A Forward-looking Perspective from Avii CEO and Co-Founder Lyle Ball 

October 2020, was plagued by chronic downtime for Microsoft Outlook 365 and MS Teams. The period from Oct. 1 – 6 has resulted in a steady stream of messages to Microsoft like this: 

  • Oct 6, from Debra W: “Outlook 365 has been not sending and or receiving consistently for over a week. Not reliable and I need this for my business. People I work with in my industry are having the same issues. No email issues in receiving from clients working with ‘other’ email clients–only Outlook 365. NO, it is not us. Looking for another email option. Your inconsistencies and not addressing is a huge problem. The ONLY reason I subscribe is for Outlook…” 
  • 9 hours later, from Sal J: “All apps, Word, Excel, Outlook, PPT are down! And I am managing 5 teams! What is going on?”

Here’s a lovely visual from Down Detector on the single 24-hour period for MS Office 365 in October:

Microsoft Outlook Chart

What gives?

Accounting Software and Cloud 

Why are the problems of downtime so exceedingly frequent in Accounting? We see three reasons: 
1) Accountants are resistant to change management.
2) The increasing prevalence and sophistication of cybercrime and hackers.
3) The slowness of the Accounting Software Industry itself.

Let’s look at each of these factors in greater detail as you ask yourself the following questions:

1) Have you experienced downtime during the 2020 Tax Deadline Season? 

    • Yes
    • No
    • Not certain

 2) Does your firm have a solid game plan to address disruptions in service? 

    • Yes
    • Yes, but it needs improvement
    • No
    • Not certain

So Why do Accountants Resist Change Management?  

Accountants are perpetually driving by deadlines. Furthermore, the reason they became accountants in the first place is based on their emphasis on factual data, numbers, concrete information, and tasks. A big part of the emphasis of accounting is the prevention and avoidance of risk.

Where in this scenario do we address the imagination and innovation aspects of work? And disruption is inevitable in every realm but perhaps especially in the world of accounting. You see the difficulty. 
These problems are not new. Yet firms are reluctant to move away from the very solutions that continue to fail every year. 
According to Avii, the secure client portal for accountants, the ideal approach to change management is to automate the functions that impact the client experience first. This approach is also backed up by 20 years’ experience in support of client work for KPMG, Withum, and others),

When clients are satisfied, revenues grow, and profitability increases. These are numbers that speak to accounting leadership and stakeholders and create the room for change management and increasing resilience to succeed.

Hacking Happens. Be Aware and Be Prepared 

Once an outage occurs, there’s not much firms can do except to file complaint reports and wait for utility suppliers and software providers to get things running again. But advance planning can help firms to mitigate the damage and stay as productive as possible when disaster occurs. Here are some steps to take:

  • Train your staff to expect problems and how to stay emotionally and intellectually focused. Beyond the contingency plan, this training will help them maintain continuity and support for their customers during an outage event. 
  • Choosing the right secure client portal for accountants, which Avii is expert in helping the strongest firms to ensure. 

A good share of the blame for the continuing downtime in accounting software belongs to the Accounting Software Industry itself, which has historically been a slower sector to adopt advances. 
Of all the steps you can take to reduce the chances of a cloud outage, perhaps the most important is choosing the right vendor.  As you vet potential products and vendors, pay special attention to the following areas of concern.

Security procedures, policies, and credentials. 

Make sure the vendors you consider comply with all security regulations. Determine the frequency of downtime issues and examine their history of response to adverse events and how quickly and effectively they’re able to get up and running afterward. 
Examine whether they’re a “true” cloud provider. Secure client portals for accountants that were designed for the cloud are more secure than software that was built in-house and moved to the cloud later on, notes the Journal of Accountancy. Legacy applications that were moved to the cloud at some point or that use an in-house server are vulnerable to ransomware or isolated downtime occurrences.
Next, determine where in the cloud your vendor’s technology is located. Some cloud solutions are hosted by the vendor. They are typically the most vulnerable to downtime attacks. Better yet is data location by a provider who hosts in multiple locations. Best of all, however, is operation from established and multi-faceted data locations, such as Microsoft Azure, that specialize in prevention of downtime and are better prepared to ensure the fastest remediation possible. 
Be aware, even cloud providers can have outages. Also know that you may still experience an outage with an established service such as Azure, but when you do, the problem may be an issue of the accounting software’s interaction with the service and not with the service itself. 
In all, look at your vendor’s track record. Look at their flexibility, their ability to innovate, and their ability to drive change management with skill. This is your surest way to business continuity and long-term success.

Next Steps

When you’re ready to consider your next steps in accounting automation, here are the areas where Avii can help:
1) Download Avii’s free self-audit tool. It’s available here.
2) Request a free software audit from Avii.com, and
3) Try a full-featured version of Avii Workspace for analysis and trial.
We look forward to working with you.

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