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Accounting by design: Building cloud-based accounting architecture

THE TRANSITION to the Cloud has been a catalyst for significant operational gains here at Broadway Malyan, a practice of architects.

Our organisation is headquartered in the UK, but with 16 offices worldwide producing accounts from such a broad international company network has historically encountered all the common challenges associated with multinational operations – local accounting regulations, multi currencies etc. Our accounting processes were further bedevilled by a primitive and archaic legacy system that did little to support the dynamics of modern business.

The previous solution was UK-only; no-one could claim it was built to support the demands of a growing global business. It was expensive to maintain and had neither the flexibility nor the agility to respond to new locations and client requirements. What’s more, its reporting tools were limited.

It was difficult to drill down to find individual transactions, and getting data out of the system was problematic – it was practically impossible to get information into the correct format, and incredibly time-consuming even to try. The finance team was therefore effectively reliant on monthly Excel reporting packs, making account consolidation a reactive and protracted affair.

In addition to the impact these isolated systems were having on efficiency and productivity, our visibility of overseas operations was equally challenging. We were heavily reliant on our local teams for business intelligence, but since we don’t employ qualified accountants in every overseas location, it was only through quarterly visits that we could be confident of the robustness of the data.

In 2012, we decided to modernise our financial infrastructure and transition to a cloud-based accounting solution. This was in line with a wider IT strategy that, like many businesses, had identified cloud computing as the most sensible direction of travel. In May 2012, we opted to partner with Twinfield, integrating its online, cloud-based accounting suite with our existing CRM solution.

From an accounting perspective, the Cloud brings clear advantages; it brings flexibility, accessibility and agility, and also provides scalability so that we can expand our capacity as we bring new locations on board. The Cloud model is also extremely cost-effective; we have eradicated annual maintenance fees and instead engineered the opportunity to ensure that we always have access to the latest accounting software. Better still, implementation costs were comparatively cheap, and though we will incur additional fees as we upscale and expand, we no longer have any hardware costs.

The move to the Cloud has helped drive impressive productivity and efficiency gains. Our processes have been simplified, our accuracy has improved and costs have reduced. The new model has brought scalability to our operations, and the all-important flexible reporting that we wanted. The team, and our processes, are now much more responsive, freeing up time to spend on other areas of the business. Crucially, the time it takes to complete UK accounts production has significantly decreased – from around two weeks to just two days. This is a huge saving in itself, but in addition to a 50% reduction in our annual costs – including implementation – it demonstrates the true value of the Cloud.

There has been a couple of niggles as with any implementation. The system was designed for use in the Netherlands where there is no requirement for cheques – previously there was no facility for writing or receiving cheques. Additionally we were unable to produce BACS payments directly from Twinfield. However, the cheque functionality was delivered shortly after our implementation and BACS is due to be live in the coming months.

Implementation across our other global operations is ongoing – and is expected to be complete by May 2014. In the meantime, it’s already clear that the Cloud is transforming our operations and helping the business to align and scale for growth. Broadway Malyan prides itself on design; our cloud-based accounting architecture really looks the part.

Anne Howard is head of UK finance at global architecture practice Broadway Malyan

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