How Cloud Computing Will Transform Accounting

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General ledger applications specifically and accounting in general are as staid as it gets when it comes to enterprise computing. But as cloud computing evolves, it's also transforming accounting.

Intacct, a provider of financial accounting software delivered as a service, is a good example. Today the company rolled out the summer 2010 release of its namesake suite of applications, which adds a project accounting module to track expenses for any discipline involving a service delivered over a specified period of time.

While chief financial officers like to exude an aura of control over their financial domains, the accounting process in most companies can best be described as fractured. While the CFO keeps control of the corporate books, each division likely operates on more recent data stored in either a spreadsheet or a customer relationship management (CRM) application. Inevitably, this leads to an hour of arguing over who has the right numbers at the weekly management meeting.

Dan Drucker, senior vice president of marketing and business development for Intacct, says accounting applications in the cloud means that everybody can have the same information at the same time with a common set of applications that are easily accessible via the cloud.

Naturally, some CFOs have issues with the concept of putting financial information in the cloud. But when you think about it, most of that so-called sensitive information is already in the cloud in the form of an application such as Salesforce.com or workflow and project management software from companies such as Clarizen, which this week also partnered with Intacct. So Drucker argues that it's only a matter of time before CFOs, and perhaps the board of directors and auditors, start demanding to be able to see what's really happening in the business, versus say the outdated information residing in the accounting software running on premise. Besides, it's difficult for a CFO to maintain credibility by praising the capital savings enabled by software-as-a-service (SasS) and the absence of application maintenance fees for one part of the business while resisting it in his or her own department. In addition, Dricker notes that accounting software in the cloud will not only increase collaboration across the business, it also cuts down on errors because people are not cutting and pasting information between spreadsheets and financials applications.

Right now Intacct only has about 3,300 customers, so it will take some time for this trend to manifest itself completely. But clearly some profound changes are coming to the world of accounting that most people would agree are long overdue.