By Richard Messik, Chartered Accountant and Co-founder of Cloud Advocates

When I first set up my new practice – RFM Associates – about six months ago, I wrote a blog entitled the Virtual Office, giving a brief overview of how I was operating in a virtual environment. I thought I would revisit the subject to see how things have worked out, how processes have changed and how it has affected the way the practice operates.

Apart from my team growing in numbers – and actually emphasising the efficiency of working in a virtual environment, the major change has been that I have deserted Bill Gates for Steve Jobs and have become a committed Mac user. This was largely instigated by my Iphone and Ipad use as it just made sense to complete the set. Having done so it is obvious that the Mac aficionados have been correct in their praise of what, in my opinion, is a far superior operating system.

As for the virtual environment, it has greatly increased the efficiency of working both with the team and clients. By using only Cloud applications, location is irrelevant and we can work wherever we happen to be situated. The support team have access to all files and documents without the need for expensive network equipment and logistics.

As an aside, I spent the year end break researching various Cloud applications and iPad tools. One of the apps that I investigated was Remote Conductor which effectively enabled the Ipad to act as a remote connector to the desktop so that files etc. and software can be operated on the Ipad. It is a clever app and works well (there are others as well) but I realised that I actually didn’t have any need for it as I don’t keep any files or run any applications on the desktop. Everything is done in the Cloud.

Anything I start or need to access on any one of my devices is immediately available on all the others – having started this blog on the Ipad, I finished it on my desktop and can review it on my Iphone. The unexpected call from a client means I can access their information wherever I happen to be. (OK, this may not be an advantage but you get the point!)

So an update on what we are using:

Email – Google Apps. A very efficient and fully featured application. Calendars are accessible by the team so that we all know where everyone is or meant to be. There are plenty of additional applications which are accessible through Google apps and can be rolled out centrally. Contacts are available to everyone in the organisation and applications such as Manymoon and Norada 360 work well as task managers and client data bases.

File storage – Dropbox. A great cloud based filing system enabling all client files and data to be stored in a secure and centralised Cloud application. File folders can be shared amongst designated members and can be accessed from any location. It is also an excellent method of obtaining and sharing information with clients – avoiding the need for restrictive emailing of large attachments.

A particular client with whom I work is responsible for almost 100 individual companies. Year end accounts are made available via a shared dropbox folder which increases the efficiency with which such a large amount of data can be exchanged with the client.

Accounting – I work closely with E-conomic, a leading Cloud based accounting system. Clients can share data efficiently and we can access accounting reports in real time. The system works especially well in our outsourcing department with clients scanning in their invoices which can then be processed and linked at a transactional level.

There are, of course, many alternatives to the above applications and these are growing exponentially. But the principal remains the same - anytime anywhere access. Limited IT infrastructure and true working flexibility. The virtual office is here to stay – I am just waiting for my virtual cup of coffee!

Richard Messik is a Chartered Accountant who specialises in Cloud Computing. He is a co founder of Cloud Advocates,an association of consultants who aim to demystify the Cloud and provide pragmatic help and advice for businesses, organizations and accounting practices. To find out more, visit http://cloudadvocates.com

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