The single factor of most concern in the cloud

Written by promotiondept

November 12, 2018

The single factor of most concern in the cloud The JofA’s sixth Annual technology roundtable hit on some familiar topics this year: cybersecurity, cloud computing, the importance of proper technology training for staff. It also dived into a few topics that have received little or no mention in the past. Midsize accounting firms, at least […]

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The sngle factor of most concern n the cloud

The JofA’s sxth annual technology roundtable ht on some famlar topcs ths year: cybersecurty, cloud computng, the mportance of proper technology tranng for staff. t also dved nto a few topcs that have receved lttle or no menton n the past.

Mdsze accountng frms, at least n the eyes of the three technology experts who partcpated n the roundtable, are fallng behnd ther larger and smaller counterparts when t comes to technology mplementaton, mantenance, and strategy. t’s a trend that at least one panel member beleves s puttng those frms at rsk.

An area for possble mprovement s cloud computng, though the professon as a whole contnues to make progress n embracng nternetbased computng resources. There s a bg factor, however, that s easy to overlook and can negate many of the securty advantages of usng cloudbased servers and applcatons. The panel dscussed that factor (or factors) and examned a sngle soluton that mght prove benefcal to organzatons of all szes.

Those topcs are the man focus of ths frst of a twopart edted transcrpt of the technology roundtable call. (Click here to lsten to the JofA podcast of the roundtable call.) Next month’s nstallment wll examne blockchan, among other topcs.

The JofA ntervewed the experts n a February conference call. Short profles of the panelsts—Davd Ceslak, J. Carlton Collns, and Lsa Trana—are at the bottom of the page, and the frst part of the edted transcrpt follows:

What are CPAs dong well on the technology front, and what are they not dong so well?

Trana: There seems to be more progress toward paperless envronments, and CPAs have made great strdes there. thnk t’s a lttle bt easer for me to say what they’re not dong so One of the thngs that contnues to surprse me s that too many CPAs stll exchange nformaton n unsecured emal. know that encryptng end to end can be cumbersome, but movng toward exchangng nformaton and documents through portals has far more benefts than just gettng the nformaton out of unsecured emal.

Collns: CPAs n ndustry seem to be dong a better job of embracng and deployng technology than CPAs n publc practce. Even so, when tour clent offces, typcally see ples of paper, rows of flng cabnets, cluttered workstatons, uncomfortable chars, small computer screens, lack of smartphone strategy, and weak cloud strateges. Ther applcatons are usually one or two versons out of date, and fnd a lack of knowledge as to how to fully utlze the products that they have mplemented. Many companes seem to have addressed three or four technology areas adequately, whle other areas are vrtually gnored. n publc practce, CPAs typcally have ther tax preparaton software naled down pretty good; ther data servers and ther paperless systems are also good. But there are 15 other technologes that are knd of woefully neglected, such as cloud and moble and color prntng, emal, accountng system reportng, technology tranng. When do see CPAs embracng technology, t’s usually because one of ther leaders s a champon of technology, and they make t ther goal to utlze the latest, greatest technologes and tranng. Wthout strong support from a company’s leadershp fnd that most companes’ technology usually flounders.

Ceslak: We’re fndng some frms are, n fact, lookng at busness processes and askng how they can leverage technology to become more effcent, more productve. ’m thnkng about frms that maybe have a wrteup practce and are really encouragng and helpng ther customers mgrate to QBO [QuckBooks Onlne] or to Xero or to ntacct.

We’re fndng that younger, smaller organzatons are alln on technology. They understand the beneft and mpact that technology can have. They’re dgtal natves and happly want to go n that drecton. Larger frms, we also are fndng n many respects can be qute commtted to really drvng technology nto busness process and nto the organzaton. Large frms oftens have younger team members partcpatng on the nternal technology advsory board. t’s really the mdsze frms that we’re fndng are the most challenged, and thnk n so many respects t’s because they mght have establshed systems that stll work. The mndset of one more day, one more year, has caused some organzatons to hang on to technology far too or to not look for ways to mplement new technologes nto what they do and how they do t. t’s some of those mdsze frms, especally those where there’s an agng demographc, that tend to be the most technologychallenged. Canddly, thnk they are potentally puttng the organzaton at rsk.

What should be the top technology prortes for CPAs?

Ceslak: Securty absolutely needs to be top of mnd and should be part of every frm’s DNA. We are all lvng n a 24/7 connected world. The applcatons and systems we use n the offce durng the day, the ones we use when we are moble or at home at nght, even [the] nternet of thngs connectng the devces are really part of every facet of our lves. Securty s an overlay on top of that. So we need to make certan we’re remedatng any known ssues, as well as understandng the rsks behnd what we’re dong and how we’re dong t.

thnk cloudbased servces, when they’re done rght by the correct provders, offer [a] sgnfcantly more secure approach than most of the hosted, nhouse, selfsupported, selfprovsoned solutons. So thnk the cloud adopton needs to contnue. We also need to upgrade enduser devces and applcatons to the latest versons, such as Wndows 10 on the desktop. We need to make certan that systems are patched.

From an enduser perspectve, thnk about what we can do to not only make our people more secure but also make ther jobs more awesome. How can we make ths a more enjoyable, more delghtful, more awesome experence for the end user?

Trana: You can’t really address the problem of needng to keep everythng updated and patched untl you know what you have. n just about every cybersecurty assessment we do, there’s just not a handle on all the securty threats out there, and the threats are multplyng lke crazy because of the moble world we lve n. So the frst prorty s to get a handle on what you have, what’s connectng where, where’s the data beng synced. t’s all over the place n moble devces, home computers, etc. The second pece n the securty arena s the vulnerablty testng. That’s the automated process where systems are scanned for well over 50,000 dfferent vulnerabltes to let you know what devces have whch holes or securty weaknesses. n the last year or so, we’ve started to see bgger organzatons make wholescale recommendatons for regular vulnerablty testng. [Most] CPA frms are not dong that. How are you gong to know how to protect yourself f you’re not takng some basc steps to get an nventory of what you have and then do some testng to see where you mght be weak?

Collns: Davd and Lsa are exactly rght that securty s the top prorty, but really lke puttng securty up there as the top prorty because all securty does for you s keep somethng bad from happenng. n no way does any securty measure make you a more productve employee. t doesn’t help you get your job done faster, better, easer, or produce better results. So, yeah, you’re rght. You’ve got to make securty a prorty, but asde from securty, f there’s one thng would make a prorty, t’s the commtment to technology tranng. f you just take one Excel course every two years, that’s not suffcent to produce true techsavvy CPAs. CPAs need tranng on all of ther products, hardware, and software applcatons, and you’ve got to do t on a regular bass. Many of my clents’ staff seem to only be mldly educated about the products that they use. They know the basc features of those tools, and that’s t. wonder whatever happened to employees that took t upon themselves to have the ntatve to study and learn and “completely own” the products they use so that they could get full utlty out of them. Gve me those employees, not the ones who have the product n front of them all day but tend to use only the same sx features out of 2,000 possble features and then thnk they’re really usng that accountng system or that reportng system properly.

A few other prortes that CPAs should probably have: Of course, encryptng emals, upgradng workstatons to larger montors, usng spacous desks and comfortable chars. see people crammed nto uncomfortable chars, and know how they can work for perods of that way. also see that people update ther software applcatons and operatng systems as frequently as they should. Everybody should be on the latest, greatest verson because t has more of the features and more of the securty mplemented. f you have an old computer and you put a new operatng system on t, there could be bugaboos, conflcts wth memory assgnments, and thngs of that nature, but f you have a new computer wth new applcatons, that system seems to run well for several years.

Where does the professon stand on ts mgraton to the cloud?

Collns: ’ve seen a few frms fully embrace the cloud and they seem to be reapng the benefts, but a lot of CPAs work wth only seem to have touched upon the cloud. The obstacles reman the same: gnorance of how the technology actually works, fear ther data wll not be secure, and an unwllngness to let go of the sunk cost of those hstorcal products that they’ve al mplemented. But on the postve sde, get the mpresson from ng wth a lot of my clents that more CPAs are now more open to usng cloud technologes. They’re just not sure how to make that smooth transton to the cloud platform yet.

Ceslak: How do you move to the cloud? You do t one step at a . Thnk about those processes that would potentally beneft the most by transtonng them to a cloudbased approach, and pece by pece you can make that move.

Trana: People are puttng n more cloud systems and that’s a good thng, but thnk there s one thng that’s been mssed: havng twofactor or multfactor authentcaton on cloud systems. When people have the multfactor [authentcaton], f anybody wth a malware keylogger gets your password, they can log n from any devce n any country and get to those systems. contnue to be surprsed at how many vendors ether are not offerng multfactor or they offer t as an addon and t’s not the default. That’s dsappontng to me. Multfactor shouldn’t be somethng you have to pay extra for or be lookng for.

Ceslak: would go one step further and say that f you’re lookng at mgratng a core functon to the cloud, then you should not even consder mgratng t to a servce provder that doesn’t gve you that multfactor, multstep authentcaton opton.

Trana: Totally agree, even wth emal systems. t just needs to be there for all these cloud systems.

s multfactor authentcaton somethng that CPAs should be lookng for on an applcaton-by-applcaton bass, or s there any knd of all-encompassng soluton that can help cover everythng?

Ceslak: There are some good management tools, some good approaches to ths. Sngle sgnon comes to mnd. As frms move more and more servces to the cloud, not only do they need to make sure that each of those servces supports multstep or multfactor authentcaton, but also that they can ultmately pull that together n a management console and through sngle sgnon. That makes t essentally much easer to provson and deprovson users and even allows you to mantan passwords and mantan access controls to core organzatonal applcatons, nsulatng the user from even needng to know what passwords are to specfc applcatons or devces. You can essentally bake complex passwords nto the sngle sgnon logn experence. A sngle sgnon tool can gve end users a control panel of cons showng all the cloudbased applcatons that a frm s usng. Then end users clck on the con ganng access to the applcaton they need. f t’s ther frst accessng, and the system doesn’t recognze ths devce or where they are tryng to connect from, then t can requre them to provde a second factor of authentcaton.

What’s the best way for CPAs or ther organzatons to get sngle sgnon? Are there certan vendors they should go to?

Ceslak: Absolutely, recommend dong a search on sngle sgnon—you’ll fnd bunches of them. We happen to currently use a product called Btum, whch scales down to smaller and mdsze frms very Mcrosoft s n the game. There are Okta, OneLogn, Centrfy, a great varety of products, and many of them wll even ntegrate wth a hybrd envronment. So f you contnue to have local onpremses servers that are runnng Actve Drectory under Mcrosoft, then you may want to ntegrate the sngle sgnon experence wth Actve Drectory. Those tools are out there. They are mature wth very delghtful enduser experences.

Davd Ceslak, CPA/CTP, CGMA, prncpal and founder of Arxs Technology and a popular technology speaker known as nspector Gadget.

J. Carlton Collns, CPA, the CEO of ASA Research and author of the JofA’s

Lsa Trana,

About the author

Drew s a JofA senor edtor. To comment on ths artcle or to suggest an dea for another artcle, contact hm at Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com or 919-402-4056.

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