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Finance in the Cloud

A scary thought for many finance professionals is utilizing cloud computing for finance functions. Benefits of cloud computing are clear: documents can be modified from anywhere at any time by anyone (with access) on any device. Though less of a new concept for other parts of an organization, some finance people cringe at the thought of storing sensitive, business-critical documents such as financial forecasts on third-party servers. A major concern is, “how secure is this?”

Cloud computing, argue some, is actually more secure than traditional file sharing within an organization. Finance organizations still using spreadsheets (i.e., Excel) often wrestle with the problem of version control. With so many spreadsheet versions “floating around” in various inboxes and on local computers, it is almost impossible to control who has access to an organization’s sensitive data at any given time. However, because cloud computing saves documents in a single location, an administrator can control access to certain documents, effective immediately.

Others argue, though mainly coming from the software companies themselves, that the strict, air-tight privacy agreements that every client is required to sign protect them from data breaches or unwanted disclosures.

The benefits of cloud computing specific to finance organizations are growing more persuasive. Cloud computing allows several users to work on a single document at the same time, resolving both version control issues and workflow bottlenecks. In addition, a centralized document produces a single version of the truth, something very important for finance. Cloud computing is significantly less expensive than other alternative IT solutions (either internally hosted or outsourced).

Regardless, though, I am still unconvinced of the benefits of trusting a third party to host sensitive information such as a company’s financial details. Government scrutiny of privacy agreements and internet security breaches are constant topics among today’s headlines without an end in sight. Though cloud computing is appropriate for other business functions, I am eager to see how the industry matures before confidently considering it as a viable finance solution.