You now have more choice than ever when it comes to the technology your finance team can utilise. If youíre solely leaving it up to your IT team, how can you be sure youíre getting what you really need?
In the past it was largely a case of get what you’re given when it came to purchasing a new finance system. With a long and cumbersome buying cycle, your chosen system would be wheeled in by an army of technical people with little knowledge of your financial processes. There would be countless problems with installation, hardware, software and a long and tortuous implementation.
After all this… you were probably still in the dark about what you were actually getting on the tech side of things, which in reality didn’t actually matter because you didn’t have a choice anyway. But that’s all changed.
There are now more choices and you can have more of a say, so it’s important to know a little more about what’s going on behind the scenes, so that you can ensure the needs of YOUR department are appropriately met. After all, who knows them better..
Which way to go? Cloud vs on-premise
Traditionally all accounting software packages were delivered ‘on-premise’. They were installed and run on computers on youractual physical network. This is certainly still a perfectly acceptable way to use your software, but these days more and more businesses are turning to cloud accounting systems to effectively manage their finance department, as well as utilising cloud across their business as a whole. Cloud is simply the term that refers to running software/ systems at a remote facility and connecting to them via the internet. So which to choose?
Choosing the on-premise option might be seen as the easy option. You would certainly have more in-house control over all the systems and data. With the data only on your internal network that brings with it simple, tangible security, although many would argue that with the vast developments in cloud security that your data would be even more secure there.
Staying on-premise you’ll also benefit from on-site IT support staff, there at your beckon call to solve any issues. But, are they really the right people to be doing this, and in reality how much of their resource will actually end up coming the way of your finance team?
Maintenance and upgrades
With cloud accounting things are managed by the very people building and running the systems, so it’s far less likely to go wrong, and if it ever does who better to be resolving the issues. Plus typically they have just the one system to look after, as opposed to your internal tech team who are trying to satisfy the needs of each and every department across the business. Your organisation would also avoid the necessity of recruiting specialist IT staff, concentrating instead on wider skills that are more central to your business goals.
What will it all cost?
Then there’s the investment. IT can be expensive, certainly investing in new on-premise solutions which end up top heavy in the initial investment, this is why cloud accounting is becoming so popular. Small or no upfront investment and only paying for what you use. With this you can add new features as you need them and remove those that are no longer required.
It’s also not just about money, it’s about time too. On-premise solutions require not just IT time for provisioning new resources and installation but also time with setting up and configuration from the users. With Cloud you get a reduced time to benefit – there is no installation time and it’s generally up and ready to go immediately.
So next time you come to review your finance system you should be presented with both cloud and on-premise options. There’s no right or wrong to whichever you choose, but the fact you have a choice in the matter only provides you with further opportunity to tailor the solution to your business goals.
Time to look behind the scenes
It’s not just about how your finance systems are being delivered, but actually what it is being delivered; the back end nuts and bolts. Back end technology is an important, but commonly overlooked factor in choosing both on-premise and cloud finance systems.
When looking at on-premise solutions you typically have more of an eye on the technology, ensuring it fits in with your current architecture. But, if and when you choose to look at cloud system providers, don’t lose sight of this and make sure they are using best of breed hardware and software. Think about where your data is actually stored.
Understanding the database
There are many relational databases out there that finance system providers will use as the underlying architecture to their products, but the two most popular and widely used are Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server. There are many differences between these 2 products, and to be honest you could write a book on just the differences, but which is going to suit your needs best?
One of the things you can say about Oracle is that it’s heterogeneous. Basically it can be installed on any platform. With SQL Server you are tied into Microsoft products. Now that’s not a bad thing, but with Oracle you get that added flexibility to move cross platform, be it with Apple or elsewhere, allowing you to grow better as the business grows.
The flexibility isn’t just in the installation platform; it also lies in the development tools the supplier can use to build the actual interfaces. Again with SQL Server you are limited (to a degree) to Microsoft tools. But because Oracle is so well supported there is a lot more choice and scope. Allowing suppliers freedom to move in other directions and use best of breed development tools that may not be available with SQL, which in turn provides you with an end product with more options when it comes to both software functionality and design.
One common criticism is that Oracle is just too specialised for the average in-house IT team. Well, in our experience, out of the box you can install and get an Oracle database up and running just as quick as SQL Server. And for a lot of purposes this might be good enough.
However, where Oracle comes into its own is in its complexity. At the highest level it’s just as easy (if not easier) to look after than other database systems. But under the hood it has better automated management tools that are constantly monitoring and tuning the systems, so that at the front end your finance software continues to operate smoothly allowing you to focus on your day job. Things can be tuned manually or left alone to do its work – that’s entirely up to you. This is why it becomes the database of choice when you start to look at moving your system to the Cloud with it all taken care of by a specialist team.
Another reason you might choose Oracle over other possible solutions is availability. The depth and breadth of Oracle’s high availability capabilities are far superior to other similar offerings, and again if you’re looking at cloud this is a big consideration. However, if you’re content on-premise is for you and are happy utilising Microsoft tools across the board, then SQLs simplicity may suit you to a tee. It’s all about personalising your platform for the job at hand.
Pay for what you use
“But Oracle is so expensive” is another common cry of horror. Yes, if you are running it on large multi-processor environments it can be. But like other software the licence cost can be tuned as you grow. Did you know there is a free version of Oracle? It has some limitations – but these are just limiting as the free version of SQL Server.
You now have options in the way you license this technology too. If you’re working on-premise it’s worth looking at an embedded software licence, allowing you to further mitigate some of the costs. For example, with Oracle, if you only intend to use Oracle for 1 application then an embedded licence would allow you to use all the functionality and power of an Oracle backend database but at a fraction of the cost. Whereas in the past you would have probably ended up paying for a full license that you’re barely using. However, if your business is operating on Oracle for multiple departmental pieces of software, then a full license is almost certainly the more efficient way to go.
On the other hand, utilising a cloud hosted system eliminates the need to worry about the database licensing at all. Instead you’re just latching on to the supplier’s license and it’s all neatly covered within your one, all-encompassing monthly payment.
Overall there is far more choice than ever before for the technology you bring in to your finance department. It can get confusing sometimes, but choice is inevitably a good thing, ensuring you are less dictated by your supplier.
Whatever finance system you sign up for make sure it’s scalable so it can grow and adapt with your business. It must be reliable, and whether on-premise or in the cloud ensure it’s affordable with no hidden costs.
Don’t shy away from the technical questions or leave it to your IT team. You should be probing more and more into the technology each supplier uses and why they are using it, ensuring you’re getting the best options for the specific needs of your team and the business as a whole.