What's behind the clouds?

6th June 2016

A lot more than you may have come to expect, says FSN writer Lesley Meall, particularly when it comes to enterprise accounting solutions.

 

 

 

If you come to cloud-based software with expectations have been shaped by your personal use of mobile devices and consumer apps, your familiarity with social media platforms and your experiences with user-friendly small business software, you may expect all cloud software to be as light and fluffy as a cumulus cloud. It isn’t. Behind the clouds there is smart software, heavy-duty functionality and levels of support that may come as a pleasant surprise.   

Even entry level cloud software is becoming smarter by the day, as it automates and simplifies complex and time-consuming manual processes. A user of Xero bookkeeping and accounting software, for example, can now rely on it (among other things) to automatically download bank and credit card transactions, categorise expenses according to IRS-approved business deduction categories, estimate quarterly tax payments and generate a report detailing Schedule C data.  

Step up into the mid-market and as well as gaining enterprise functionality, you can find the scalability to deal with very large transaction volumes, plus a more supportive ‘software as a service plus service’ approach – in contrast to the lack of support associated with many ‘software as a service’ (SaaS) offerings. This helps to explain a recent Tech Market View from Angela Eager that: “There is growing acceptance of cloud in more complex back office areas.” 

Providers of cloud back-office solutions with the sort of heavy-duty functionality and hands-on support that mid-market organisations and complex implementations demand include: Aqilla and Xledger in accounting/enterprise resource planning (ERP); Blackline and Redwood Software in financial close/record-to-report; Tagetik and prevero in business intelligence (BI) /corporate performance management (CPM). 

Some of what this means in practice can be seen by considering Aqilla and Xledger. Both offer mid-range cloud accounting solutions for project-based multi-company multi-site organisations, with multicurrency and multi-jurisdictional tax functionality, on top of an industry standard database. They also boast built-in financial process automation that can increase productivity and built-in real time analysis capabilities that can help CFOs to be a strategic partner to the business. 

The sort of multi-currency functionality you get from a mid-range system such as Xledger, goes beyond allowing you to send invoices, reconcile accounts and get paid in numerous different currencies, as many small business SaaS bookkeeping and accounting systems do. “Our multicurrency reporting enables organisations to restate their books in their local currency and in up to three additional reporting currencies,” says Jo Sutton, head of operations at Xledger UK. 

“If you are an SME or mid-market organisation, Xledger also enables you to get the management information and analysis you need for the business - only previously available large enterprise systems – without having to get a third party provider involved,” says Sutton. “For financial and management accounting there are a plethora of pre-defined reports. On top of that, for business analysis, you can slice and dice and pivot,” she adds. 

Aqilla features built-in BI capabilities. For example, there are smart KPIs such as aged debt and liquidity ratios; smart tasks automatically monitor workflow for documents awaiting completion or approval; smart events can be set up to automatically monitor data-driven tasks and prompt you to attend to processes such as the approval of time sheets or expenses at the month end, or remind you to send quarterly tax returns.

Aqilla features built-in BI capabilities. For example, there are smart KPIs such as aged debt and liquidity ratios; smart tasks automatically monitor workflow for documents awaiting completion or approval; smart events can be set up to automatically monitor data-driven tasks and prompt you to attend to processes such as the approval of time sheets or expenses at the month end, or remind you to send quarterly tax returns.

Some of the functionality offered by Aqilla and Xledger is sector-specific; some of their strengths are regional. “Our data centres in the United Kingdom and geographic locale mark us as a natural choice for many clients who, for example, need to conform with Financial Conduct Authority regulations or guidance, or to meet the UK government’s G-Cloud and Digital Outcomes and Specialists standards,” explains Hugh Scantlebury, director, Aqilla.

One factor that may be boosting acceptance of back-office cloud applications in the mid-market may be their capacity to back this up with levels of ‘service’ not typically associated with SaaS software – from implementation and set up, through to ongoing support.  Xledger, for example, works with customers in over 40 countries around the globe, supported from offices in the UK, US, Norway and Sweden, and via a network of 80 partners.

Many entry-level cloud accounting systems offer little in the way of support – though they do enable bookkeepers and accountants to exploit their software to support clients who also use it. Things are different in the mid-market. “We focus on building and sustaining personal relationships with customers that reflect their individual and often very different needs,” says Scantlebury. That’s not something you often hear from a SaaS provider.

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