By Jim Wong, CPA | May 25, 2015

This week, we have guest blogger, Mike Robinson, Managing Director, Brilliant™ Management Resources and Brilliant™ Technology Staffing, taking over for ‘A Brilliant™ Blog — Check In With Jim’ to give insight into selecting cloud-based solutions.

“First to mind when asked what ‘the cloud’ is, a majority respond it’s either an actual cloud, the sky, or something related to weather.” – Citrix Cloud Survey Guide

As technology continues to immerse itself into businesses, many accounting and finance leaders continue to struggle with the term “cloud.” No matter the company size, leadership is often found asking, “What does cloud mean” and “What are the advantages of leveraging a cloud-based solution for accounting and finance systems vs. an “on-premise” solution?”

Defined by in a 2013 article, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of your computer’s hard drive. The cloud is just a metaphor for the Internet.

At first, the fear of an alternative to the tried and true legacy that is an “on premise” solution was too much for most larger companies to handle. However, smaller companies were immediately attracted to more reasonable investments in this implementation, licensing and support.

Whatever the actual risks and rewards for a particular cloud solution are, the marketing buzz for cloud applications has sprung a victory and now all ERP and reporting tools are finding ways to leverage the excitement for most solutions.

In a Diginomica article, author Jim Holincheck outlines four key areas to consider when evaluating a cloud solution. He recommends significant research in each of these areas while making decisions to invest and leverage cloud solutions. Below, we’ve summarized the areas for you:

Integrated applications

If a cloud-based solution touches the operations of multiple business areas there should be clarity on how all of the applications integrated. Examples of different business areas could include:

  • Supply chain
  • Order systems
  • CRM
  • General ledger
  • Consolidations & reporting
  • Budget, planning & forecasting

A key benefit to an integrated cloud solution, or unified technology stack, should help to ensure transactional information and reporting are accurately reconciled and one version of the truth is summarized for data users at all levels.

If you can’t see a vendor generate a management report using workforce data all within the same cloud solution, there should be cause to question how integrated the solution really is.

Business process design and change

One of the benefits most cloud solutions claim to provide is fast adoption and flexibility for its users. Considerations for how this claim is supported include:

  • Whether best practices in business processes are built into the solution.
  • How flexible the solution is to changes in business processes after the initial implementation.

Asking for a demonstration of standard or embedded business processes will show how quickly the solution will integrate to the demands of the organization. If the solution can show changes to business processes (i.e. AP payment approvals), and that they are not irrationally time consuming or expensive, will also be a good starting sign to user adoption going forward.

Configuration and extensibility

One of the changing elements of ERP systems in general is the notion of customization vs. configuration. On-premise solutions of old would provide a standard suit of functionality and the client would have to customize the software to match their requirements of the business. Now, cloud-based solutions and even the newest versions of on-premise systems have what seems like an infinite combination of functionality that can be configured and providing flexibility with future changes.

Holincheck shrewdly recommends customers ask vendors how can they configure the application to suite their unique needs and processes and if configuration options exist with all the applications they provide.

Holincheck shrewdly recommends customers ask the following:

  • How do I configure this application for my organization’s specific needs?
  • How do I configure a business process?
  • Are these same configuration capabilities available across all your applications?

Reports and dashboards

When selecting any system (Cloud is no exception), it is important to consider the end-users needs related to reporting and analysis. A good understanding of the reporting architecture is required in selecting a system.

Requesting reports with data no accessible through their standard drill down can provide you with a view in to the configuration logic.

Overall, legacy / on-premise solutions and cloud-based applications offer a huge variety of effective tools. It is important to focus on details including those discussed here to be confident you are making the best decision for your organization and its users.

Have other questions regarding cloud-based solutions? Contact our Brilliant™ experts at 312.582.1800 or email today!

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