensure your hardware and mobile devices are operating as expected, and that your software and licensing are updated as needed.

Completing this cloud computing checklist should be a priority post-tax season. The checklist will enable you to address any IT issues that occurred during tax season and help you improve your firm’s system going forward, which will lead to an increase in your staff’s productivity.

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