Technology has always played a big part in the accountancy sector. And new technologies can often prove hugely beneficial in terms of updating and improving working practices.
One of the biggest trends for accountancy firms currently is to tap into the potential of cloud-based platforms. With Office 365 from Microsoft proving particularly popular.
Launched in 2011, Office 365 is Microsoft’s cloud-based SaaS service. Working on a subscription basis, it gives users access to the Microsoft Office software suite. Tools include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher, SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, Planner, Skype and Access. Plus, all programmes are updated automatically.
We’ve outlined five reasons why so many accountancy firms are now using Office 365 and the benefits each brings to firms:
One of the biggest factors in switching to a system like Office 365 is the flexibility it offers your workforce. An important consideration from a staff recruitment and retention perspective, as people increasingly strive for a better work/life balance - which remote working enables. Office 365 can be used across different devices – with each user able to download Office 365 on up to five devices at any one time. You then have online access to all your documents and programmes. So, location is no longer important. Whether your staff are working from home or a client’s premises, they still just need a device and an internet connection to access everything they need.
Everything is stored in the cloud on OneDrive – the file storage facility – which also automatically updates when document changes are made. So, using Office 365 makes documents far easier to access and use. You can also set access and editing permission to reflect which team members can access specific files. This helps you adhere to any applicable compliance standards. And for when you’re on the move, OneDrive has the capability to keep your most important files on your device. Giving you access to work on them offline, and of course, syncing everything back up as soon as you’re online again.
Working together is an important feature of the accountancy sector. And Office 365 facilitates this through integration with Microsoft Teams. This is a unified communication and collaboration platform featuring a suite of tools that enable file sharing and collaboration. It also makes virtual meetings easy, through remote communication tools such as Microsoft Exchange Online and Skype for Business. In addition, Microsoft Teams can integrate with any third-party apps. Making it an ideal platform for workflow management during audits or the personal tax season.
The Yammer app is also part of Microsoft 365, which allows you to create a private social network within your firm.
From an accountancy perspective, one of the most useful tools in the Office 365 suite is Power BI. This is a business analytics tool, which can be used both for presenting reports to clients and for internal use.
Power BI gives you the ability to analyse data from a wide variety of sources and present findings in an easy to understand dashboard. From here, you can show any number of metrics to illustrate and track performance, work in progress, targets and more.
Legacy IT systems can be a security risk – and it’s a risk that grows as a platform ages, as hackers become ever more adept at breaching out of date technology.
But by investing in Office 365 you are also investing in Microsoft’s huge security operation. Microsoft spends $1 billion each year on maintaining and upgrading cyber security for all users.
Also, Office 365 boasts compliance auditing, and it tracks and flags unusual activities (e.g. suspicious login patterns). By storing documents in the cloud on OneDrive, you remove the threat of losing security-critical data through device theft – as there is little need to store sensitive documents directly onto machines. Equally, there is no threat from hard drive failure or disaster such as a fire or flood on your premises – as everything is out of harm’s way in the cloud.
Introducing new IT systems can often lead to chaos, as different ways of working and operation need to be explained and demonstrated through endless training sessions. A significant bedding-in process is often needed.
But a switch to Office 365 is a relatively straightforward prospect, as it uses tools that almost everyone is familiar with. Core applications like Word, Outlook, Excel etc have been around for decades and pretty much all your staff will be familiar with them. So, uptake and familiarisation should be relatively quick and painless.
The advantages of Microsoft Office 365 are clear. It’s flexible, secure, feature-rich and is a great addition into a team-working environment.
Also, it cuts costs significantly, as the need for expensive hardware and software is dramatically reduced. As is the need for extensive office-space and facilities, thanks to the huge flexibility offered by the platform.
So, it’s no surprise that so many accountancy firms are taking to the cloud and making the switch to Office 365.