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Software as a Service (SaaS) Back to the Time Sharing Future

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a world, almost forgotten now, where only a few people knew how to type. Since then, computer use has grown exponentially and the range of computer device sizes would make a clothing store proud. Almost everyone is learning how to type so they can, if they choose, use some small percentage of the hundreds of thousands of computing applications available.

One of the ways we used computing applications back in the 1960s was dubbed “Time Sharing.” This system enabled the use of a terminal (keyboard and paper or keyboard and monitor) to send an electronic signal from the terminal connected to a telephone modem connected to a telephone line that would support transport through telephone cabling to a modem connected to a large computer in some other location. Time-sharing gave users access to applications and computing power that could be used as needed. Fees for this service were typically determined by minutes of connect time or on some contractual basis.

IBM and GE were early pioneers with time sharing applications for the CPA. These were accessible in the 1970s and focused on financial calculations, such as tax projections, real estate analysis, financial ratios and formulas. Numbers were typed in through a Telex teletype or IBM selectric typewriter. Maximum print speeds for these workhorses were 10 to 15 characters per second.

Fast forward to 2009, and computers and applications are more numerous and a whole lot faster. The time-sharing application has been re-engineered to include any combination of computers and Smartphones, wireless and wired networks, server farms, private company intranets and more. The applications being used are boundless. Today’s time-sharing supports full service banking, buying and selling through stores like Amazon or eBay, renting a movie, ordering a pizza, sending and receiving emails and a cornucopia of more.

One of the good things about language is that it is dynamic. One example is how the phrase “Time-Sharing” has now morphed into “Software as a Service (SaaS).” The SaaS world is expanding based on the foundation of better technology resources – bigger and faster computers, bigger and faster storage devices, bigger and faster broadband communications, better connectivity for user computing such as desktops, notebooks, netbooks and Smartphones.  We still need to know to use a QWERTY keyboard, along with some mouse or touchpad and click action thrown in.

SaaS programs solely exist in an Internet-enabled universe. If you have access to the internet, and are properly credentialed (i.e. you’ve registered and/or paid!) you can obtain access to most any SaaS application. SaaS is just a part of the larger picture of Web 2.0 and Cloud Computing. Web 2.0 is primarily associated with websites and web tools that promote interactive collaboration, such as Google Apps, Microsoft Live, and social networking sites.

The world of Cloud Computing is, appropriately enough, at a higher level, reflecting many more things that we do (or can do) involving remotely available information, programs and computing infrastructure. The Cloud service center is far more IT-centric and secure than any local computer installation will be. Mark Nichols, Founder and General Manager of Mission Critical IS in Denver (www.missioncriticalis.com) put it this way: “Service centers supporting SaaS applications have far lower risk than any laptop or desktop. This is due to the very real potential for loss of any single computer to theft, hard disk failure, equipment breakage, security breach or user misuse of the device. Data and equipment backup in the service center cannot be matched by individual computers or SMB office networks.”

This translated to the user realigning how they use computing power. For example, instead of purchasing an accounting system, with installation, maintenance, updating and backup issues, a business can use the program over a high speed data connection. The programs run either through a secure web browser or custom interface and can be run from any device with proper authorization and password controls.

Of course, says the CPA, the remote location of applications is OK. However, what about the issues of data control, privacy and the very real possibility that someone at the service center will have access to the data? This issue can be resolved by assessing how the service center is equipped to control the processing that goes through their system AND by assessing the SaaS provider’s internal operational controls. Signing up with Uncle Max’s service center and ice cream store is not a logical choice. You need to do the necessary investigation to be assured that the SaaS application that you want processed can be accomplished in safety and with all the privacy controls installed and functioning.

SaaS Applications

There are many, many SaaS products, services and applications. We have selected a few to give you the idea of opportunities available to your clients and your practice. Remember, we are not endorsing these products but rather explaining some of their features and benefits. You should note, too, that we have not included any SoSaaS (Same old Software, as a Service). These offerings are simply “hosted” LAN products and while they are accessible via the Internet and they are, at least in some cases, licensed on a “rental” basis, they are NOT, in our opinion, true SaaS in that they were not designed from the ground up as Web 2.0 style products. Bottom line: ASP is NOT necessarily SaaS. What to use requires your expertise and insights to assess and determine the product’s value for your client’s need.

• Accountants Relief
• Bill.com
• GoFileRoom
• GoSystem Tax
• Intacct
• Orange Door
• PayCycle
• SmartVault
Accountants Relief

Accounting Relief is marketed and sold only to practicing accountants. The system has been designed to be customized as needed for each user. This means that there are options to select and modify the way that the accounting functions are used. After some learning, the CPA can be in a valuable position to assist their client with these changes.

The Accounting Relief package includes a comprehensive write-up, trial balance system and a full-featured bookkeeping module. As a web-based application, accountants and clients can work from any location eliminating the need to transfer and synchronize files. In addition, the system has modules for payroll – Payroll Relief.

This basic bookkeeping system comes at a cost-effective price when used within your practice for several or a lot of clients. One price for unlimited use of Accounting Relief makes implementation inexpensive. All staff and all staff can be licensed for $99 per month or $995 per year. Fees you charge clients are not prescribed or regulated by Accounting Relief. You may resell any bookkeeping module to your clients at a price that can be set and reset as client needs change.

Rick Telberg, of the BayStreet Group and contributing writer for the AICPA says, “Accounting Relief is the first unified system that includes everything that accountants and their small business clients need — a comprehensive write-up, trial balance, and financial reporting system for accountants, combined with a robust, fully customizable bookkeeping module for clients.”

The system provides for simplifying data entry from credit card and online banking transactions through an automated direct import. Another control feature is the capability to restrict access to any of the modules to protect sensitive company information. A basic system at a basic price.

Bill.com

Paying bills is required; it is not even close to being one of the fun things in life. Bill.com is a SaaS application to simplify the data entry and subsequent payment through this online process. This bookkeeping resource is fast and easy to setup and to use. If you have clients with lots of bills to pay every month, this system can reduce the effort needed. No checks to write, stuff envelopes, stamp and mail. Reconciliation of accounts is also a lot easier.

Bill payment can be connected to multiple bank accounts, so that a company with many offices can pay bills through one central bank or select local banks to handle the transaction. The system includes all policy and operations appropriate processing controls, such as: audit trails, accounting software integration, and secure bill payment. The transactions flow through to any financial system and therefore supports internal and external reporting requirements.

The system stores digital copies of bills, contracts, and past payments that have been previously received in paper or digital format. There is no limit to the size of this electronic storage cabinet. Through its web interface any authorized user can access this information.

Bill.com is an easy way to handle bill and payment transactions that flow through the company on a daily basis. It supports your small or midsize business client. In addition it can assist you, the CPA, with reporting and controls necessary for any services that you may provide for the client.  While Bill.Com is not a full blown General Ledger Financial System, there are many client situations where doing bill payment is the only significant requirement. The data files can be synchronized with QuickBooks and Intacct when needed.

The Go Series

The publishing giant – Thompson Reuters – has a range of accounting products. They state that more than 50,000 accountants and tax professionals use their accounting software and services for tax preparation, document management, payroll processing, practice management, and more. What follows describes a few of the SaaS packages.

GoFileRoom    
GoFileRoom ES supports scanning and document importing to be entered into a digital file cabinet. Once stored, each document can be retrieved for analysis and review. Through their web interface, each document can be retrieved by the company or the CPA through any authorized web connection. The focus of the application is to provide data collection and management of all work related documents.

The documents can be integrated with and accessed by Go’s core tax and accounting applications. There is also an interface for the Microsoft Office suite of applications (2000 or higher). There is no “standard” price for GoFileRoom as the fees will vary by application features selected and server space requirements. A quote is provided before you sign an agreement

For use, each computer or workstation that will access the system has to have several specific programs installed - GoFileRoom Adobe, GoFileRoom Office, and GoFileRoom Outlook. This is not complicated, just an operational requirement.

An important feature is the security and controls that GoFileRoom supports. Each document as well as the entire file can be protected behind passwords and other access restrictions. Backups are also part of the Go services.

GoSystem Tax
GoSystem Tax RS is used by 9 of the top 10 firms in the country. Like many tax preparation systems, it standardizes tax preparation throughout every office and all personnel. Thus, multi-office firms can all use the same interface and access one common database for client information. A fundamental feature is that the system can be scaled to handle the up and down volume between tax season, year-end and the rest of the work year.

Through the SaaS interface, data entry, file access and report preparation operations are protected within Go’s online environment. While, this is a standard feature of SaaS applications, it is more complex when you are allowing access to multiple locations across the country.

GoSystem Tax can be integrated with other accounting applications that support direct import of tax-related accounting transactions. This includes the Go Enterprise Suite of tax processing, audit and accounting workflow solutions, such as GoFileRoom, Engagement CS, and Practice CS. The Enterprise Suite also offers a coordinated workflow with the CS Professional Suite, Checkpoint®, and more.

Intacct

Intacct's financial management and accounting system is designed for a wide range of companies from startup to mid-sized organizations. Intaact is a SaaS application accessible over any secure Internet access point. The Intacct financial management and accounting system is designed to be easy to use and configure. The total cost of ownership needs to be determined by you as you assess how the application can work within your firm.

Intacct has multiple application choices:
• Intacct
financial management system for small and midsized businesses includes robust on-demand financial management and accounting applications.
• Intacct for Small Business
for growing small businesses that are ready to move up from an entry level accounting system like QuickBooks or Peachtree. 
• Intacct for the Enterprise
provides global business management capabilities at a reasonable price. This is for companies with multiple business units or who transact in multiple currencies. Intacct for the Enterprise features real-time financial consolidation, robust multi-entity and multi-subsidiary management and rich, FAS 52 compliant multi-currency support.
• Intacct Accountant Edition
In partnership with CPA2Biz, this edition is the AICPA preferred on-demand financial management solution for accounting firms and their clients. It is designed to transform your firm’s client accounting service line by expanding what and how you serve your small and growing business clients.

Whether you are starting from scratch, expanding from entry level accounting systems or need new ways to support your larger clients, using Intaact SaaS has a solution to consider. The company includes various levels of customer support options as part of its monthly fee. After all, as you will be providing continuous support to your client, it is important to keep that service provider nearby when a question needs resolution.

Orange Door

Orange Tax Suite Pro is a SaaS based system that delivers a suite of professional tax preparation software. It provides the appropriate combination of tax return preparation and all related data entry requirements. The features included are focused on support for the small and medium-sized businesses. You need to compare prices on a current basis, not rely on what their web site declares or what was written about last year.

Orange Tax Suite Pro supports your tax preparation needs through their hosted server site. Their application includes access for clients through a secure client portal. Clients will be able to view whatever you allow them to see – finished returns or data entry. This can include the current year along with prior years. OrangeDoor also provides unlimited E-filing and unlimited state returns

As OrangeDoor is focused on the small and medium sized CPA firm, you need to test and evaluate if the support level works for you.

PayCycle

PayCycle provides SaaS based payroll services. If you provide payroll support or want to deliver a payroll solution to your clients, consider how PayCycle can be implemented. This application does compete with standalone applications that you can install on a computer and control. However the ability to have access to a system that is updated and maintained 24/7 can be appealing.

Data entry for both employee setup information and pay period transactions can be accomplished through a secure internet connected device. This means data can be updated by someone at any authorized location – main office, sub-office, or home-office. You can even do payroll while traveling – make sure you are on a secure connection. Pay checks can be generated or you can use employee direct deposit (provided at no additional cost). The system handles all payroll tax calculations and reporting. This includes federal and most states.

Now, the current events for PayCycle include being purchased by Intuit. The QuickBooks and TurboTax provider now does payroll. This should not reduce the company’s ability to deliver payroll support for its customers. Rather it should expand their client base as they tap into the large customer base of Intuit.

Key for a payroll system is to stay current with the never-ending desire for governments to tweak what is or is not a payroll tax and deduction. Rates change, payment requirements can change. SaaS based applications will make the changes to their systems on a timely basis without their client having to stop their work and do maintenance update. If you are the business of payroll support applications, consider how PayCycle can help.

SmartVault

Document management means the organization and sharing of documents from a variety of sources – electronic, e-mail, fax, and paper. These documents can be received from staff, clients or outside services.

SmartVault provides its document management system through theirs SaaS interface. It is built to deliver the same interface that you get with QuickBooks. This means that documents, reports, e-mails, notes and business-related or personal photos can be uploaded to the SmartVault file cabinets. All stored data can be accessed anytime, anywhere over the Internet using a Web browser. This includes the ability to set up a SmartVault Inbox to support clients who don’t use QuickBooks. This functionality enables you to create a paperless system.

SmartVault has partnered with QuickBooks hosting providers (SoSaaS) to support document management solutions available to customers in their hosted environments.

• InsynQ offers IT and network integration consulting, multimedia development, a broad range of business application services, and infrastructure management services.

• Right Networks provides advanced application hosting to companies and enable accessibility to applications through a remote computer access through a simple internet connection.

All of these applications store data in a secure manner and provide maintenance, redundant systems, banking-class security and multiple back-ups. Confidentiality and privacy need to be part of your exploration when using any SaaS application.

End Point

SaaS is an important part of any investigation of what computing resources are needed, necessary and cost-effective. Whether you decide to use these or any other of the multitude that are available, remember to use your skills, experience, expertise, knowledge and gut instincts and double check the controls that your SaaS provider utilizes

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