Why is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Important to My Business?
The phrase “software as a service” isn’t new, but it represents an application-distribution model that
has become increasingly popular in the tax industry over the past few years. You’ve likely heard peers and industry leaders talk about the importance of adopting software-as-a-service (SaaS) in your firm, and you may have even seriously considered embracing this technology model for your office but just haven’t been convinced to make the leap.
Many firms are hesitant to take the plunge for a variety of reasons. Some worry that it may not yield a high enough ROI, while others simply don’t think it is secure and could pose a risk to their firm’s data—and that latter point is a great place to begin.
In the middle of May 2017, people all across the globe were targeted by the WannaCry ransomware attack. Here’s how it worked: the Windows operating system had a significant security vulnerability, resulting in Microsoft issuing a patch in March. WannaCry targeted that security vulnerability to infect computers and lock down all contained files, demanding a ransom ($300) from users for access to their files. Reuters reported that there had been 200,000 ransomware victims across 150 countries by May 14—all of which could have been prevented by running a supported version of Windows and installing the patch.
What’s one reason SaaS platforms are considered more secure? Most people don’t keep their applications updated. Many software-as-a-service providers also ensure that their data transmissions are secured using SSL technology, and some tax-industry-specific products go even further by submitting their operations to an auditing standard like SSAE 16. But there’s an important caveat: while the SaaS provider is responsible for keeping their program up to date, your firm still has to make sure the operating system and any other applications on company computers are regularly patched.
Those who have worked at larger companies have probably encountered custom-built software. The perception is that these programs are often created to satisfy a specific need within the company that can’t be easily handled by standard third-party vendor software. Whether it was a proprietary point-of-sale system or specialized internal database, it required in-house staff or contracted labor to create, and that means spending money—sometimes lots of it.
SaaS products often use an incremental, pay-per-use model that can provide budget flexibility, so your firm can use the service when it’s needed. This scalability lets you can pay for exactly the amount of service that’s required to do business, rather than making a potentially expensive, estimated guess.
Another advantage of relying on SaaS providers to take care of the development, maintenance, troubleshooting, and upgrades for their program is that you don’t need to dedicate human resources to handle these tasks. For tax firms, that means hiring fewer tech-related staff and focusing resources on your core competency: providing tax expertise.
Whether your firm is looking at an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software that consolidates all aspects of a business in one application or choosing a program designed to streamline a single aspect of workflow, there are numerous options available to tax offices interested in SaaS solutions.
Many accounting SaaS products, for example, provide a convenient alternative for companies that have accounting specialists but not the funds for a comprehensive IT department needed to manage day-to-day troubleshooting and maintain a secure network infrastructure. Aside from mitigating the usual price-of-entry concerns that accompany traditional software licenses, these programs can be accessed anytime and anywhere. That kind of flexibility can facilitate work-from-home arrangements or help management easily check in on projects while on the road.
In tax practices, one of the most onerous, time-consuming parts of a preparer’s day is organizing a client’s paperwork and entering that data into tax preparation software. Rather than having to do all of this manually, there are software-as-a-service providers like GruntWorx that have developed programs that will automate both document organization and data entry. Since the whole process usually takes an average of one hour, tax practices of all sizes can start taking steps toward becoming a paperless office and save several hours that would have otherwise been spent hammering away at a keyboard.
Finding the Right SaaS Solution
Once you’ve researched products and narrowed the choice to a handful of SaaS providers, it’s time to take the next step: testing your options.
Another convenient aspect of the software-as-a-service model is providers’ reliance on trial periods. If you go to any SaaS provider’s website, it won’t take long to find a very large, very brightly colored “Free Trial!” button. Vendors tend to offer discount promotions, free webinars, and host tradeshow demos to get software into users’ hands to see if it meets their needs and provides that coveted ROI.
A Word on Implementation
Successful implementation of a SaaS solution comes down to the firm’s leadership.
Someone is an upper-management position—preferably a partner—needs to be appointed the “champion” of the SaaS service who is responsible for becoming the resident product expert and overseeing employee training. To further ensure a smooth transition, adoption of a SaaS product should be incremental and mandatory. This way, you can safely correct any issues before the program is rolled out to the entire company and make sure that the more change-averse employees actually use and become proficient with the program.
After you find the right SaaS solution and develop an implementation process that works for your firm, you’ll be surprised at how it changes the way you do business.