How Accounting & CPA Firms Can Connect and Collaborate Using Microsoft 365

October 6th, 2020 | Microsoft 365

Today, organizations around the globe find themselves in an expedited race to innovate. While there are unique obstacles for all industriesaccounting and CPA firms are working to increase efficiencies, improve processes, and streamline operations while simultaneously bearing the heavy weight of compliance and security regulations along the way.  

The pressure to keep pace with industry leaders and peers stems from not only consumer demands, but also employees. According to the Pew Research Center, millennials account for nearly one-third of the U.S. workforce. The tech-savvy generation and those that follow them expect a consistent and intuitive technology experience as both employees and consumers 

Microsoft 365 is one of the tools that many of these professionals embrace to meet these demands by improving everyday operations and productivity without risking data security or compliance violations.  

With Microsoft 365’s built-in productivity offerings, you get access to the vast array of integrated tools available today as well as the improvements and features Microsoft adds in the future. Plus, the Microsoft 365 subscription is scalable and flexible. As your business grows, downsizes, or makes another significant change, you can scale your subscription tier to leverage Microsoft’s integrated business applications you need when you need them. 

When you subscribe to Microsoft 365 Business Premium, you get access to all the following applications and tools: 

  • Exchange 
  • OneDrive 
  • SharePoint 
  • Intune  
  • Azure Information Protection 
  • Teams  
  • Microsoft Office Applications:  Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint 

 There are many different licensing tiers available in Microsoft 365. 

Two of the most popular options for small and medium-sized businesses are M365 Business Standard and M365 Business Premium. The main difference between these two tiers is the advanced cyberthreat protection and device management that you get with Azure Information Protection and Microsoft Intune cloud services included in M365 Business Premium.  

Compare Microsoft 365’s subscription tiers and included tools in our blog, Everything You Need to Know About the New Microsoft 365.  

SharePoint & OneDrive: File Access, Control, & Collaboration

Microsoft 365 allows firms to make information accessible to those who need it, anywhere, at any time. Two of the most popular M365 applications for accounting and CPA firms are SharePoint and OneDrive.  

Whether your team is in the office, working from home, or meeting with clients, they can use Microsoft 365 to access the data they need on-demand and in real-time.  

Online Hub for Easy Access to Employee and Team Files

SharePoint and OneDrive serve as online hubs for company and employee files that can be accessed and from anywhere on any device connected to the InternetToday, SharePoint has increased the flexibility of how you can modify your files.  Whether you’re editing the file directly within the SharePoint site, from your synced OneDrive desktop file folder, using the SharePoint tab in your department’s Teams channel, or directly within installed desktop apps like Word and Excel, you will see the latest file version and the changes being made by your peers in real-time.  

As long as you’re connected to the Internet and logged in to your Microsoft account, your files will automatically save to the cloud as you make changes. Synchronized file storage allows your team to streamline document management and stop wasting time on disruptive tasks like editing the wrong document or sending an outdated file to a client.  

Streamlined File Access, Control, and Collaboration

Microsoft 365’s security offerings enable firms to control access to sensitive client files like tax returns, investment portfolios, and more based on departments, roles, location, etc. 

The granularity of access control across both OneDrive and SharePoint is key to maintaining compliance while enhancing productivity as your team collaborates to prepare tax strategies for clients, send and receive tax files, and quickly access important information when consulting with clients outside the office or on the go.  

For example, if you’re on the way to a client’s office, you no longer need to worry about ensuring you have the right files and reports saved to your device. Changes to OneDrive and SharePoint files can be made from any location on any device connected to the Internet and reflected in real-time. Team members can tag one another in Word docs, Excel sheets, and PowerPoint presentations to efficiently collaborate on projects and files as if they were in the same room. 

There are many other ways SharePoint can benefit your business, which you can read more about in our blogHow SharePoint File Services Can Benefit Your Business. 

Teams: Central Hub for Communication & Collaboration

Another popular application that Microsoft is rapidly expanding is Teams. Employees within departments and across the organization can use Teams to chat, meet, call, and collaborate with peers and outside parties like clients and vendors. A few of the most popular features businesses are leveraging include:  

  • Chat and Instant Messaging 
  • Online Meetings with internal and external parties 
  • Video Conferencing 
  • Live Events 
  • Audio Conferencing 
  • Microsoft 365 Business Voice 

Teams Channels and Access Controls

Many firms start out by simply using Teams as a one-to-one chat and instant messaging platform. But, you can also set up your department’s Teams channel and communication hub to optimize productivity and control the information accessed and shared across all channels and Microsoft 365 applications. Private channels allow businesses to set up private conversations with a subset of the team and restrict access to the channel’s files and notes to only those who need to see that information.  

Maintain a Clear View of the Changes & Opportunities Ahead

Staying informed and agile while making business decisions enables leadership teams to drive the right initiatives at the right time to reach their business goals and optimize the value of their technology investment. Microsoft is continually adding features to the 365 suite of applications. New tools and capabilities are rolled out by Microsoft to optimize innovation efforts and provide businesses with access to new developments and tools to excel in their industry.   

We understand that keeping up to speed on what applications and features exist and what is changing can be an overwhelming task. Your firm needs its IT leadership team to understand what is coming down the road and how you can take advantage of opportunities while avoiding roadblocks and business risk. A key part of our role with Aldridge Fractional CIO and IT Outsourcing services is to take the applicable changes and new features to our clients, so they know what to care about and when.  

The Microsoft 365 roadmap gives a quick overview of the new features, tools, and updates being developed, rolled out, and launchedBut there are hundreds of Microsoft 365 features to leverage and even more ways to take advantage of these tools in a way that fits your industry needs and optimizes your unique way of doing business. As technology changes and your business evolves, there will be hundreds of changes to account and prepare for on this roadmap. However, not every feature is valuable for every business. Your IT provider should only bring new features to the table that are valuable, manageable, and scalable for your unique business.   

Continued Integration of Applications Within the 365 Suite

While each application has a unique function and set of features, Microsoft is continually working to deepen the integration between tools included in the suite and 3rd party applications. New releases and changes to Microsoft 365’s offerings are designed to improve the user experience across your business for both your employees and customers by facilitating seamless file access, collaboration, and security.  

For example, you can add your Microsoft 365 and select 3rd party apps directly to your Teams tabs to include department SharePoint site files, employee training videos, personal and department OneNote files, and more  

Of course, team members can access the same version of the same files and folders through their SharePoint site or employee OneDrive folders. They can also do so by signing into their Microsoft account online or by syncing their OneDrive cloud with their mobile or desktop device.  

Planner is now integrated with Teams via Teams Tasks. Tasks integrate Microsoft Planner and To-Do tasks directly within the Teams dashboard. Streamlined task management and the ability for team leaders to quickly see a holistic view of project progress make it easier to keep track of priorities and potential roadblocks, so you know what to do next and when.   

If you’re interested in learning more about Teams and how to use its various features, check out our Teams QuickStart Guide.  

Find Out What Else Microsoft 365 Has to Offer  

The consolidation of tools and streamlined data management across Microsoft 365’s applications and integrations give accounting and CPA firms the potential to increase productivity and efficiency. However, it’s important to note that how you use the platform’s applications to fit your business is key to optimizing the technology tools and avoiding time drains from abandoned automation efforts and backtracking to fix human errors.  

In other words, there’s a lot Microsoft 365 CAN do, but what it does for your business depends on HOW you use its applications and features. For a quick overview of what Microsoft 365 has to offer, check out our infographic: 3 Benefits of Using Microsoft 365 For Business. 

At Aldridge, we work with accounting and CPA firms to help them optimize the value of technologies like Microsoft 365. Our goal is to empower their employees to leverage technology productively and improve their everyday work lives and the experience of the customers they serve 

Our Cloud and Office 365 services provide the business scalability, integrated collaboration, security, and mobility you need to cater to the demands of accounting and CPA firms. If you want to learn more about how we can help, talk to our IT support team today.