The ICAEW Cloud Conference – a rider

It is interesting – and indeed, positive – that my recent blog on the ICAEW Cloud Conference held on Friday 24th September caused such debate. Debate is good – especially when it is of a positive nature. I don’t wish to prolong the debate – or defend my position – but I thought it worthwhile just to clarify one or two points which might have got a bit lost in the telling.

Firstly, I reiterate my praise for the Institute and all those involved for putting on the conference in the first place. It was long overdue and the ICAEW were right to include it in their conference programme. That I did not agree with some of the content was my own personal preference and if, as would seem from the various comments, many of the attendees took something positive from the Conference then so much the better.

On a further point of clarification, contrary to some of the comments made, I do not speak on behalf of any particular vendor. My comments are based on a passionate belief in the topic and a conviction that it is the correct step for business and accounting practices. I do have my own personal preference as regards online accounting software but that has nothing to do with my comments or arguments in favour of the cloud.

As I said at the start of this piece, debate is good – and what was most refreshing is that there has been none of the old FUD type arguments raised – very much a step in the right direction. And as a final point, if Dennis Howlett can cut of his ponytail and wear a suit, all is right with the world!

The ICAEW Cloud conference – yet another missed opportunity

As I mentioned in my recent post, I attended the ICAEW’s Cloud Conference on Friday 24th September. I had mentioned that I did not have high hopes for this and sadly my concerns were justified – but not, interestingly, for the reasons I had feared.

Firstly the positive points – there were some. The fact that the ICAEW had decided to run such a conference was a positive step. After all it is incumbent on a leading professional organisation to keep its members informed of current trends and I salute them for organising the event. The surroundings were great – Moorgate Place is a very impressive venue – and the organisation of the ICAEW staff was first class. The fact that over 100 people attended the event was also positive as it clearly indicates the growing level of interest in the subject.

However…..

My heart sank when I saw the agenda. The second item was entitled Legal Implications – what are the legal implications of moving to the Cloud. I shall return to this shortly but my initial reaction was “oh,oh, here we go with the jargon”. My concerns were exacerbated in the opening stages of the conference. Everyone had been issued with voting pads (you know the sort of gizmos they use in Millionaire) and we had to give our prefernce to a number of multi choice, fairly anodyne questions, such as How much do we know about the Cloud and would we consider using it. The results of the voting then appeared on screen (great technology by the way!)

My hackles were raised at the second question – What are your main concerns about using the Cloud? Talk about a leading question, somewhat akin to “have you stopped beating your wife”. Why did the question have to be framed in those pejorative terms which pre-supposes that everyone should have concerns. Why could it not be asked as “Do you have concerns…” and then it could be assessed what those concerns were.

The first sessions was a presentation by a representative from Microsoft (!)  on “Cloud Computing defined” which started with a deliberately jargon filled explanation to make the point that “..it is difficult to define..” Well, why is it difficult to define. Cloud Computing is using the Internet to run your applications and store and access your data…simples. It doesn’t need to be made more complicated than that… after all the Cloud is merely another method of delivery.

I’m afraid matters went downhill after that. The lawyer talked a lot of legalise which, in my humble opinion was not strictly relevant and after the breakout sessions, a presentation by the Global Director of Cap Gemini entitled “Risk and return – an overview of security risk and return” might just as well have been delivered in Swahili for all the relevance to the audience and comprehensibility were concerned. Why is it necessary to go into such detail when talking about the Cloud?

Very few people understand – or indeed want to understand – how their on-premise server or office network works. When I get into my car,I want to know two things – how to start (and stop) and who to call if there is a problem. It is the same with any computer setup for the majority of users and the Cloud should be no different. There is no need, in a general symposium to go into such technical detail – it is just not relevant.

The one bright spot was the break out session I attended which consisted  of an excellent presentation by Matt Holmes of Liquid Accounts who gave a first class presentation on the Cloud  and the relevant issues which was followed by a panel session of 4 practicing accountants who gave short presentations on why they had moved tto the cloud and their experiences in so doing. This is what the conference should have been built around and I implore the ICAEW to take notice the next time they run something like this.

So in my view a missed opportunity. 8/10 for effort – 3/10 for content.

It’s getting Cloudier

Last week, I was asked at short notice to speak at one of the sessions at the Finance Directors Summit held at Hook in Hampshire. I was asked to speak and chair a discussion on the future of mobile computing and the cloud and in a room of about 30 FD’s from varying sizes of corporations I was able to pontificate for an hour on my favourite subject.

My audience was attentive and interested and the questions raised were not tinged with the scepticism that is so often apparent when the subject of the Cloud is raised. These guys got it, and whilst they were not all necessarily convinced they could see the merits in the argument. What a refreshing change that was! In fact at the lunch break (and it was a very nice lunch) I was talking to the FD of a rapidly growing software development company who told me that thay had moved all of their IT processes into the Cloud some eighteen months ago and since then profitability had rocketed. “Our developers no longer need to worry about how to rollout their software applications” she explained, “they can now concentrate on the development”.

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In the Sunday Times this week there was an article written by Microsoft’s Scott Dodds entitled “Time to get your head in the cloud”. The article was about the number of companies in the Sunday Times’s Tech Track 100 which were either supplying Cloud services or had taken advantage of them. In his article he says:

“…Indeed, for the first time, cloud computing and managed hosting firms feature strongly in the Tech Track 100, accounting for 16 places. It is interesting to see that a further five ventures offer cloud services alongside their main products, and many more have said they will consider expanding into the sector….”

A few other interesting tit bits from the same article:

“Microsoft believes…… that British firms will double spending on Cloud services to £1.2 billion by 2012″

and….

“Gartner forecasts that a fifth of all the Fortune 1,000 companies will have scrapped their own IT equipment entirely – and by 2014 the cloud computing sector will be worth several billion pounds” (my emphasis)

Pretty impressive stuff by anyone’s standard and a strong indication that the Cloud industry is really going to be a force to be reckoned with in the next year.

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Perhaps from the sublime to the ridiculous – on Friday I am going to a seminar hosted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants, grandly titled “Cloud Computing for Accountants”. I don’t have high expectations for this as my experience with the accountancy profession generally on the subject has been akin to explaining the principals of jet powered flight to a stone age caveman. A bit unfair perhaps and the fact that the Institute have organised this conference is definitely a step in the right direction. I will report back.

When your IT infrastructure fails

I have spent an interesting day at the Speciality and Fine Foods Fair at Olympia where my wife, Marilyn, has been speaking on marketing at one of the small business forums.

As well as eating myself silly with all the wonderful samples on offer, I did do some useful networking and had an interesting conversation with one of the exhibitors.

When I explained to him my interest in the Cloud, a rather wistful expression came over him – “I must be a soft target” he said. He went on to explain that recently his business had experienced a complete server failure.

I don’t know all the details but inspite of having a sophisticated setup with mirrored drives and offsite backup there had been a major event and the whole system failed. Whilst he had been able to replace the hardware, when it came to restoring the backup it was discovered that data was corrupt and the backup was virtually useless.

This is a common issue. How many businesses of all sizes actually check to see that, not only has their backup worked, but that it can be restored when needed. Without that compatibility check, a backup procedure is next to worthless.

And, of course, had he operated his business processes in the cloud, he wouldn’t have had an issue. Server failures would be someone else’s problem.

Another plus for the cloud – as for me, that chocolate stand looks rather interesting.
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The Cloud – I defy you not to use it!

I am grateful to my friend Mark Davis for spending time with me yesterday and giving me a demonstration of Twinfield. I will not in this blog go through the aspects of the system (I am currently working on a comparison of the various accounting offerings) but what struck me after the demonstration was the sophistication of products such as E-conomic,Twinfield, Kashflow and others.

The functionality of these applications is truly impressive and there is virtually nothing that can’t be done in a Cloud application as compares with it’s on premise counterpart.

When you factor in cost, flexibility, 24/7 anytime anywhere access, client collaboration etc, etc, etc I am at a loss to comprehend any reason not to use it.

I mentioned recently the problems of rolling out some standard tax software throughout my organisation. Coping with DVD’s, the vagaries of dear old Microsoft – you know the situation, action A works on machine 1 but not on machine 2 – seemed like reverting to a bygone age.

What is more efficient – logging in to your browser and getting your application update automatically – for free, or paying an annual licence fee, waiting for enhancements and then having to install them throughout your organisation?

Using the argument that what has been used for years sort of works so why change, no longer holds water. I would go so far as to say that accountants who don’t adopt the cloud are actually doing a disservice to their clients as they are not operating as efficiently as they could.

The world has moved on, most of the arguments against – speed, security – are no longer valid (if they ever were). The Cloud has grown up and his rapidly maturing.

I defy you not to use it!