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Cloud Computing Technologies for Accounting Purposes

Background of the Study

New Technologies Adoption: Impacts to Accounting Function within Organisation

The availability of new technological invention or innovation often enabled business organisations to better organise its respective business model and structure, to carry out business activities differently and even to provide different services or products for the customers (Robertson, 2013; Yan, 2010). However, the adoption of these new technologies will also affect the way people work in an organisation, be it are impacts upon the account department (Cagiio, 2003), the finance functions (Shi, 2013; Eddy, 2014), the human resources department (Ross & Blumenstein, 2013), or in terms of daily operations (Lai & Cheng, 2014; Mavodza, 2013;  Wu, Lan, & Lee, 2013). Within the field of accounting, the impacts of adoption of the new technologies towards the accounting function within an organisation, towards the roles of accountant, or even towards the scope of work or responsibilities of the accounting division are an important area to be investigated. Indeed, there are some studies available on this topic. For example, in Cagiio (2003), it is discussed that the boundaries of accountants’ activities and practices may be changed significantly due to the introduction of new technology applications in workplace. Cagiio (2003) had conducted a study to understand about how the diffusion of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems towards the expertise and roles of accountants within organisations. It is found that the adoption of ERP systems indeed has been causing that the traditional roles of accountants in organisation to be declining (aside from the observation that the accountants no longer have monopoly on the information pertaining to accounting), as accounting literacy can be easily transferred, due to the features within the ERP systems. That however are compensated as the accountants had seemingly assume broader roles within the respective organisation, such as to assist the company more in terms of data interpretation and consultation process (while lesser on data gathering works). In that manner, it is believed that accountants should play a more strategic role in assisting the management for better decision making process.

The Emergence of Cloud Computing Technologies

Yet, from another perspective cloud computing technology is a big technological breakthrough in the field of computing (Khalid & Shahbaz, 2013; Yeates, 2013), which often also considered as ‘disruptive’ technology (Ross & Blumenstein, 2013), are offering great business opportunities to businesses (Willcocks, Venters & Whitley, 2013). Technically speaking, a disruptive technology is one that can change the landscape of an industry – and will likely affect ways of doing things not only within organisations, but also among the individuals (Aleem & Sprott, 2013). In the current business environment, more and more business organisations are adopting certain degree of cloud computing technologies. Indeed, based on a study by Everest Group and Cloud Connect, it is found that more than half of the companies being investigated had already used certain forms of cloud computing technologies in workplace (Ivanus & Iovan, 2014).

There are some interesting but important trends pertaining to cloud computing technologies in the context of business management. Firstly, the cloud computing platforms are increasingly becoming an effective alternative to traditional information technology (Park & Ryoo, 2013). More and more enterprises are motivated to adopt such technologies as they perceived that cloud computing can provide a more efficient, cost effective IT service delivery. Furthermore, as cloud computing technology enabled the movement of computing and data away from desktop and portable devices into large data centres (that eventually enabled data sharing across the globe); such technologies are becoming more and more popular in terms of large-scale computing and data storage (Sung, Kong & Kim, 2013). Indeed, in a way, the cloud computing system had emerged as the ‘knowledge pool’ for organisations – which arguably, will change the business practices and processes within modern organisations (Bhatt, 2012).

Cloud Computing Explained and Defined

Cloud computing is a concept related to the notion that “the network is the computer”, whereby the computing resources are not stored locally on devices possessed by end-user, but stored in the network (Dihal, Bouwman, Reuver, Warnier & Carlsson, 2013). Many times, the term “cloud computing” and “cloud” are used interchangeably (Aleem & Sprott, 2013). It is made possible by new technological advancement such as virtualisation, high-performance networks and data-centre automation (Willcocks, Venters & Whitley, 2013), while becoming more popular as enterprises and individuals are searching for a way to reduce the cost of computation, storage and communication (Bhatt, 2012). Some of the types of cloud computing services available include: Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) (Dihal, Bouwman, Reuver, Warnier & Carlsson, 2013). With cloud computing technologies, the users can access to the services as long as they have a personal computer and an Internet access, and the users are charged based on their usage (Durao, Carvalho, Fonseka & Garcia, 2014).

While cloud computing applications are becoming more common, a unanimously agreed definition of ‘cloud computing’ is still not available (Aleem & Sprott, 2013). Some of these definitions employed by the various scholars will be provided below.

 

Table 1: Definitions of Cloud Computing

Authors Definitions
Sung, Kong & Kim (2013) Cloud computing is a set of network enabled services, providing scalable, QoS guaranteed, normally personalized, inexpensive computing platforms on demand, which can be accessed in a simple and pervasive way.
Mavodza (2013) Cloud computing is the sharing and use of applications and resources of a network environment to get work done without concern about ownership and management of the network’s resources and applications; whereby data are no longer stored on one’s personal computer, but are hosted elsewhere to be made accessible in any location and at anytime.
Aleem & Sprott (2013) Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources, for example, networks, servers, storage, applications, and services that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.
Bhatt (2012) Cloud computing is a set of hardware, networks, storage, services, and interfaces which enable the on time delivery of demanded services
Walterbusch, Martens & Teuteberg (2013) Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (for example, networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service-provider interaction.

 

It can be seen that cloud computing is defined is similar manner, and certain attributes of cloud computing are emphasised in some of these definition. Some of these attributes include: on-demand services, network, and easy way to access to the services. In a way, the term cloud computing can be better understood by examining about the various characteristics of cloud computing. As such, the characteristics of cloud computing will be further be discussed in the next section.

Characteristics of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing possess several distinctive characteristics and understanding these characteristic would be essential to appreciating the strengths or limitations pertaining to this particular technology. Some of the characteristics of cloud computing are as follow.

Scalability. Cloud computing technologies or platforms are available to a client all of the time, and would be cater to both peak and light usage period among the clients. It is highly scalable as additional users can be added easily (Bhatt, 2012).

Self-service. Often, cloud computing is associated with on-demand services (Ross & Blumenstein, 2013), as the users determine what sort of services they need, such as in terms of computing, storage, software process or some other resources or services offered by a cloud service provider (Bhatt, 2012). The clients can determine their usage level, making the use of cloud computing services as some sort of operational expense as opposed to a capital expense (Aleem & Sprott, 2013). For that, the users determine their consumption and hence the fees associated with the consumption.

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). All of the cloud computing services are delivered to users via a standardised APIs. As such, customised programming is not required (Bhatt, 2012; Paul, Kumar & Chatterjee, 2014).

Built-in billing and metering of services. In the cloud environment, built-in billing and metering services are available, and indeed essential as to compute the bills corresponding to the usage of the clients (Bhatt, 2012).

Low cost or low barriers to entry. As the fees charged upon clients are dependent upon the usage by clients, any client can access the services with minimal costs, making the use of cloud computing platform as services that require little or minimal capital investment. In that way, cloud computing offer low barrier to entry to access to these services (Aleem & Sprott, 2013).

Easy access. With cloud computing technologies, the users can access to the services as long as they have a personal computer and an Internet access (Durao, Carvalho, Fonseka & Garcia, 2014). With the advancement of mobile technologies, that makes the cloud computing services even more easily access by the users (Ross & Blumenstein, 2013).

Security. The issues of security are often discussed within the context of cloud computing services (i.e., there is a great deal of uncertainty about security and privacy at various levels). The concerns or confidence if the cloud service provide able to protect data of users are one of the major issues that will affect the usage and adoption of such services by clients (Khalid & Shahbaz, 2013; Bhatt, 2012).

Overall, the distinctive characteristics of cloud computing are outlined and discussed within paragraphs above. To further understand or examine about the usefulness of that technology to business organisations, or more specifically to the field of accounting, the literature concerning the advantages or disadvantages of such technology will be further discussed in the next section.

Advantages versus Disadvantages of Cloud Computing

Advantages

Scholars have been arguing that there are many advantages pertaining to the use of cloud computing platforms or applications in workplace. For example, Rader (2012) argued that some of the opportunities or benefits of cloud computing includes the following: bypassing the often time consuming Information System capital-acquisition process, easy access to new information technology capabilities, lower costs (or align fees to usage), enable access to the system or software applications from anywhere at any time (i.e., even from mobile phones), scalability, enable organisations to access to and try out additional functions, and even potentially boosting organization productivity. Indeed, it is argued also that the deployment of cloud computing technologies enable employees greater flexibility, which arguably would contribute to better employee satisfaction and reduce employee turnover.

Yet, in Bhatt (2012), it is also discussed that some of the benefits pertaining to cloud computing (for modern business organisations) include the following: lower costs, ability to access to services from anywhere (i.e., mobility of the services), more storage (as compared to personal storage space), flexibility in terms of installing, upgrading, managing the software, ease of sharing of information and resources, data safety, users’ customisation as per needs, ability to contribute to synchronization of projects across business organisation, rapid elasticity (in terms of migrating from one platform to another), and the possibility to carry out work independent of the location.

Apart from that, there are many other scholars that had discussed about the various advantages of cloud computing technologies. Some of these will be further discussed and summarised in Table 2 below.

 

Table 2: Advantages of Cloud Computing Applications in Workplace

Authors Definitions
Gill & Bunker (2013) ·         Enable knowledge sharing

·         Facilitate communication process across project teams

·         Serve as the platform of “single source of technology”

Ivanus & Iovan (2014)

 

·         Improvement of employee productivity

·         Enhance corporations’ productivity growth

Sakr (2014) ·         Simplify the time-consuming processes of hardware provisioning, hardware purchasing and software deployment.
Bhatt (2012) ·         Enable a firm to focus on strategic issues (instead of managing the IT division), by leveraging on cloud computing services
Ross & Blumenstein (2013) ·         Low barriers (easier and cheaper than ever for anyone anywhere to be an entrepreneur and to have access to the best infrastructure of innovation)

·         Lower costs

·         Scalability

·         Portability

·         Reduced software and hardware obsolescence

Sinjilawi, AL-Nabhan & Abu-Shanab (2014) ·         Like storage capacity

·         Resources pooling

·         Multi-tenancy

Dihal, Bouwman, Reuver, Warnier & Carlsson (2013) ·         Reducing investments in local computing equipment

·         Ubiquitous access to online resources

Aleem & Sprott (2013)

 

·         Efficient use of businesses resources

·         Instant scalability without any substantial cost

·         Reduced system redundancy

·         The ability to increase data execution time

·         The average percentage of computers getting infected with a virus is considerably less in the cloud environment

·         More resilient management of data storage (back up) and planning disaster recovery

 

From the discussion presented above, it can be seen that cloud computing technologies or services offer a variety of advantages to business organisations. Nevertheless, it is noted that there is no academic studies on how the use of cloud computing accounting system may deliver benefits to the effectiveness or efficiencies of the accounting division or function within an organisation. Nevertheless, such issues will be one of the core areas to be further examined within this dissertation, as to cover the gap within the literature and to provide more insights to practitioners within the accounting profession.

Disadvantages

From the discussion presented above, it is obvious that cloud computing offers variety of advantages to business organisation, but it is also crucial to aware of the disadvantages pertaining to the use of cloud computing. As such, within the paragraphs below, some of the disadvantages, limitations or threats pertaining to cloud computing will be articulated.

As discussed within Bhatt (2012), some of the limitations pertaining to cloud that demand the attentions of users include the following: it is not error-free, the potential of security threats, issues related to vendor reliability (i.e., some service provider may be unreliable), unstructured programming (among service provider), and the lack of consistency of data storage methods. Due to such limitations, some of the potential problems pertaining to cloud computing identified by Bhatt (2012) include the following: risks of hacking, risks of mishandling of data, problems of masquerading (i.e., the data someone store may be accidentally read by others), and that the real benefits of cloud computing will dissipate in the case when geographical and political borders fracture the Cloud into groupings.

Yet, within Aleem & Sprott (2013), some of the important threats or risks pertaining to cloud computing platforms are also discussed. Some of these threats include the following: account, service and traffic hijacking; data loss and leakage; insecure API; insider threat; lack of cloud standards concerning data sanitization; lack of forensic standards for remote data retrieval; lack of information on encrypted standards for data stored at cloud service provider; lack of information on legal implication in terms of data access; lack of standard for auditing in cloud; poor encrypted communication channel for data in transit; shared technology vulnerabilities; the corrupt use of cloud computing as well as unsecured access to admin interface.

Nevertheless, there are many other potential issues pertaining to cloud computing that had been highlighted by other scholars. These issues will be presented accordingly in Table 3 below.

 

Table 3: Drawbacks and Issues of Cloud Computing Applications in Workplace

Authors Definitions
Sinjilawi, AL-Nabhan & Abu-Shanab (2014) ·         Cloud is an open environment and since all the services are offered over the Internet, there is a great deal of uncertainty about security and privacy at various levels.
Ivanus & Iovan (2014) ·         The application is not available without an Internet connection
Durao, Carvalho, Fonseka & Garcia (2014) ·         Security And Privacy Issues
Nanavati, Colp, Aiello & Warfield (2014)
Charlesworth & Pearson (2013)
Kalloniatis, Mouratidis, Vassilis, Islam, Gritzalis & Kavakli (2014)

 

Overall, it can be observed that the usage of cloud computing platforms or applications is not without limitations or drawback. It is also seemed that most of those issues pertaining to cloud computing are about security and privacy issues. Unfortunately, there is no study on the limitations or disadvantages of cloud computing – from the perspective of the use of cloud-based accounting software or system. This issue will be further be investigated later within this research, in the subsequent chapters.

Empirical Studies

Studies Related to Adoption of Cloud Computing Technologies in Business Organisations

While cloud computing is still a relatively new technology, there are already some studies concerning the impacts or issues related to adoption of cloud technology in workplace. These studies will be articulated below.

Studies on benefits of cloud computing. In Rader (2012), the ways in which cloud computing introduces strategic options and business-control challenges for executives are examined. From the study, it is found that any firm hoping to grow with fewer resources than the rivals can rely on cloud computing, as that technology allow them to do more with less, becoming more agile and strategic in managing a business to deal with the turbulent economic climate businesses are facing nowadays. In a similar way, the study conducted by Aleem & Sprott (2013) had also investigated about the appropriateness and benefits of the cloud computing platforms; as well as the perceived threats on cloud computing (in the UK and the USA). It is found that the benefits include lower costs, lower barriers to entry, scalability, easy sharing of information and the possibility to access information from anywhere. However, some of the top concerns among organisation include the following: security, data loss and leakage, hijacking, governance and a lack of control over service availability.

Factors affecting adoption of cloud computing. In Low, Chen & Wu (2011), the impacts of a total of 8 factors on the adoption of cloud computing by firms were examined. These eight factors examined include: relative advantage, complexity, compatibility, top management support, firm size, technology readiness, competitive pressure, and trading partner pressure. Within that study, it is found that these factors: relative advantage, top management support, firm size, competitive pressure, and trading partner pressure characteristics have a significant effect on the adoption of cloud computing. In Cegielski, Farmer, Wu & Hazen (2012), the ways in which various issues, such as information processing capability, task uncertainty, environmental uncertainty, and inter-organizational uncertainty related factors may affect intention to adopt cloud computing technology are examined. It is found that both information processing requirements and information processing capability affect intention to adopt cloud computing. In other words, when a firm need certain capability and yet have yet developed such capabilities internally, they will tend to adopt cloud computing. In a similar way, the study by Wu, Lan, & Lee (2013) had also examined about the “root causes” that hinder the acceptance of cloud computing services within an university. It is found that some of these “root causes” include: lack of understanding on the technology and lack of perceived usefulness and productivity on the technology.

Other than that, scholars such as Park & Ryoo (2013) had also studied about factors influencing end-users’ switching toward cloud computing. The two factors found are the perceived benefits and perceived costs. The switching behaviours among users can only be observed that the perceived benefits outweigh the perceived costs. Then, the study by Alshamaila, Papagiannidis & Li (2013) focus on cloud computing adoption process among the small to medium-sized enterprise (SME). Some of the factors found to be significant in affecting or encouraging the adoption process include the following: relative advantage, uncertainty, geo-restriction, compatibility, trialability, size, top management support, prior experience, innovativeness, industry, market scope, supplier efforts and external computing support. In addition to that, Willcocks, Venters & Whitley (2013) had also focus on examining the factors that drive and inhibit the adoption of cloud computing. Some of the factors found to be significant include the following: easy access, lower costs, enabled sharing of information as well as the possibility of enhanced innovation process.

Impacts of cloud computing towards business organisations. There is indeed a study on how the application of cloud computing platforms may have had affected the business practices or even business structure within an organisation. In Ross & Blumenstein (2013), with a study based on participants from Australia and the US, it is found that the adoption of cloud computing indeed had affected the business practices within the ICT division and the HR practices. Specifically, while cloud computing does not change the function of ICT support division; it had indeed changes the way that ICT services are delivered. Specifically, the ICT expertise within an organisation shifted to become a solution provider, rather than a mechanic or repairperson. Other than that, the HR division however need to focus on hiring, training and retaining ICT workers who have the skills to operate in this new environment. That study clearly shows that the proliferation of cloud computing applications is indeed affecting changes within business organisations.

Nevertheless, there is no study available on how the adoption of cloud computing will affect the field of accounting, the function of account department or the work practices, job roles or responsibilities of the accountants in an organisation. Such issue will be tackled more in-depth through the conduct of this study within this dissertation.

Studies Related to Impacts of Adoption of New Technological Innovation towards the Field of Accounting

Stories on how the various cloud-based applications may have added value to the accounting profession or the accountants are not new anymore. For example, it is found that more than 50 percent of accounting professionals were using cloud technology to better serve their clients (Eddy, 2014). Nevertheless and as discussed earlier, there is no study available on how the adoption of cloud computing had affected the field of accounting, the function of account department or the work practices, job roles or responsibilities of the accountants in an organisation. Therefore, insights on the subject is lacing within the literature. However, it is possible to gain some useful information by reviewing literature concerning how the adoption of new technology may had affected the field of accounting or the work practices, job roles or responsibilities of the accountants in an organisation. For that, there are some studies indeed on how the new technological innovation may have affected accounting department or the accountants in modern workplace. These will be presented as follow.

In Cagiio (2003), a study on how the adoption of a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system challenges the: (i) definition of the expertise, and (ii) roles of accountants within workplace was performed and analysed. Overall, it is found that the adoption of ERP systems indeed has been causing that the traditional roles of accountants in organisation to be declining. Specifically, the accountants had seemingly assume broader roles within the respective organisation, such as to assist the company more in terms of data interpretation and consultation process (while lesser on data gathering works). In that manner, it is believed that accountants should play a more strategic role in assisting the management for better decision making process. Nevertheless, Cagiio (2003) believed that the results of this findings cannot be generalised, and argued that detailed interpretive case studies of ERP implementations are required if the impacts upon accountants were to better understood.

Anyway, although there is no academic study being conducted on impacts of cloud computing technologies on the field of accounting or on the accountants, there was however a research performed by Lonergan Research to study about impacts of cloud computing technologies towards the accounting industry in Australia (CCH iFirm, 2013). Within the study, small business owners, the employees as well as their accountants were engaged in the research process. With a total of nearly 1500 research participants, it is found that there is indeed a trend of shifting towards adoption of cloud-based accounting software – but the shift is most obvious among the young business owners (which validating the trend of increasingly reliant on cloud-based accounting platform). It is also found that many of the small business owners believed that they will replace their accountants if their accountants choose not to embrace the close-based accounting platform. In a similar way, the findings from Lonergan Research are similar to findings from Cagiio (2003), which indicates that accountants are required to add value to the organisation, and to assist in strategic planning process (rather than to take care of the data entry processes). However, the findings from Lonergan Research also found that cloud-based accounting platforms had actually further enhance transparency of the organisation, enabled greater visibility into the business and are powerful in providing timely information or the management for better decision making process.

Overall, the review of literature reaffirm the necessity of more studies on how the adoption of cloud computing may have or had impacted the accounting profession, the function of account department or the work practices, job roles or responsibilities of the accountants in an organisation; as such study is of no-existent. This dissertation will attempt to add further insights into such topic or issue by carrying out study on changes towards accounting function within an organisation pertaining to the adoption of cloud technology within small businesses.

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