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The history and future of cloud accounting

By Kevin Depper, Director of Online Services

Cloud computing to most people is fairly new but references to it have been around since the mid 90’s.  Not much happened commercially until Amazon created its web services division (“AWS”) in 2006 and Microsoft released its Azure platform in 2010.  Since then cloud computing has come on leaps and bounds to where we sit today and has given us the ability to do so much more with the data that we have and use.  I think it is safe to say that all of us use cloud computing in one way or another even if we don’t think we are. 

As a firm we have been very forward thinking in our approach to cloud technology and we have been using a form of this since 2007.  Each of our offices is connected to a central hub (our cloud) and we can all access the same data wherever we are in the world as long as we have an internet connection.  We are also able to connect to these sources using our mobile phones and tablets which can prove very useful when out of the office.  The firm are currently in the process of deciding our next IT solution which will no doubt involve greater use of cloud-based services to enable us to continue to service our clients in the best possible way.

The history of cloud accounting and Hartley Fowler

It is believed that the first cloud based accounting software was NetLedger which is now known as NetSuite and this was launched in 1999 shortly before salesforce.com.  These software packages were however aimed at larger organisations that had multiple offices around the world and by using cloud technology this enabled them to work in each location on the same data.

Small businesses have mainly had to rely on desktop software with Sage 50 and QuickBooks desktop being the main packages used by the small business community.  Surprisingly, QuickBooks Online was released in 2004 but was never really pushed by the company and the uptake was low in comparison to desktop where customers would have previously invested significant sums into their computer infrastructure and choose to use this rather than the cloud. 

The other main cloud accounting software is Xero which was launched in New Zealand in 2006 and was originally called Accounting 2.0 which by all accounts is pretty dull and unimaginative.  According to Wikipedia, Xero.com was the domain of a Linkin Park fan site but it was purchased from them and Xero Accounting Software was born.  In 2008, Xero was launched in the United Kingdom with little fanfare.

At Hartley Fowler, we had our first interaction with cloud accounting software in 2013 when one of our clients decided to try Xero.  Now I freely admit, when they came to me and said they were using the software I was sceptical about what it would produce for us to be able to prepare the company’s accounts for that year.  I remember finding my way around this new system and it felt quite easy and intuitive.  Soon after that we had clients that were getting fed up with using their desktop software and were asking about alternatives, so we suggested that they have a look Xero and QuickBooks. 

Cloud accounting and the future

The emergence of the cloud accounting software some years ago now and with the rate they are innovating can only mean good things for the businesses that use the software.  They are built on open platforms which enable them to be integrated with almost any software application so long as the software can use an API to make the connection.

With the government’s Making Tax Digital initiative now in full swing this has pushed more businesses to look at cloud-based accounting software and accountants are now pushing these software packages in preference to desktop software. 

As a firm we have increased the number of our clients using online software and it gives us the ability to help our clients much more quickly by having access to the same information that they do.  This is important to us as it means our clients are able to ask questions which we can answer fairly quickly or immediately now we have access to the live accounting information.

It is important for businesses to not just to be able to use the software easily but for the business owners/managers to get the right information so that they can make decisions that ultimately benefit the business. 

At Hartley Fowler we are acutely aware that the fintech industry is going from strength to strength and the innovation is continuous.  One example is that at Xerocon in November they announced that early in the New Year businesses will be able to send payments to their suppliers directly from the software using an add-on with Transferwise.  I look forward to seeing how this works as this could prove to be a fantastic time saver for a lot of small businesses once they have set the system up.  I’m sure that QuickBooks will follow suit and team up with a company so that their users are able to do the same. 

Hartley Fowler think it is important that we understand how these software packages work and we spend time training our staff to make sure that they are able to provide a high quality of service to our clients that use any software – be it cloud or desktop.  We continue to look at the multitude of add-ons that are available to the cloud accounting software so that we can introduce the ones we think are suitable to our clients with a view to helping them utilise their data and make them more efficient. 

You can find out more about cloud accounting services here or contact Kevin on or 01273 202311.

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