“The Role of the IT Professional in a SaaS World” session was supposed to be led by Mr. Michael Bonder, but unfortunately he could not attend the AICPA Tech+ conference.

Randy Johnston offered to lead his session, and I think he did a terrific job covering for Michael at the last moment.

As you know from the other sessions that I reviewed here, Randy Johnston is a top rated speaker and has more than 30 years of technology experience. He is also a published author of 5 books and leads a successful technology and business consulting firm – NMGI (Network Management Group Inc.)

With SaaS, PaaS, IaaS and in general Cloud Computing we see how technology changes at a fast pace. Well…not only technology changes, it is the profession that is changing and as we go through that change, we will witness the transformation of IT professionals as well. The way in which people use technology is changing as well. Applications and services are moving into the Cloud where “The Network is the Computer”.

Millions of new devices that are more intuitive and mobile are emerging and the network infrastructure to support that mobility is now in place. Bandwidth is “everywhere”. We now have 3G cell/data coverage almost everywhere we go. Faster 4G and WiMax services are also coming strong into the market.

Many IT professionals are scared of the Cloud thinking that they will lose their jobs. The key here is that the IT Professional is NOT going away! Many employees will have to adapt and change, but that is the natural course for every evolution. We will see more technical positions replaced by Project Managerial ones.

The new world of computing requires different solutions to “traditional” problems. There are new demands on security, shareability, ease of use, identity management, and infrastructure and IT must change to meet this new set of demands. The current model that we all know, will simply NOT be good enough and it won’t work. A few simple examples:

–          IT Infrastructure will be different

–          Local file, application, and database servers will no longer be required to host your office software

–          Identity management will need to be managed by a single sign on system, controlling all of your users and applications all over the Web

–          Backup strategies will need to change since the key documents and data will no longer be on your local servers

–          It will be harder to manage users and information since they are not all “inside” the company walls

A lot of companies are now moving to Cloud based computing and they find it to be a success. Here are some of the most obvious examples: Ebay, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Force.com, Oracle, Lawson etc.

Of course, this is still not the case for all businesses. For some the traditional in-office IT infrastructure is still the best and most economical way, and it does not make sense to “Rip n Replace” useable technology.

At this conference you can see an increasing amount of new and traditional vendors that are offering SaaS applications to the Accounting profession. CCH, Thomson-Reuters, Intuit, NetSuite, IntAcc, and ObjAcct are only a few of the bigger vendors out there providing Cloud based services and solutions. Most of these products are good enough to satisfy 95% of the needs the CPA today!

Some key considerations to Cloud Computing.

Changes in Staff:

–          IT departments will need fewer resources simply because there will be no local servers to manage.

–          IT departments will be managing access to applications from non-traditional devices like the iPhone and iPad.

–          Customer support will be Level 1 only. People will rely on SaaS vendors for deeper support.

–          Less “System Admin Work” means fewer System Administrators. This statement goes back to how employees will have to adjust and adapt.

–          Desktop support will be easier since there are no installs or updates to be managed

Changes in Staff:

–          SaaS applications are licensed on a per user per month basis.

–          It will be different from buying a software package and installing in on your network.

–          Costs are based upon usage. Better user management will be the key to cost control.

Information Storage and Retrieval:

–          Your files will be in different repositories and you will need to have a good search engines or procedures in place to find the right files.

–          IT will need to define how documents can be shared as a basis for collaboration.

–          If you Cloud vendor allows you to have collaboration by invitation, then who should manage those invitations?

Backup on the Cloud:

–          Many vendors guarantee that your data and information will be safe and secure on the Cloud, but you have to do your own research and investigation.

–          Should your IT team set up systems to make backups locally and into the Cloud to ensure proper Business Continuity in the event of a SaaS vendor data loss?

–          How solid is your Internet provider? Make sure you have redundant communication lines from different providers.

–          The Web is never down! It is your connection to the Web! SaaS demand for 100% connectivity!

Make sure you can answer the following set of questions:

–          What does your business do when the “Web” is down?

–          What if CCH Tax goes down during Tax season?

–          Can you run the business locally after you go to SaaS?

–          What is the failover strategy?

–          Can you rely on the SaaS vendor’s failover strategy?

–          When was the last time Google was down? mmmHmm

New Roles for IT:

–          SaaS vendor selection and checkout

–          Single sign on system management

–          Permission and invitations for Collaboration

–          License management of named users

–          Backup of mission critical information to sites other than the SaaS vendor

–          User name / Password management when employee joins or leaves the company

Some of the roles that will disappear:

–          Installing and updating software at user desktop

–          Upgrades and patches for local servers

–          Purchasing to update local infrastructure

–          System Admin for LAN and servers

New Skills & Staff Impacts:

–          Employees will need to develop new skills in managing collaborative environments, security in global community, and compliance management.

–          Current staff will have to learn new skills (no surprise), and you will have to hire new staff, but it will be harder to find experienced people. You will need to teach and educate your employees in the interim.

Randy concluded by saying that SaaS is different and there will also be an Office culture transformation during which some people will be uncomfortable using the new product. You also have to be prepared to answer the question – “What do I do when the Web is down?”