On 20th January our Audit Product Manager, Jonathan Millar, and SE Product Manager, Matt Swann, held a webinar for 2020 Innovation on the ‘Benefits of using Cloud for auditing’. This article summarises the main points they addressed in that webinar.
Where we have come from
Over the past 20 years there has been a general move from paper-based to paper-less audit systems, with CaseWare being at the forefront of that movement. In that time users have generally found benefits in time savings in designing and retaining tests from one year to the next, reviewing and integrating with Accounts Production software as well as saving on the physical storage space that a paper file requires.
The early versions required users to plug into a hard-wired hub to create a local network in order for them to access the same file, and then check-in, check-out technology would be utilised to ensure only the correct version was being worked on.
Over the past decade that technology has continued to grow and become more refined and we have come to see more hybrid versions, between the desktop and the cloud, where synchronization takes place once parent and child versions link up with each other.
However, these technologies have had some drawbacks along the way. Firstly, there is the need to install the software in the first place. Secondly, there has always been a limitation based on the power of the hardware involved and, as files can be fairly memory hungry, there have been server storage requirements to consider.
There has also been the perennial issue of the update process. Although this has improved considerably in the past few years, and it is undoubtedly quicker than rolling forward a manual file, there is still a time cost and skill involved in ensuring next year’s file is up to date and running all the latest features.
Although the Desktop and Hybrid versions of audit software are still powerful tools, the Cloud also provides a more agile platform increasing the speed through which changes can be put through and technical updates released to the end user.
Tools and benefits of the Cloud
i) Hosting and installation
The Cloud removes the need to host your own data, with the ability to store data online and go through a seamless update routine.
Many firms find that with the Desktop systems their own IT departments need to go through the update and even run their own tests on it to make sure it is not affecting any other software.
Where the installations are “on premise” these have to then be installed or pushed out to each individual machine.
However, on the Cloud, the information is always up to date. There is no installation requirement. Everyone has access to the latest documentation through a URL via a web browser, removing the need for firms to have servers retaining the information.
The automatic updates will also mean that everyone is always at the same stage in regards receiving those updates and running the same version of the product.
ii) Client Collaboration
Due to its nature, the Cloud environment enables collaboration both across the practice itself and with clients.
Tools are available to increase collaboration between the firm and its clients. These tools, such as “prepared-by-client”, allow users to make direct requests to their customers in a secure environment with data or document sharing and queries being placed directly in the audit file.
This has particularly been an important development during Covid where there are challenges in getting out to see clients, but it also has the potential to change future working practices.
The Cloud scenario also enables users within the firm to access the same data in real time, without any concern over there being conflicts or being locked out in a ‘read-only’ file. This allows senior members of staff to be able to review work in real-time if necessary.
iii) Data Sharing
Sharing data is a vital component of being able to provide added-value to clients and providing them with an extra insight into how their businesses are performing.
More and more accounting systems are using Cloud based products. Where these are in place, ‘Cloud-to-Cloud’ imports mean that whole data sets and transaction lists can be imported directly into the Cloud Audit products.
API’s (application programming interface) can easily be written in the Cloud, allowing different Cloud based software to ‘speak’ to each other. For example, different software for Audit and Practice Management can have data going into one central location which can then be used by the different applications.
Data stored in such a way can then be pulled together for practice reporting and benchmarking between a firm’s set of clients.
An extra tool that is also available is that of data analytics. Although, not a new concept, this has begun to take off in a much bigger way in recent years. In the past, the impression was given that it was quite a laborious task to obtain and then make use of the data. The feeling was it was a bit of a ‘black-box’ process. Once again, the Cloud enables the data set to be put into a format so that it is far easier to understand where the data has come from and what it is trying to provide users with. This results in an increased transparency in the process so that the user feels more comfortable in understanding the results which they can then base their audit conclusions upon.
Visualisation of the data is another tool that is allows data to be seen in a much cleaner, neater format. Using the Cloud client data can be presented in a way that makes it easy to review for analytical purposes but also in presentation to the client in adding value to the service they receive from their professional advisors.
At CaseWare we are committed to increasing our development work in the Cloud and to expand our product range in it. If you would like any further information, either visit our website at www.caseware.co.uk or speak to your account manager.