Virtual tax accountant
Virtual tax accountant

How to prepare your firm for online transformation

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Today, there is so much information available about the reasons why firms move to the cloud, but what’s lacking is the actual step-by-step process these firms took to make the move. My firm, James Management Group (JMG), began this transition in December 2015 – and we are still making the journey. Our firm continues to refine internal processes to make sure we are utilizing every capability the cloud offers.

Here’s how we moved to the cloud to handle tax preparation, offer bookkeeping services and maintain client files.

Tax Preparation Migration

Our firm targeted tax preparation for the first migration to the cloud. Prior to tax year 2015, JMG used Intuit® ProConnect™ ProSeries® for tax preparation, so the major impetus for moving was our belief that an online tax product would be the future for these applications. An added benefit was pricing. ProSeries charged a fixed rate for the software, while ProConnect Tax Online (then Intuit Tax Online) was a pay-per-return software as a service (SaaS) pricing model. As a firm determined to move to a value billing or fixed-fee billing model, we felt the SaaS pricing model gave us a better indicator of the appropriate price for client engagements.

The conversion process was performed behind the scenes by ProConnect staff, much like converting from QuickBooks® Desktop to QuickBooks Online. Our main utilization issue was training on the new tax application platform because it is based on Lacerte® rather than ProSeries. As a result, our firm leaned on ProConnect technical support team during that tax season for a better grasp of application functionality, and currently, ProConnect has a number of in-product resources to aid the tax practitioner, as well as a training page with courses and materials.

Bookkeeping Migration

JMG selected our accounting platform as the second prong for migration. As of December 2015, we used QuickBooks Enterprise exclusively for clients. We were aware of QuickBooks Online but had not attempted to use the application over functionality fears. It was only after attending QuickBooks Connect in November 2015 that we felt comfortable migrating our clients to the QuickBooks Online cloud platform.

Unlike our mass migration for tax preparation, we took a more gradual approach in converting our bookkeeping clients. The process was very similar to converting to the tax application because Intuit converted every QuickBooks Enterprise file to QuickBooks Online behind the scenes. Since the conversion would not allow for sub-accounts, the most tedious part of the conversion process was resetting the chart of accounts. Our firm also needed to renew the bank rules in QuickBooks Online and recognize the differences in how each application downloaded the financial information. For training, the ProAdvisor® Certification programs provided the most efficient method, which can now be accessed in-product. Our firm also relied on training from many different sources, including YouTube and webinars.

Client File Migration

Finally, we moved client files to the cloud. Since JMG was very aggressive in our efforts to go paperless many years ago, this was a fairly simple procedure. We traded costly servers for a subscription to Microsoft Office 365. In a matter of hours, we moved our data from the servers to Office 365 with a simple click, drag and drop! This transition enabled more efficient internal client file access and transparency.

Rely on Technical Support for Answers

JMG’s move to the cloud was made possible by the care and support of our technology service providers. From the teams with ProConnect and QuickBooks, to Microsoft, having experts on hand to monitor and walk us through the migration process from start to finish helped us avoid a chaotic experience that a massive change can create. By leaning on their continued care and support, JMG is confident we are better prepared than ever to leverage tomorrow’s advances in technology to better serve our clients.

Editor’s note: Learn more about Chris James’ journey to the cloud in this video series.

3 responses to “How to prepare your firm for online transformation”

  1. Online is the wave of the future. We have been teaching our students about online accounting and even offered an online program to learn accounting. Thanks for the online tools that make doing taxes easier.

  2. My client accounting staff does not like QuickBooks online. I will have to replace team members (if I can find them) if I were to choose QuickBooks online.
    Until QuickBooks online performs better than desktop there is no interest at my firm in using this
    product. It appears the “online” engineers developed this software without the assistance of “desktop” engineers and created an inferior product.
    In addition, I have significant concerns that a client can leave now minimal conversion effort, since I have done all the set up work.

    • As with any transition to a new business process or software, training and support are integral keys to success. Fortunately, Intuit offers free training and virtually unlimited support for the transition to and use of QBO. When our firm made the transition, we relied heavily on the ProAdvisor Certification trainings to build our knowledge on how to use the new software platform.

      Regarding the functionality of QBO – our firm shared your concern about the performance of QBO compared to QB Enterprise. That is the main reason why we chose to migrate our tax practice from ProSeries to ProConnect Tax Online first, while we tested QBO to make sure it was adequate for our clients. During that “trial” period, our firm found that QBO leveraged the benefits of its cloud-based platform and had continuously improved to the point where it was absolutely adequate to serve as the foundation for our accounting practice. I say “foundation” because QBO takes advantage of an entire ecosystem of apps that are designed to enhance both the client’s and pro’s user experience. Tailoring the appropriate app stack for our clients has not only made our firm’s job easier, but has had a positive impact on our clients’ business processes too.

      Last, but most importantly, you must consider the data. In Desktop, the data of your clients is essentially cut off from the outside world – we call it siloed. In that condition, it will never benefit from emerging technology that is changing the way accountants and tax professionals perform services. Unless your clients’ data is in the cloud, you will not be able to leverage AI, blockchain, benchmarking (against peers who are not your clients), or any of the other powerful tools that are available or will be in the very near future. Clients are expecting our profession to utilize cloud-based technology for their benefit, and we should all listen!