Online accounting software is particularly attractive to small- to medium-sized business owners looking to reduce their IT costs and gain greater flexibility.
Just like desktop accounting software, online accounting software programs – sometimes referred to as cloud accounting software – range in functionality from basic to very sophisticated. In the online space there are more considerations to make than what the application itself can do.
When choosing an online or cloud accounting program, there are a number of questions you should ask when choosing a provider that can help ensure peace of mind and prevent problems down the track.
When using an online accounting program your data is stored remotely, not on your premises or within your IT environment. As such, you need to be sure your confidential company financial data is held at a professional, commercial data centre designed for this purpose.
Consider how your confidential information is accessed. Stored material should only be accessible by a registered user who decides who has access to vital company information, and ensures users only see the information needed to complete their job. Also, what back-up security measures are in place? A benefit to online accounting is having data stored off site, which can form an important part of a business disaster recovery plan. To safeguard your data, commercial data centres store information at two separate locations.
If you need to manage payroll and inventory, ensure that these features are included and understand any limitations before signing up. For example, in the subscription price the Reckon Accounts Hosted service includes payroll, inventory, and unlimited company data files – most providers have a different payment model so be sure to check this out.
It is very useful to have your full accounting program accessible online, but will it work on all operating systems? If you are using an Android tablet or an iPad, make sure your online accounting application works on these devices as well as desktop computers such as a Mac and PC.
If you are moving from a desktop accounting program to an online program, the easiest transition can be moving to the same or a similar program online. Well-established software programs are also great because they have a lot more resources available, such as classroom training and established networks of specialists. If you’re new to the program video demonstrations, webinars and in person demonstrations are a great way of seeing what a program looks like and how easy it will be to use and how the program works.
You need to have a reliable internet connection to operate an online accounting system. However, sometimes connections do drop out. Consider how the program will operate when the internet goes down. Can you continue working offline and then synchronise the data when internet access becomes available?
The last thing you would want is for the supplier that you place all your business data with to go out of business. Try and find out about the supplier’s financial position to ensure they are profitable and have a strong financial track record – this will be easier to do if they are a public company.
See if the provider has a track record of continual development and what their plans for the future look like. An important benefit of paying for software on a subscription basis is receiving regular upgrades and updates that ensure you’re always using the latest program.
Check if backups of your company data are easily accessible – or accessible at all.
There’s support, and then there’s support. Check to see what costs are involved in support and where support is provided. If support is provided from outside Australia you should know their hours of operation and be mindful of time zones. Online and cloud accounting solutions can be a very effective, time-saving addition to any business. By choosing carefully you will be investing in a program to help your business improve productivity for many years to come.
Pete Sanders, Reckon Business Division