Increase Your Support Levels With Cloud Services

Without a doubt, from a Service Provider’s perspective, managing clients from the Cloud is a god send.

Cloud based management of services not only allows for faster response times, but also for a higher quality of support to the end user. However, from the Service Provider’s angle, it allows for highly efficient operations and for one support Representative to manage and complete a much higher work load per shift compared to site work.

Take the average day of a road based IT Tech. There’s all sorts of issues to contend with, traffic, weather, road works, lazy workers taking the long way from job to job, and other unforseen issues on site such as slow computers, failing hardware and clients who are less than prepared for their IT site call. All of these issues and more are faced every day by thousands of road based IT workers, meaning blown out budgets and quotes on jobs, and lengthy delays for the customers, and increased costs for the IT Services company.

Compare this to an environment where all of the clients’ systems are Hosted, either SaaS or IaaS, the IT Contractor can access the files from anywhere, be it on an iPad with a system as simple as Teamviewer, or a SaaS system like Reckon’s Quickbooks Hosted or Xero; it allows for multiple jobs to be undertaken at once and for an instant response time.

There are many systems available too. Whether we look at Zen Desk, Asana or a full Cloud based Services suite such as Connect2Field; the choices are many, the quality is great and the costs are in some cases even Free!

Cloud Support minimises down time, increases response time and increases profits for not just the End User, but the IT Contractor or Service worker aswell.

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Cloud Accounting Saves Dollars and Makes Sense

One of the biggest winners from the current frenzied move to the Cloud, is the world of Accounting Software, and in particular Small Business users.

No longer bound by the typical ageing model of the sales staff getting out on the road, only to come back to the office with an armful of orders for the Data Entry clerk to spend days data entering into an antiquated old version of Quickbooks or MYOB. No Sir, welcome to the age of Cloud Accounting.

There are many prominent systems available to the savvy Small Business operator, from simple browser based systems such as Reckon’s Cashbook Online or Xero, through to your fully fledged Hosted solutions, such as Reckon’s QuickBooks Hosted.

A business should do its own due diligence in deciding what is right for its purpose and budget, however thorough investigation will reveal that all online systems are not alike. View our guide to some factors to consider in this decision making process here and further information comparing cloud products here.

Special consideration should be made to looking at where the data is hosted, and if you can access or actually even own your own data.

From only $15 per month for Cashbook Online to around $25 per month for QuickBooks Hosted to $49 or $64 a month for Xero, Small Businesses really should be looking at these systems and making the move for The Cloud.

For example, from all products tested, Reckon’s QuickBooks Hosted was our favourite for Pricing, Features and Security. Aimed at SMB’s rather than micro businesses like the previous two products mentioned, QuickBooks Hosted is the great all-rounder.

Deploy a team of Sales Reps around the Country, toting nothing more than an iPad or Android tablet, to access their customer accounts, perform inventory and order lookups, view the status of back orders and deliveries and enter orders directly with their customers on site.

Prior to the availability of these systems in The Cloud, most SMB’s simply wouldn’t have been able to compete with their larger Netsuite or SAP doting competitors, with their expensive VPN’s and custom written PDA software.

We can only expect to see further growth in this area, with Reckon looking to bring Point of Sale to The Cloud in the near future as well as open up the SDK to allow for third party products such as Fishbowl Inventory and Ostendo to co-exist on the Hosted platform.

Also let’s not forget Reckon’s recent investment in Cloud Field Services startup Connect2Field as a sign of the sheer commitment typical software vendors are making to the Cloud Accounting field.

Seek out a Cloud Accounting Specialist today to see how you could not only save your business dollars, but make sense of your business goals at the same time.

What Is The Cloud And Why Small Business Needs It

Put simply, “The Cloud” or “Cloud Computing” is the crux of the internet. Using resources enabled via the internet, which are actually running in a remote data centre, 24/7, monitored round the clock by a team of professionals on hardware your business could most likely never afford.

For this reason, The Cloud is the great enabler for Small Business around the World. The Cloud provides access to systems and services at a fraction of the cost of purchasing software in the traditional sense. This is an economy of scale of course, and you will be sharing resources with thousands of other users at any one time. The cloud is also often referred to as “SaaS”, or Software as a Service.

It is the enablement of access to or use of a platform or software services, as a service. In most models, the access to the service is “rented” or paid for on a subscription service rather than purchased outright in the older model of purchasing and owning software.

This provides access to powerful systems and software, connectivity and communications, that previously, a business would have had to invest large sums of money to run their own VPN, or Virtual Private Network.

There are two types of Cloud, Public and Private, as detailed in a previous article. Essentially a Public Cloud is the most common and chances are you are already using this service. Think Gmail, Hotmail, Facebook, Internet Banking even travel bookings. These are all forms of Public Cloud. Private Cloud on the other hand is where a business may have specific requirements from their Cloud provider, hence rent space to load up or provide access to, specific software for their business. Hybrid Cloud is when a business uses parts of both Public and Private Cloud.

Here are some reasons Small Business should be seriously considering The Cloud.

1. Economy

By making use of Cloud Services, a business can save substantially on Capex (Capital Expenditure), and invest in developing sales programs or staff training. Essentially why would a small business make such a large investment in hardware that will simply age, cost a fortune to maintain, and eventually only have to be replaced in some years anyway?

2. Speed

Cloud Systems are often run in Class 1 Data Centres on the very latest hardware and software centres, with professional installation and maintenance; plus access to fibre based communications platforms and direct access to the internet backbone. What this means for the Small Business user, is fast and instant access on any device they are carrying.

3. Accessibility

Whether the business owner wants to provide staff with laptops, netbooks or iPads, in many cases, Cloud Systems will be available as an “app” on all of these devices and due to this, the business and its staff are now empowered to travel and not be bound by the office walls.

4. Reliability

What happens in a Small Business when the Server goes down? Everyone downs pens and stares at each other. This is not only counter productive but also costly to the Business Owner or Manager, who will usually now have to call the IT Services company, wait for a Technician to arrive, then foot the bill once they leave. Usually the only explanation is, “there was a hardware failure”, or ” your server has a virus and will be down for two days”. How would you cope in that situation? Cloud Providers run many failsafe hardware layers and most provide a SLA (Service Level Agreement) of 99% uptime or better. This means more access more of the time when you and your staff are out on the road.

Small Businesses across the Globe are accessing The Cloud at an alarming rate. Vendors are increasing capacity all the time and investment brokers are clammering to provide enough funding to build The Cloud.

With providers such as Microsoft, Google, IBM, Cisco, Reckon and more behind this movement, SMB’s can relax and focus on their core business, and leave the IT headaches to someone else to worry about.

Top 10 Reasons To Use Reckon’s QuickBooks Hosted

There are many things to consider when choosing a computer system for your business, especially your Accounting Package.

With the Cloud becoming more and more relevant to all small businesses, Australia included, we thought we’d list our Top 10 features of Reckon’s QuickBooks Hosted product.

Our Top 10 Features are:

1. Availability. QuickBooks Hosted is available on Android, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Windows PC’s and Mac

2. Replication of the desktop product. This minimises re-training and allows for backups from the cloud to be opened on the desktop to alleviate downtime.

3. Full inventory module with Purchase Orders and Sales Orders entry. This allows for mobile staff on the road, or remote warehouses to easily access live data and interact with it.

4. Updates are done for you. You can save money on paying a Consultant to come and load up your software upgrades, as Reckon will load them for you.

5. Bookkeeper and Accountant shared access. You can allow access from other people not within your business. This is something you allow and control through Provisioning. It saves you and your aiders time and money.

6. Classes. Through the use of classes and given the ease of access to the system, you no longer require different ledgers. Have your whole business in one ledger and split your Profit and Cost Centres out with Classes. Simple reporting means you will easily have your finger on any branch P&L or Sales report you need to view.

7. Company Snapshot. In a hurry and need to quickly check a few KPI’s? No worries, simply configure your QuickBooks to open the Company Snapshot first. Then grab your iPad or Android tablet out, quickly fire up QuickBooks Hosted and in under a couple of minutes you can view all your top KPI’s on one screen, in one hand.

8. Save money on PC’s. With QuickBooks Hosted, all the processing is done at the data centre. All you need is a simple terminal or tablet to access the system from.

9. Multi-User. Have your whole business connected and working at once, no matter where they are.

10. Data is hosted in Australia. Feel safe in the knowledge that your data is stored in a Tier 1 Data Centre in Australia and is compliant with all current Privacy and Data Laws. Always check where your data is stored!

QuickBooks Hosted by Reckon Online 2012/13 will soon  be released with many upgrades and new features.

You can read our review of the current product here or find our more about the product on at Reckon Online.

View a quick demonstration of how simple it is to install QuickBooks Hosted on your Android device.

Reckon Enters The Mobile Workforce With Investment In Connect2Field

Reckon Ltd, an Australian ASX listed software provider, today announced a strategic 30%, or $660,000 investment in Connect2Field, a cloud based Job Management software provider for small to medium business.

Connect2Field is a secure web-based application built on the latest technologies, that allows a job to be entered into the system back at base, then sent out the the field workers’ mobile phones or tablet devices. Fieldworkers receive their jobs via Internet-enabled mobile devices including iPhone, iPad, Windows Phone, Nokia, Android and BlackBerry.

Customers also have the ability to view the status of jobs, create jobs, view invoice history and even view the upcoming worker’s schedule!

Job management, job notification, invoicing and quoting are key features of the software. Transactions will be sent back to the finance package so no double entry is required.

Reckon will be implementing Connect2Field into their Cashbook Online and Quickbooks Hosted products, giving true flexibility and functionality to their SMB customer base. Reckon’s customers will soon be able to compete on a level playing field, with competitors many times their size.

Outsource Your Ageing Hardware With BYOD

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The Bring Your Own Device movement is not new, however with small business now having equal access to the Cloud as its larger competitors, BYOD should now be considered alongside that cloud takeup.

What Is BYOD?

Quite simply the notion behind Bring Your Own Device is simple. Rather than our Gen Y and now Millenials being expected to perform on something that belongs in a museum, they may choose to bring to work their own iPad, Macbook Pro or other device of choice to work on.

Said Gen Y and Millenials argue they will be more content and more productive working on their pride and joy gadget, and also have the flexibility of working out of hours – bonus. Or is it?

Why, and Why Not To BYOD

The advantages of BYOD far outweigh the disadvantges.

Some things to consider are this: Security, Support and Insurance claims. Should said multi-thousand dollar device be damaged whilst at the workplace or being used for work purposes, who’s policy will cover the replacement? Your insurance broker should be able to tailer a BYOD package to suit.

Your IT department will need to broaden their knowledge outside of the simple PC / Server architecture, however for Gen Y and now Millenial Network Admins, this shouldn’t be much of an issue. You could always lock the choices down to a few devices to keep things manageable.

Access at its most crudest could be kept to a secure Remote Desktop Connection, only allowing connection to the device and user account in the allowed hours of operation. Best Practice Active Directory management would ensure User Access is also restricted.

As Public and Private cloud environments gain increasing traction, the argument of access and reliable provision of services becomes almost nul and void.

Cloud Vendors do need to be Brand Agnostic in their rollouts though for maximum market penetration.

Cashflow Positive Initiative

Another benefit to the small business owner is cashflow. Whether or not you choose to provide employees with an allowance, per Kraft in the USA (who gives their employees a Device Stipend), or not depends on your requirements and BYOD Policy.

There is a real advantage to work with your employee here and show you really are an avant-garde employer.

Why not come to a Salary Sacrifice arrangement with your employee (seek Tax Advice first!), then offer to rent the device back from your Employee?

Or simply pay your Employees a Technology Allowance so they can buy the latest tech of choice safe in the knowledge the Allowance will cover the costs. The Employee simply claims the cost of the gadget in their personal income tax return (again seek Tax Advice first!).

However, the Australian Taxation Office have declared that iPads have substantially the same functionality as laptops hence would be treated the same as laptops in tax claims.

So what are you waiting for, you’ve implemented some cloud technologies, you’re considering moving to Private Cloud, now take the final step and outsource your hardware to your Employees. They will love you for it.

Or if you love Infographics, we have a great one below.

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How Secure Is Your Disaster Recovery Plan?

Disasters, we never exactly plan for them to occur, but we should!

By the very nature of most disasters, recovery can take some time. Even with the best laid plans, without a complete and tested Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP), most small businesses would struggle to ever get back to where they were before disaster struck.

What should you be backing up?

At the very least, all vital and operational documents, registers, and databases, including your Accounting package, should be backed up on a nightly basis.

A solid DRP for a small business would include a combination of onsite and offsite (cloud) backup solutions.

A Network Attached Storage Unit (NAS) of 1 or 2TB in size would suffice most businesses, which if the backup is set to Incremental, these units will usually hold up to 3 to 6 months worth of data.

The onsite incremental backup should be set to run every night, and should also backup the company email store.

A combination of the onsite as well as an offsite solution should be adopted for an all round DRP.

Your insurance company will love you for it.

Getting back to business following a disaster

Depending on the severity of the disaster, you could still find yourself requiring cash flow to purchase new computers and servers on which to operate, well ahead of the insurance company coming to inspect your site.

Add to this, sourcing replacement copies of your software and if necessary, serial numbers, etc.. You then need to factor in the time and costs to have all of the software reinstalled and configured.

Getting up and going again can be a real challenge, and most small businesses would simply not be able to cope, with limited cash flow available at such a time.

How can I best shield my business from disasters and make recovery easy?

The simplest solution to an all round protection policy available to all businesses large and small, is to operate as much of your business via a Cloud Provider.

Generally speaking, your email (unless you host your own Exchange server) and your internet banking, are two protocols you already operate via the cloud.

Why not consider your accounting package, via QuickBooks Hosted or Cashbook Online, Xero or Saasu, amonst others.

For your Office documents, you may consider Office365 (which offers virtual Exchange hosting), or a free solution such as Google Docs.

Quicker recovery via the cloud

Via any of the above cloud solution pr0viders, or you may choose a Private Cloud solution to host all of your business requirements, getting back online need be as easy as going to your local Internet Cafe or logging on via your iPad or home PC.

Profiting From The Cloud For Small Business

We are in very exciting times for small business. SMB’s who embrace the cloud and all it offers them, will benefit greatly and be infinitely more profitable than their competitors in more ways than one.

INFRASTRUCTURE COSTS

For most small businesses, employing staff is a costly exercise. Often the employee’s only tools, their computer and desk, are an after thought. Provided with ageing equipment and expired software is not conducive to high productivity levels. Most employers miss the mark here and fail to see the advantages gained by implementing new computers with modern software. The software costs alone usually outweigh the hardware costs, so most SMB’s won’t upgrade if they don’t have to.

SCALABILITY

By adopting a suitable Cloud solution, scaling up or down staff numbers could be as simple as a small increase on a monthly rental fee. The employee is mobile and productive from day one without the need for an IT Administrator to have spent many hours configuring a workstation.

The employee is happier working on the latest software versions they have been trained on and are instantly on their game. In fact, cloud is the perfect environment for clever business owners to implement a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy. Many studies show that BYOD produces happier staff. Why not show you are modern and flexible and implement a salary sacrifice or employee device rental scheme that enables staff to purchase and own their own devices? It keeps the staff happy and lowers your TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). No software or data is loaded actually on the staff members device hence lowering security risks of the employee owning the gadget of their choice to work on.

UPDATE EFFICIENCIES

Another bug bear for small businesses perhaps already struggling with keeping margins competitive and still showing the Balance Sheet in the black, is software upgrades.

Keeping software up to date is expensive. Not only the physical cost of purchasing the upgrades or maintaining multiple software subscriptions, but the added cost of either an after hours IT visit, or facing the prospect of having your work force down for a couple of hours to a day whilst the upgrades are performed. Both of these situations drive costs through the roof and are less than desireable.

By operating in the cloud, small business can sigh the sweet sound of relief. Updates are pushed out by the cloud vendor while the SMB and its staff are at home fast asleep. Staff arrive in the morning, and just work.

PRODUCTIVITY

For many years, SMB’s just couldn’t compete with their larger, more agile, ERP equipped competitors.

Even a couple of years ago, the thought of an SMB mobilising its workforce on iPads, or introducing a real BYOD policy would have been simply a pipe dream.

Today, through SMB speciality cloud vendors such as Reckon Limited, with their QuickBooks and growing Hosted range of products, sales force mobilisation, online warehouses and working from literally anywhere in the world are a reality; and are allowing the more savvy SMB’s to operate on the same turf previously occupied only by the SAP and Netsuite boys.

CLOUD FOR PROFIT

Many small business owners are facing increasing pressures to their bottom lines, from fluctuating currencies, to squeezing margins and employee expectations and loyalty.

Now is the time for small business to adopt the cloud and embrace all it offers as a tool for Growth, Flexibility and ultimately – Profit.

About the author

Nathan Elcoate is a Small Business IT Specialist Consultant, based in Southport, Queensland, Australia.

With over 20 years in Operational Accounting and IT Support and Domain Admin, Nathan is now Director of Axis IT Consulting Pty Ltd, a boutique Accounting Software consultancy firm that is part of the RWG Accountants & Advisors Group.