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Cloud adoption and priorities in the evolving UK accountancy landscape

By Matt Crook, Managing Director, Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting UK

While the pandemic has acted as something of a catalyst to the next era of enterprise cloud adoption and spend, every industry has its own drivers and perceived benefits of a move to cloud. Small and medium-sized accountancy practices have certainly recognised the power and potential of the cloud for remote working and digital engagement with their clients, but it’s clear that the approach and attitudes to cloud adoption in the industry still vary, and companies are still treading carefully.

There are those that are 100% cloud-enabled, but equally, many practices are still in early stages of assessment, while others have chosen a cautious roadmap of considered transition.

Client Engagement and Working Post Lockdown

It’s clear that accountants’ experience of working through lockdown, as well as their expectations and uncertainties about the future, has created a more widespread appreciation of their need for flexible, secure and reliable access to client documents, data and software applications. As cloud infrastructure can support effective remote team working within accountancy practices, we’re seeing a carefully considered appetite for the benefits of a well-designed, cloud-based client portal.

Indeed, the increased use of email channels has, in some cases, led to a realisation that adoption of a professional, secure, portal-type solution is set to become a more pressing requirement over time. The benefits of having a highly automated client on-boarding process have also been acknowledged by practices that have already begun their automation journeys.

Customers from practices I have spoken to have indicated that the move from transactional exchanges with clients (for example, document and data exchange, document signing and other exchanges) to digital channels has been accelerated as a consequence of lockdown. None of these practices expect their increased use of digital channels to be reversed now that lockdown is ending.

Some practices feel that lockdown enabled them to encourage those clients, who previously stuck with paper-based documents, to migrate to digital format. In some cases, this has led to increased consideration and adoption of cloud-based portal apps. The benefits of cloud-based client portals, in terms of data security, the opportunity to use digital signatures and the chance to integrate with practices’ wider document management and archiving systems, seems to be widely recognised among practices we’ve spoken to, even by those who haven’t yet adopted them. These benefits have been highlighted by the experience of working in lockdown.

Cloud Priorities and Perceived Benefits

Some of the challenges accountancies are facing? Having to deal with too much information and too much complexity, pressure on productivity, and trying to understand how they need to embrace technology to move forward in their profession.

Specifically, our discussions with practices have revealed that forecasted IT spend growth is the strongest single indicator for the importance of cloud-based services to performance and objectives. Practices that expect to increase their IT spend tended to also rate the importance of the cloud for the performance and objectives of their practice more highly than those who do not anticipate increasing IT spend.

We’ve also seen several key themes in perceived cloud benefits. In accountancy firms with over 100 employees, the top cloud benefits are data-based – scalability, regional and international access and security being most frequently cited. Conversely, in smaller accountancy practices (below 35 employees), firms rate improved collaboration and ease-of-use as top cloud-based benefits.

It’s also apparent that end-user clients are already experiencing the benefits of the cloud. Fozia Muddassir, Partner at London’s Reddy Siddiqui LLP, cited the following cloud benefits experienced by her clients:

”Our clients value the plug and play nature of the cloud: it’s empowering them because they can access so much via an online dashboard, and they don’t have to call us every time they need something. They can drill down into management information right from their own laptop, and they can send that to their bank manager if they need to because it’s so easily available to them.”

It’s evident that since the beginning of the pandemic, reliance on remote data and application access, video conferencing (both internally and with clients), use of digital channels for document and data exchange, and the use of other digital collaboration tools has been widespread. Lockdown has, in some cases, provided an opportunity for accountancy practices to road-test their existing IT and telecoms setup. In some quarters, it has accelerated their adoption of a more appropriate set of solutions.

Accounting practices are redefining business continuity, which demands efficient connectivity and workflows in today’s new remote working environment. The cloud is well-positioned to support UK practices as they navigate today’s changing economic conditions, and will act as the foundation for collaboration as they explore new ways to improve and diversify their practice offerings going forward.