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IRIS, one of the U.K.'s biggest suppliers of software for the accounting market, says the cloud is now secure. Safe enough, in fact, for it to offer the medium as a way for its customers to log sensitive tax records with the government.
"There's no reason at all the cloud can't be used as another option than the desktop," its CEO, Phill Robinson, told InformationWeek.
The group's newly launched IRIS OpenCloud Tax is aimed at whichever proportion of the company's 45,000 U.K. customers (of which 15,000 are accounting outfits, the rest small businesses) agree. And what's striking about this move is that this is, of course, a sector almost notorious for its conservatism.
Robinson, until 2007 COO at the British arm of cloud stalwart Salesforce.com, said that a climate change signaled by changes like the U.K. government's push for digital by default -- i.e., that online should become the preferred way the state and the individual interact -- has meant that cloud should not be seen as any kind of exotic medium any longer.
But what about security? The vendor says it uses two-factor authentication approaches and what it dubs "bank-grade security" approaches to make the system safe enough for even the most skeptical bean-counter to trust.
[ The taxman is never popular. Read Britain's New Tax Reporting System Draws Criticism. ]
While it's uncertain how many will trust the cloud, the move does align with the British tax collector's own trend away from paper toward as much electronic interaction as possible. Thus Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), says around £160 million to £220 million a year ($244 million to $335 million) could be shaved off its telephone and postal costs if an additional 29 million transactions were moved online. It claimed that, of the Brits required to file a tax "self assessment," 6.9 million met their January 2011 filing deadline electronically, representing 78% of that type of personal tax return.
IRIS claims to be the first in its market to offer such a product to help not just those individuals who work with accountants to sort out their tax affairs, but also the much larger population of businesses who need to meet their compliance needs this way.
"IRIS OpenCloud Tax provides all of the features that a smaller practice would need in order to manage clients' tax returns quickly and efficiently," Robinson said, adding that IRIS works with more than 50% of the U.K.'s 30,000 accountancy practices, many of them small and midsize businesses (SMBs). Its new system is designed to offer such SMBs a new cheap and efficient way of submitting personal, partnership and corporate tax returns online. Robinson told us he expects the option to be particularly attractive to smaller firms who don't want the "hassle and expense" of maintaining a desktop version of his organization's suite.
In terms of functionality, the system offers information dashboards, a built-in calculator, real-time filing validations and live calculation updates, while "the ultimate aim of our cloud strategy" is to enable accountants to "choose new ways of working more efficiently and collaboratively with their clients, building stronger relationships as a result, while still ensuring everything is done in a fully compliant manner," he added.
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